Maria Sharapova’s professional tennis career has come to an end. The 32-year-old Russian native and five-time Grand Slam champion announced her retirement on Wednesday in an essay she wrote for Vanity Fair.
How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known? How do you walk away from the courts you’ve trained on since you were a little girl, the game that you love—one which brought you untold tears and unspeakable joys—a sport where you found a family, along with fans who rallied behind you for more than 28 years?
I’m new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis—I’m saying goodbye.
Sharapova burst onto the scene in 2004 when she was 17, beating No. 1 seed Serena Williams to win the Wimbledon singles final. She went on to win five Grand Slam titles, including two victories at the French Open in 2012 and 2014. She also won a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and won 36 World Tennis Association titles over her career.
Her on-court success translated off the court as well. She signed numerous endorsement deals with major companies like Evian, TAG Heuer, and Nike. Those deals landed her at the top of Forbes’ list of highest-earning female athletes for 11 straight years.
Sharapova’s career took a turn in 2016 when she was banned for two years for testing positive for meldonium, a performance enhancer. When she announced her suspension at the time, many thought she was about to announce her retirement. She had a brilliant quip in response to that, saying that she’d never retire at a hotel with a “fairly ugly carpet.”
Here is Maria Sharapova's "fairly ugly carpet" quote. pic.twitter.com/BSKFR95plh
— Erick Fernandez (@ErickFernandez) March 7, 2016
Sharapova’s suspension was eventually reduced to 15 months, as she claimed that she’d been taking meldonium, which is a heart medication meant to increase blood flow, for a decade due to a magnesium deficiency.
Sharapova never fully recovered from the 15 months she spent away from tennis. When she returned to the court, she was beset by injuries and wasn’t warmly welcomed back by the tennis community. Between her return and her retirement, she won just a single tournament.
In her Vanity Fair essay, Sharapova described what she went through before taking the court at the 2019 US Open, and a realization that helped her accept that she was coming to the end of her tennis career.
Behind closed doors, thirty minutes before taking the court, I had a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match. 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 onto the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step toward victory. I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.
Despite the less-than-ideal end to her tennis career, Sharapova sounds like she’s ready to take on new challenges. She didn’t reveal what she’ll be doing next, but she vowed to bring the same competitive spirit to whatever she chooses.
Looking back now, I realize that tennis has been my mountain. My path has been filled with valleys and detours, but the views from its peak were incredible. After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, though, I’m ready to scale another mountain—to compete on a different type of terrain.
Tennis showed me the world—and it showed me what I was made of. It’s how I tested myself and how I measured my growth. And so in whatever I might choose for my next chapter, my next mountain, I’ll still be pushing. I’ll still be climbing. I’ll still be growing.
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