Five-time Grand Slam champion and sporting icon Maria Sharapova has announced she is saying goodbye to tennis at the age of 32.
In a shocking announcement via an essay for Vanity Fair, the Russian tennis player has said her body has “become a distraction” after battling shoulder injuries for more than a decade.
Maria Sharapova has been attempting to overcome controversy ever since her 15-month doping ban in 2016 but injury has meant this has been near impossible.
For many fans, the announcement will be a relief as Sharapova’s performances have made for depressing viewing over the past two years.
Since returning from her ban, she has dropped to 373 in the world rankings and has been dumped out in the first round of her last three grand slams.
In her essay, Sharapova described the heartbreaking moment she knew retirement was inevitable.
Of her first-round match with Serena Williams at last year’s US Open, she said: “Behind closed doors, 30 minutes before taking the court, I had a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match,” she said,
“Shoulder injuries are nothing new for me – over time my tendons have frayed like a string.
“I’ve had multiple surgeries – once in 2008, another procedure last year – and spent countless months in physical therapy.
“Just stepping on to the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step toward victory.”
Since that loss, Sharapova has only played twice and lost both, including a first-round defeat to Croatia’s Donna Vekic in this year’s Australian Open.
The question mark will now hang over how Sharapova’s legacy will be remembered and it is certainly not a straightforward issue in light of her doping ban for using Meldonium.
Critics will argue that her demise since Meldonium was added to the banned substances list is no coincidence and that it is the sole reason behind her successful career.
But the truth is we may never know if Sharapova’s legal use of Meldonium for a decade was a major contributing factor in keeping her fit.
It is undeniable that since she has been off it, there has scarcely been a more injury-plagued player on the tour.
But there are plausible explanations for her demise that don’t revolve around her use of Meldonium.
She had an 18-month break from tennis which will take its toll on any professional athlete and their conditioning.
She had the world’s media – not just the sporting press – casting their judgemental gaze over her legacy and the stress of that would have weighed heavily on anyone.
But most significantly, she has been injured. Few players have suffered as much as Sharapova with injuries.
She has had multiple surgeries to try and correct the problems but they have failed and it is entirely understandable if she has reached her limit in terms of coping with the struggle.
The tennis world and sporting fans from a wider field would be doing the 32-year-old and her phenomenal career a disservice if they dismissed her legacy as the product of doping.
Her achievements and her contribution to the women’s game are something that cannot be underestimated and tennis will be a darker place without her.
Maria Sharapova’s rise to greatness
Maria Sharapova and her father arrived in Florida with little more than $200 when she was just a child.
By the time she was 17, she had won the sport’s greatest title and was crowned Wimbledon Champion – the third-youngest woman ever to do so.
This feat went unmatched until last year. When 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu won the US Open, she was the only teenager to win a grand slam since Maria.
Sharapova’s Wimbledon win saw her shoot to global stardom and she went on to become Russia’s first ever World Number One in 2005.
She is widely regarded as one of the most mentally tough players on the tour and her dogged determination has seen her produce some of her best tennis on the sport’s biggest stages.
She has since become one of only ten women to win a career grand slam when she won the French Open in 2012, originally her worst grand slam.
She would go on to win it a second time in 2014 to bring her grand slam total to five. The only active players to have exceeded this achievement are Serena and Venus Williams.
Sharapova’s appeal to tennis fans didn’t end with her on-court performances.
The Russian champion was a strong and charismatic personality and her rivalry with Serena Williams was one of the greatest ever in the women’s game.
Sharapova has a career win/loss percentage of 73 per cent and has won 36 singles titles, garnering more than $38 million in prize money alone.
In light of all her achievements, it would be tragic for her legacy to be regarded as anything other than that of a champion despite her doping ban.
In March 2016, Sharapova held a press conference and announced she had tested positive for Meldonium, which had been added to the banned substance list in January of the same year.
She was initially banned for two years but this was reduced to 15 months as Sharapova argued she had used to heart drug to tackle health problems and never for performance enhancement.
Coming from nothing and rising to the pinnacle of the sport, Sharapova’s champion career should be celebrated because, love her or loathe her, you cannot deny the tremendous impact she has had on the women’s game.