MARIA SHARAPOVA has decided to quit tennis, saying: “Sport gave me a life. I’ll miss it every day.”
In an exclusive 1,148-word essay for Vogue and Vanity Fair, the Russian has announced her intention to hang up her racket after 28 years involved with the sport.
Having fallen to 373rd in the world as she struggled with a shoulder injury, the Florida-based star feels now is the right time to walk away from the competitive arena.
The 32-year-old will forever remain a glamorous yet controversial figure in the sport.
Sharapova won five singles majors, the first being the 2004 Wimbledon title when she shocked Serena Williams aged 17.
However at the 2016 Australian Open she tested positive for banned drug Meldonium and was never the same player when she returned to the circuit after serving a 15-month ban.
Her last match proved to be a straight-sets defeat by Donna Vekic in the first round of this year’s Australian Open.
Sharapova refused to explain what she will do next except enjoy the simple things like “lingering over a morning cup of coffee, unexpected weekend getaways” and “dance classes”.
She wrote “How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?
“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.
“One of the keys to my success was that I never looked back and I never looked forward. I believed that if I kept grinding and grinding, I could push myself to an incredible place.
“But there is no mastering tennis — you must simply keep heeding the demands of the court while trying to quiet those incessant thoughts in the back of your mind.
“Throughout my career, Is it worth it? was never even a question — in the end, it always was.
After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles I’m ready to scale another mountain — to compete on a different type of terrain.
“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.
“I’ve never really felt compelled to speak about work, or effort, or grit — every athlete understands the unspoken sacrifices they must make to succeed.
“But as I embark on my next chapter, I want anyone who dreams of excelling in anything to know that doubt and judgment are inevitable: You will fail hundreds of times, and the world will watch you.
“Accept it. Trust yourself. I promise that you will prevail.
“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 realise 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.
“In the meantime, there are a few simple things I’m really looking forward to: A sense of stillness with my family.
“Lingering over a morning cup of coffee. Unexpected weekend getaways. Workouts of my choice (hello, dance class!).
“Tennis showed me the world — and it showed me what I was made of.
“It’s how I tested myself and how I measured my growth. And so in whatever I might choose for my next chapter, my next mountain, I’ll still be pushing. I’ll still be climbing. I’ll still be growing.”
Sharapova first hit a tennis ball at the age of four with her dad Yuri keen to give her the best possible chance of success in the sport.
By the time she was six, Martina Navratilova had recommended she moved to the IMG Academy in Florida and a year later Yuri and his daughter – neither of whom could speak English – headed to the United States.
They went with just $700 and left wife and mother Yelena behind for two years due to visa restrictions.
Sharapova continued to progress throughout her time in Florida and won her fair share of prestigious titles and awards from a very early age before making her pro debut in 2001 on her 14th birthday.
But in 2004 came her breakthrough moment – seeded 13th, she beat Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals and then two-time defending champion and top seed Williams.
The Russian – renowned for her record-breaking grunt which once hit 105 decibels in 2009 – then beat Williams in November 2004 but lost their next 19 meetings, including in three major finals.
However, despite her struggles against Serena, Sharapova went on to win the remaining three Grand Slams – the US in 2006, Australian in 2008 and then the French in 2012 and 2014, losing the 2013 final.
But the drugs ban, as well as the general wear and tear from a number of injuries and surgeries, meant she struggled to regain her top form and did not go beyond a Grand Slam quarter-final after Wimbledon 2015, falling at the first hurdle in her last three.
She retires with 36 singles titles to her name, an Olympic silver medal and a Fed Cup glory with Russia in 2008, spending 21 weeks as the world No1.
While Sharapova was clearly a major success on the court, she certainly proved a big hit off it, too.
Lee Ray is a qualified journalist dedicated to inform and update you with News, Gossip, Entertainment, Showbiz and Music!