If not for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, this 6-foot-2 Russian wouldn’t have been in tennis to mark the history. Her parents, Yuri and Yelena, were living in Gomel in present-day Belarus in April 1986 when the reactor exploded in nearby Chernobyl. They eventually fled to Nyagan in distant Siberia. Sharapova was born there in April 1987, but Yuri soon moved the family to sunnier Sochi on the Black Sea, where he learned about tennis and passed it on to his only child.
In 1993, when Maria was 6, she alongside her father moved to Florida. It was Martina Navratilova who had noticed Maria’s potential at a Moscow clinic and recommended that she train abroad.
Though Sharapova 32-year-old played under the banner of Russia with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), she has lived in and been a permanent resident of US since 1994.
Sharapova started competing in the WTA tour since 2001 and had been ranked world No. 1 in singles by the WTA on five separate occasions, for a total of 21 weeks. Being one among the ten women and the only Russian to hold a career Gand Slam, she is also an Olympic medalist, having won a silver medal in women’s singles at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
During her career, she won five Grand Slam titles — two at the French Open and one each at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Her array of titles does stop there, winning 36 titles in total, including the year-ending WTA Finals in her debut in 2004. She also won three doubles titles. Her achieved were praised– seen as an extraordinary level of longevity in tennis, which made her opponents and many tennis pundits call her one of tennis’s best competitors.
Sharapova, the former tennis sensation became one of the richest and most globally recognizable athletes of the 21st century (world’s highest-earning female athlete for 11 consecutive years, according to Forbes), but lost her position to the use of drugs. After she was suspended for using a banned substance (meldonium) in 2016 for 15 months, she never made back to her former position. However, her journey was a spur by itself for the tennis world to remember for decades to come.
Difficulties faced by Sharapova
Despite her high perseverance to keep on going in the court, her injuries were pushing her back since 2016. Her recurring tendon damage in the right shoulder and inflammation in her forearms that at times has made it excruciatingly painful for her even to grip a racket, much less rip a forehand.
Many had thought that her successful career/extraordinary performance in court was because she used meldonium. Some had even asked her about the impact of forgoing meldonium on her results. She smiled through those question stating “Zero” and said her injuries kept her from performing well since she was 21.
Sharapova had her first shoulder operation in 2008 to repair a torn rotator cuff. She also underwent another minor procedure in February 2019 to repair a torn tendon and a small labrum tear. However, the shoulder kept fraying, and Sharapova has also struggled with intersection syndrome in both forearms.
Sharapova, now down to No. 373 in the world rankings, still plays with full intensity despite some technical and physical shortcomings. She seldom liked playing at the net, and her foot speed could not compare to that of rivals like the Williams sisters and Halep.
In one of her recent interviews, she stated that “because the stubbornness that was keeping me going was keeping me going for wrong reasons,” which spoke a lot about her pain–“overwhelming heaviness”– in her words that made her decision to retire.
No Farewell tour
There will be no farewell tour.
“I don’t feel I need to go on the court for the entire world and every fan to know that this is my last time on the court,” Sharapova said. “Even when I was younger, it was not the way I wanted it to end.”
Sharapova is now all set to take up new challenges and pleasures — for more time with her boyfriend, the British businessman Alexander Gilkes, and for her plans to study architecture later this year as well as focusing on growing her candy businesses.