Sharapova retires from tennis at age 32 with 5 Slam titles

Russia’s Maria Sharapova with the Suzanne-Lenglen trophy after defeating Italy’s Sara Errani in the French Open Women’s Singles final at Roland Garros, Paris, 2012. (AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Sharapova retires from tennis at age 32 with 5 Slam titles

  • Sharapova moved to Florida as a child and trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy
  • Powerful at the baseline, and famous for a never-give-up attitude, Sharapova reached No. 1 for the first time at 18 in 2005

Maria Sharapova was a transcendent star in tennis from the time she was a teenager, someone whose grit and groundstrokes earned her a career Grand Slam and whose off-court success included millions of dollars more in endorsement deals than prize money.
And yet, Sharapova walked away from her sport rather quietly Wednesday at the age of 32, ending a career that featured five major championships, time at No. 1 in the WTA rankings, a 15-month doping ban and plenty of problems with her right shoulder.
There was no goodbye tournament, no last moment in the spotlight, for someone so used to garnering so much attention for so long, with or without a racket in hand.
“I’ve been pretty good in the past, balancing my time with my sponsors with my tennis, because I know my priority. At the end of the day, what I love doing is competing, and that’s where my heart is at: on center court,” Sharapova said in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press right before that year’s US Open.
“There are a couple of sides of me,” she said then. “There’s the Maria that’s a tennis player. There’s the Maria that is a normal girl. And there’s the Maria who’s a businesswoman. And that’s where the ‘Maria Sharapova brand’ comes into play.”
Around that time, she signed a “lifetime” contract with a racket company, a deal that eventually was ended. And two weeks after that, she would win the US Open trophy while wearing an outfit that resembled a sparkly black cocktail dress, part of the “couple of sides” persona she cultivated.
Two years later, though, Sharapova missed the tournament at Flushing Meadows because she needed surgery on her shoulder, which has troubled her off and on ever since; she had another operation on that joint in 2019.
She lost the last four matches she played at major tournaments, with first-round exits in her past three appearances, including at the Australian Open in January. That turned out to be the last match of her career and made her 0-2 this season.
In an essay written for Vanity Fair and Vogue about her decision to retire, posted online Wednesday, Sharapova asks: “How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?”
She disclosed that she “had a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match” a half-hour before walking on court for a first-round exit at last year’s US Open, writing: “I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.”
Born in Russia, and “discovered” by Martina Navratilova at an exhibition event in Moscow, Sharapova moved to Florida as a child and trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
“We’ll miss her, baby. She’s very special,” Bollettieri told the AP in an interview last year, when Sharapova returned to his academy as she worked her way back from her latest shoulder procedure. “The tour will miss her. ... Always competitive. All business.”
Sharapova burst onto the tennis scene at 17 by upsetting Serena Williams to win Wimbledon in 2004. She would beat Williams again at that year’s season-ending tour championship to improve to 2-1 against the American — and never won another one of their matchups, dropping the next 19 in a row.
Powerful at the baseline, and famous for a never-give-up attitude, Sharapova reached No. 1 for the first time at 18 in 2005. After adding her second major trophy at the US Open the following year, she collected an Australian Open title in 2008, and then won the French Open in 2012 and 2014.
Sharapova is one of only six women in the professional era to win each major tennis title at least once. She made 10 Grand Slam finals in all, going 5-5; the last came in 2015 at the Australian Open, where she was the runner-up to Williams.
At the 2016 Australian Open, where Williams beat her in the quarterfinals, Sharapova tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium.
After initially being given a two-year suspension, Sharapova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced the penalty, ruling she bore “less than significant fault” in the case and could not “be considered to be an intentional doper.”
Since returning from that suspension in 2017, Sharapova managed to reach only one Slam quarterfinal.
Her 6-3, 6-4 loss to Donna Vekic at Melbourne last month sent Sharapova’s ranking tumbling outside of the top 350 — she is 373rd this week.
Asked after that defeat whether it might have been her last appearance at the Australian Open, Sharapova repeatedly replied with, “I don’t know.”
“I put in all the right work. There is no guarantee that even when you do all of those things, that you’re guaranteed victory in a first round or in the third round or in the final. That’s the name of this game,” Sharapova said after what turned out to be her final match. “That’s why it’s so special to be a champion, even for one time.”
A little more than a month later, she told the world she was done with her playing career.
“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,” Sharapova wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “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.”


Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

Updated 07 July 2020

Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

  • Marcelo Bielsa’s side look odds-on to secure the place among English football’s elite

LONDON: After 16 years in the wilderness, Leeds United are on the brink of an eagerly awaited return to the Premier League — as long as they can hold their nerve with the finish line in sight.

A 3-1 win at Blackburn on Saturday moved Leeds a step closer to the promised land from the long purgatory of the lower leagues.

Marcelo Bielsa's side sit one point clear at the top of the Championship heading into their last five matches.

With third-placed Brentford six points behind, Leeds look odds-on to secure the place among English football's elite that their legion of fanatical fans used to regard as their birthright.

But Leeds were in a similar position last season and squandered a chance for automatic promotion before imploding in the playoffs.

When Leeds beat Sheffield Wednesday on April 13, 2019, a capacity crowd at Elland Road serenaded their jubilant team as if promotion had been secured.

Just 15 days later, after losses to Wigan and Brentford and a mad-cap draw against Villa — in which Bielsa told his team to deliberately let their opponents score following United's controversial opener — ended the Leeds top two challenge.

Leeds lost their nerve and Derby took full advantage in the playoff semifinal second leg, winning 4-2 to leave the Elland Road faithful in tears.

From the ashes of that bitter evening, Bielsa has dragged Leeds back into promotion contention.

But, with last season's collapse in mind, Leeds fans might have been alarmed to hear Bielsa admit he is feeling the strain of the run-in.

"Yes," Bielsa said when asked if he felt anxious during the Blackburn game.

"Every match in this period is very important. If we get distracted we will pay for that so we need to keep focused in every match."

With English football being played behind closed doors for the rest of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Leeds will benefit from playing in silence, rather than in front of their anxious fans.

"I'd love to be there more than anything. But it's such a nervous time and I do think that could impact the players," Leeds season-ticket holder Simon Sanders told AFP.

"Nothing feels quite right with this virus and the way the world has changed but if we make it the party will go on for weeks."

Three of Leeds' remaining games will be played in the empty stands of Elland Road against struggling trio Stoke, Barnsley and Charlton.

Win those games and taken a point from one of their two away games at Swansea and Derby and Leeds will be assured of promotion.

It would be a moment to savor after such a long period in the shadows.

Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Don Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.

But since being relegated from the top tier in 2004, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.

Describing the club's ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had "lived the dream."

Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.

No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa is so beloved after just two years in charge.

The former Argentina, Lazio, Marseille and Bilbao boss has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the 'Damned United' by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as 'Dirty Leeds' in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Revie era.

Now Leeds' Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani is embracing that checkered past in a bid to secure promotion at last.

"For Leeds, we have a history of being 'Dirty Leeds' and we actually channel that," Radrizzani told FIFA's Professional Football Journal.

"All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds player.

"I want to help Leeds return to the level our history and fans deserve."