Maria Sharapova announced earlier this week that she was “saying goodbye” to tennis at the age of 32. The former world number one has struggled with shoulder injuries throughout her career which she said had “become a distraction”.
The Russian leaves the women’s tour with five grand slams and 36 WTA titles to her name. Her career earnings of $38.8 million (figures from the WTA) make her one of the wealthiest tennis players, male or female, in history.
However, in 2016 Sharapova admitted to failing a drugs test after testing positive for a banned substance. She was banned from playing for two years (later reduced to 15 months) and her reputation was irreparable according to some former and current players.
The noticeable lack of social media tributes after Sharapova’s announcement was indicative of this.
So will Sharapova be remembered as one of the greatest female players in recent times, or a convicted cheat who will soon be forgotten?
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova (CTK via AP Images)
There is certainly no doubting Maria’s ability on a tennis court. She won the first of her five Grand Slams at Wimbledon aged just 17, becoming the third youngest player to win the title at SW19.
By the age of 18 she was ranked world number one and spent a total of 21 weeks at the top over the course of her career.
Most significantly perhaps, she remains one of only ten women who have managed to complete the illustrious career Grand Slam (winning each Grand Slam at least once).
At the top of her game, there were few players that could deal with Sharapova’s power and ferocity on court. Serena Williams was an exception for sure, with the American having a dominant 20-2 H2H record in her favour.
Then there was the scandal that shook the tennis world. After the 2016 Australian Open, the Russian told a press conference that she had tested positive for Meldonium, a heart disease drug.
Sharapova, who claimed to have been taking the drug since 2006 for health problems, insisted she had been unaware that Meldonium had recently become a banned substance after a new ruling by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). She claimed never to have used the drug to enhance her performance on court, but received a lengthy ban after a tribunal.
With the Wada hack, drugs in sport just got murkier. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)
Sharapova returned to the women’s tour in April 2017 after a 15-month ban. Although she won a singles title in China later that year, it was very apparent that she was no longer the player she had been before the Meldonium scandal.
She struggled with form, a low point being the 6-1, 6-1 first round defeat by Serena Williams at the US Open last year. The persistent shoulder problems that had already threatened her career continued, and the Russian spent many months on the treatment table.
Just before she announced her retirement, Sharapova was ranked 373, her lowest year-end ranking since 2002.
Sharapova also faced animosity from a number of her peers after her return. Eugenie Bouchard labelled her a “cheater” who had no place in the game.
Carolina Wozniaki, Agnieszka Radwanska and Kristina Mladenovic were among others to criticise Maria being given wildcard entries into tournaments after her ban, arguing that the Russian should have to enter through the more conventional qualifying rounds.
There is perhaps little doubt that Maria Sharapova will leave a lasting legacy in women’s tennis. Her tally of five Grand Slams can be bettered only by both Williams sisters when looking at those still playing on the tour.
Her achievement as the first Russian woman to win Wimbledon is also one for the history books. However, her drugs ban in 2016 left a bad taste in the mouths of tennis players and fans alike and she never really recovered from it.
Injuries eventually got the better of her and it was a rather tame finish to the Russian’s career. She now goes quietly into retirement, but will that be the last we hear of Maria Sharapova?
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