by Alaina Fox
After playing tennis for more than 28 years and competing professionally for 19 years, the Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova announced on Feb. 26 that she was “ready to scale another mountain,” stepping down from a career marked by success yet shrouded in scandal.
Through an essay published in Vogue and Vanity Fair, Sharapova explained that her body, especially her shoulder, could no longer overcome the injuries she has suffered throughout her career. With fraying tendons and muscle tears, Sharapova endured extreme pain and underwent numerous surgeries. At the US Open, she needed a numbing procedure before competing to cope with the agony her shoulder caused. After that match, she determined that the way to move forward was to listen to the “final signals” of her body. Realizing that “[her] body had become a distraction,” Sharapova understood that she had to step down to avoid sacrificing her long-term physical health.
Sharapova’s retirement followed a career of considerable success, leaving behind a legacy of accomplishment. She earned five Grand Slam titles and 36 titles overall. Winning at Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open, and the French Open, Sharapova consistently impressed spectators with her aggression on the court.
Despite this success, a doping scandal in 2016 tainted her reputation. Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a drug to help circulation. Sharapova explained that her doctor had prescribed meldonium in 2006 to alleviate a variety of health conditions. The World Anti-Doping Agency had not prohibited the drug until 2016, and Sharapova maintained that she was unaware of the recent change to the banned substances list. That being said, she admitted, “I take full responsibility for it… I made a huge mistake.” Originally, her penalty was a two-year suspension, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced it to 15 months after finding that Sharapova had no intention of using the drug for a competitive advantage and that her ignorance constituted negligence rather than genuine cheating.
Following her departure from tennis, Sharapova will continue building on her successful business pursuits, which have earned her tens of millions of dollars in addition to the money won at competitions. Her previous partnerships include Cole Haan, Nike, Porsche, Evian, Land Rover, Samsung, and Canon. Sharapova will likely shift her focus now to expanding Sugarpova, a candy line she founded in 2012.
Positive or negative, Sharapova has long found herself a fixture of media attention, and even as she transitions to this new chapter of her life, there is no doubt that she will remain a provocative public figure.
(Sources: NPR, Vanity Fair, Tennis Now, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, NYT, Forbes, Business Insider)