Maria Sharapova retired from pro tennis at the age of 32 on Wednesday. If you know me at all, you know I am a huge Sharapova fan. However, even though I started watching tennis when Sharapova was a teenager for the same reason every other male did, it goes way deeper than that.
She is perhaps the most unique athlete ever. From the moment she defeated Serena Williams out of nowhere in 2004 to win Wimbledon at age 17, she was a made woman. With her supermodel good looks, the endorsements flooded in. She never had to pick up a racquet again, but she did.
At one point, she was the highest earning female athlete in the world for 11 straight years, but she was always a tennis player first. She added to her trophy case with the U.S. Open in 2006 and Austrailian Open in 2008, along with a slew of other titles.
There was certainly no need for her to come back to the sport after a shoulder injury and surgery kept her out from August 2008-May 2009, but she did. She added two more major titles at the French Open in 2012 and 2014, completing her career Grand Slam. This is something only 18 people in history have. You get the idea. There are many quotes about Sharapova’s commitment and dedication to the sport, but I’ll keep it simple. Sharapova herself once said “I’m an athlete I go out there and fight my heart out.” Even though another long-term shoulder injury added to a forearm complication was too much to overcome, my God did she ever do that.
She was not as naturally athletically gifted as many of her peers. Frankly, at well over six feet tall, she was always an awkward mover around the court, but for most of her career, it hardly mattered. Often, just wanting it more was enough. She won 36 career singles titles, three doubles titles, five majors, spent 21 weeks at world number one, won Olympic silver for Russia, was part of a championship Fed Cup team, and had 98 wins against top ten players.
Sharapova’s legacy is not without complication. She served a 15-month doping ban from early 2016 to the spring of 2017. Haters are always gonna hate, but she was exonerated from intentional wrongdoing. Also, her final career title and five of those 98 top ten wins came after the ban.
Most people are not tennis fans and will remember Sharapova for glam shots like this.
I am sure there are a lot more of those coming in retirement. However, I will remember Sharapova for shots like the one below. Shots that show the girl who came to the U.S. from Russia with almost nothing and fought like hell to win tennis matches, even after she had everything.
As someone who was born with a major physical disability, I often spend my life listening to people tell me what I can’t do, and that’s hard. I have learned a lot from Sharapova in that regard. Just keep fighting, no matter how bad things look, and you will be rewarded.
Sharapova was clearly playing in pain for the last two years. It was time. I am glad she is no longer putting herself through the ringer. But I will miss planning my weeks and sleep schedule around seeing her matches. I will miss her shouting “come on” after ripping a point winning backhand. I don’t rip point winning backhands, but I have adopted the “come on” in my own life. I will miss her playing lefty forehands to stay in points when she was in trouble.
I will miss the three set battles she seemed to always grind through. I will miss her going from competing to the point of almost foaming at the mouth to a million-dollar smile in a nanosecond after winning match point. I will miss her constantly clenched fist on the court. I will miss her post match press conferences where her wicked sense of humor was on public display. Win or lose, she never dodged a question. She often covered everything from tennis, to fashion, to candy.
I will miss hoping scheduling worked out for her to play in my hometown of Cincinnati every year and am thankful it did on a few occasions. I will miss learning about the many coaches and trainers who kept her so engaged for so long. Thank you to Michael Joyce, Thomas Hogstedt, Sven Groeneveld, and many others. Thank you to her agent Max Eisenbud, a true constant of the Sharapova empire.
I will miss going to YouTube before matches to find out all I can about Sharapova opponents with whom I wasn’t overly familiar. Yes, I will even miss the trademark Sharapova shriek.
My passion for tennis isn’t going anywhere. I will still follow the men’s and women’s tours week in and week out. I view the four majors like a lot of the rest of the world views Christmas. However, I will never watch another tennis match and have a hardcore rooting interest.
As much as fans like me will miss Sharapova, the sport will miss her more. The current generation of players like Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka is immensely talented, but they all have weeks where they show up at tournaments uninterested. They speak openly about being distracted by the off-court obligations that come with being a top player.
Sharapova was thrown on the world’s stage at 17 and handled everything just fine while still managing to put the sport first… Always.
Whatever life after tennis holds for Sharapova, she will be successful. She knows no other way. I hope she still pops into the tennis world on occasion. However, the preceding two paragraphs and everything else here is why, as hard as the media will try to create one, there will NEVER be another Maria Sharapova.