Tennis reacts to Sharapova bombshell
Maria Sharapova was a star on and off the tennis court, reaching No. 1 in the rankings, winning five Grand Slam titles and amassing a personal fortune estimated at $300 million.
The 32-year-old called time on her career overnight after losing a long-term battle with injury having amassed a total of 36 WTA titles and spending 21 weeks on top of the rankings.
Sharapova burst onto the scene as a supremely gifted teenager and won her Grand Slams before serving a 15-month ban for failing a drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open.
The Russian's ranking is currently 373rd. Sharapova has hardly played in the past year because of longstanding shoulder problems.
When she did feature she lost as many matches as she won and was dumped out in the first rounds at Wimbledon, the US Open and, most recently, the Australian Open in Melbourne.
Siberia-born Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
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. pic.twitter.com/kkOiJmXuln— Maria Sharapova (@MariaSharapova) February 26, 2020
She shot to fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004, the third-youngest player to conquer the All England Club's hallowed grass courts.
She became world number one in 2005, at the age of 18, and won the US Open the next year.
"One of the keys to my success was that I never looked back and I never looked forward," Sharapova said. "I believed that if I kept grinding and grinding, I could push myself to an incredible place."
But in 2007 Sharapova began her long on-off battle with shoulder trouble. She would win the 2008 Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.
In 2012, the Siberian-born Sharapova captured the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam. She added Olympic silver to her resume that year.
Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low. More fitness troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for the banned heart drug meldonium.
TENNIS HAILS A 'GREAT CHAMPION'
Novak Djokovic hailed Sharapova as a "legend" with "the mind of a champion".
"Her impact on the sport, not just women's tennis, but tennis in general, was great. It still is great," said world number one Djokovic in Dubai where he made the quarter-finals on Wednesday.
"She's a very smart girl, someone that I know very well for a long time. She has the mind of a champion, someone that never gives up. She's shown that especially in the last five years.
"She had a lot of obstacles and difficulties, especially with her injuries and everything that she had to endure in order to give herself at least another chance to play competitive tennis.
"For someone that has won five Grand Slams and has been No. 1 of the world, a legend of the sport. She should be proud of everything she has achieved."
US legend Billie Jean King said Sharapova had been a "great champion" ever since becoming an overnight sensation as a 17-year-old Wimbledon champion in 2004.
"From the day @MariaSharapova won her first #Wimbledon title at age 17, she has been a great champion. A 5x major champion and a former World No. 1, her business success is just as impressive as her tennis achievements. Maria, the best is yet to come for you! #MissYouMaria," tweeted 12-time major winner King.
Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, who defeated Sharapova in the 2011 final at the All England Club, praised the Russian's "hard work and fight".
"It was a pleasure to share the court with you @MariaSharapova. We always had great battles when we played and I have so much respect for your hard work and the way you always fight for everything," tweeted the Czech.
"You have achieved a lot in your life so far and I know this is just the start."
Men's world number six Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was only five when Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, said many of the Russian's rivals can only be envious of her success.
"I think many people are jealous of the career that she had," said the Greek, also playing in Dubai this week.
"Obviously she was behind Serena, another great athlete. I would say after Serena she's probably the best after her.
"She had a really good career with great victories, great achievements in tennis. I think she added a lot to our sport."
WTA chief executive Steve Simon added: "She will be greatly missed by her millions of fans around the world, but I know this will also mark an exciting new beginning for Maria as she now focuses on her many business ventures, charitable activities and other outside interests."