‘I’m saying goodbye’ – five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova announces her retirement

WTA Tour
Maria Sharapova blowing kisses

In an emotional essay, Maria Sharapova announced her retirement from tennis, confirming that after 28 years of professional tennis she is “ready to scale another mountain—to compete on a different type of terrain”.

The 32-year-old’s decision to hang up her tennis racket for good did not come as a total surprise as she has struggled with injury and poor form over the past few years.

Sharapova played only two matches in 2020 as she made first-round exits from the Brisbane International and the Australian Open.

“How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?” she wrote in Vanity Fair. “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.”

The Russian started her pro career in 2001 at the age of 14 and by 2003 she was winning WTA Tour titles.

She hit the big stage in 2004 when she beat Serena Williams in straight sets in the Wimbledon final to win her maiden Grand Slam and she would go on to become world No 1 and won another four majors, including a Career Grand Slam.

“Before we get to the end, though, let me start at the beginning,” she continued. “The first time I remember seeing a tennis court, my father was playing on it. I was four years old in Sochi, Russia—so small that my tiny legs were dangling off the bench I was sitting on. So small that the racket I picked up next to me was twice my size.

“When I was six, I traveled across the globe to Florida with my father. The whole world seemed gigantic back then. The airplane, the airport, the wide expanse of America: Everything was enormous—as was my parents’ sacrifice.

“When I first started playing, the girls on the other side of the net were always older, taller, and stronger; the tennis greats I watched on TV seemed untouchable and out of reach. But little by little, with every day of practice on the court, this almost mythical world became more and more real.”

She added: “Wimbledon seemed like a good place to start. I was a naive 17-year-old, still collecting stamps, and didn’t understand the magnitude of my victory until I was older—and I’m glad I didn’t.

“My edge, though, was never about feeling superior to other players. It was about feeling like I was on the verge of falling off a cliff—which is why I constantly returned to the court to figure out how to keep climbing.

“The U.S. Open showed me how to overcome distractions and expectations. If you couldn’t handle the commotion of New York—well, the airport was almost next-door. Dosvidanya.”

After a slump came a big blow in 2016 as she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium and was hit with a 24-month that was reduced to 15 months.

She returned to the WTA Tour in April 2017 and went on to win the Tianjin Open in October 2017, which proved to be her final tournament.

“Listening to this voice so intimately, anticipating its every ebb and flow, is also how I accepted those final signals when they came,” Sharapova wrote.

“One of them came last August at the U.S. Open. 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.”

She finished off: “In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life. I’ll miss it everyday. I’ll miss the training and my daily routine: Waking up at dawn, lacing my left shoe before my right, and closing the court’s gate before I hit my first ball of the day. I’ll miss my team, my coaches. I’ll miss the moments sitting with my father on the practice court bench. The handshakes—win or lose—and the athletes, whether they knew it or not, who pushed me to be my best.

“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.”

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