Instant, immense fame, a No. 1 ranking and two more Grand Slam titles followed, all before she turned 21. Sharapova eventually won the career Grand Slam — becoming the 10th and most recent women’s player to accomplish it — with titles at the 2012 and 2014 French Opens, even though she had once said she felt like a “cow on ice” while playing on clay.
Sharapova also made only one more Grand Slam final after she won at Roland Garros in 2014. In 2016, she received a two-year ban after a positive test for meldonium, a substance that had been banned less than a month earlier and one she had taken for years (her suspension later was reduced to 15 months by an arbitration panel, which found she was not an “intentional doper”).
Sharapova, somewhat infamously, also struggled against Serena Williams as the American maintained her spot atop tennis’s hierarchy: After winning two of the first three matches they played, Sharapova lost the next 19. Their most recent meeting, in the first round of the 2019 U.S. Open, lasted only 58 minutes.
So these are the merits upon which her legacy can be assessed after the news Wednesday that Sharapova is retiring, effective immediately, at 32. Immediate and somewhat prolonged success yet only five Grand Slam titles (tying her for 22nd all time with eight other women). A combined 21 weeks at No. 1 yet none since 2012. The taint of a failed drug test, however unintentional. A rivalry with Williams for the women’s tennis spotlight that was a rivalry only on the most superficial of terms.
“Looking back now, I realize that tennis has been my mountain,” Sharapova wrote in an essay announcing her retirement in Vanity Fair. “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.”
Beset by injuries even during her most productive years, Sharapova was able to play only 15 matches last season because of shoulder trouble, going 8-7. Her final match, a 6-3, 6-4 loss to Donna Vekic at the Australian Open last month, dropped her world ranking outside of No. 350, and she was ranked 373rd as of Wednesday. Since her return from the doping suspension, Sharapova won just one title and advanced to the quarterfinals of a grand slam tournament only once, at the 2018 French Open, and only then after Williams withdrew because of injury ahead of their fourth-round match.
Sharapova also was a potent promotional force, scoring endorsement deals with Nike, Canon, UBS, Porsche and Tiffany, among others, over her career. And the deals didn’t stop when the wins dried up: Last year, she ranked second on Forbes’s list of the world’s richest female athletes (behind Williams, of course). But Sharapova, in announcing her retirement, seemed to suggest that her battles on the court were what mattered.
“Throughout my career, Is it worth it? was never even a question — in the end, it always was,” she wrote. “My mental fortitude has always been my strongest weapon. Even if my opponent was physically stronger, more confident — even just plain better — I could, and did, persevere.”
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