By Martyn Herman
BERLIN (Reuters) – Maria Sharapova, the Russian five-time Grand Slam champion who became one of the highest paid sportswomen in the world, announced her retirement at the age of 32 on Wednesday.
Siberia-born Sharapova, whose Wimbledon victory over Serena Williams (NYSE:) in 2004, aged 17, propelled her to superstardom and riches, broke the news in an article for magazine Vanity Fair.
“I’m new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis — I’m saying goodbye,” Sharapova, who gave tennis the ultimate rags to riches story after moving with her father Yuri to train in Florida, aged six, wrote in the article.
Her decision is hardly a major surprise as she has struggled with injuries and poor form since returning from a 15-month drugs ban in 2017, the result of testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
The former world number has played only two matches this year, losing in the first round of the Australian Open, with her ranking sliding to 373.
“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,” she said.
“After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, though, I’m ready to scale another mountain, to compete on a different type of terrain.”
Sharapova, whose trademarks were her ferocious intensity and pounding groundstrokes, completed her career Grand Slam when she won the French Open in 2010. She also won the Roland Garros title again in 2014, her last Grand Slam crown.
She became the first Russian woman to reach number one in the rankings in 2005 and claimed the U.S. Open title in 2006. She also won the Australian Open in 2008.
“It’s a shame, of course, because Maria was a role model for everyone,” Shamil Tarpishchev, president of Russia’s Tennis Federation, told RIA news agency.
“Many girls compared themselves to her. She was number one for the popularization of Russian tennis. Her image component was huge.”
Sharapova’s career has been blighted by shoulder problems with surgery for a rotator cuff tear in 2008 forcing her off the Tour for six months and dropping her outside the top 100.
Battling back to fitness to claim two French Open titles on a claycourt surface she once loathed earned Sharapova admiration, but her career took a dark turn in 2016.
After an 18th consecutive defeat by Serena Williams, in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, Sharapova failed an anti-doping test and was initially banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
Sharapova claimed she did not realize that meldonium, which she said she had taken for health issues throughout her career, had been recently added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list.
Her ban was eventually reduced to 15 months and she returned to action in April 2017 after being handed wildcards at several events, which drew criticism from some fellow players.
Later that year she won the Tianjin Open, the 36th and last title of a career that earned her $38.7 million in prize money — a figure dwarfed by off-court earnings that according to Forbes made her the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years in a row.
With the all-too-frequent career breaks, Sharapova has established a confectionary company called Sugapova, from which some of the proceeds go the Maria Sharapova Foundation — a charity she set up to help victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident in her native Russia.
While that will keep her busy, Sharapova said the thrill of competition will be missed.
“In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life,” she said. “I’ll miss it every day, I’ll miss the training and my daily routine.”