The FINANCIAL — Maria Sharapova is retiring from tennis at age 32. she’s looking forward to “a sense of stillness,” such as the simple pleasure of lingering over a cup of coffee in the morning. In 2014, for example, Forbes magazine rated Sharapova the No. 34 most highly-paid athlete in the world — and tops among women — while Serena Williams was No. 55
Tennis star Maria Sharapova announced her retirement today in an exclusive essay for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Sharapova, 32, won five Grand Slams and was Forbes’ highest-paid female athlete for 11 straight years, but injuries and a suspension for using a banned substance have kept her off the courts for large chunks of the past four years, Forbes wrote.
Sharapova made one of the most extraordinary journeys in sports. If not for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, she would surely not be a tennis star. Her parents, Yuri and Yelena, were living in Gomel in present-day Belarus in April 1986 when the reactor exploded in nearby Chernobyl. They eventually fled to Nyagan in distant Siberia to live near family. Sharapova was born there in April 1987, but Yuri soon moved the family to sunnier Sochi on the Black Sea, where he discovered tennis and passed it on to his only child. In 1993, when Maria was 6 and post-Soviet Russia was in turmoil, she and her father moved to Florida with less than $1,000 in Yuri’s pocket. Martina Navratilova had noticed Maria’s potential at a Moscow clinic and recommended that she train abroad. It was, in retrospect or not, a wild gamble. Sharapova, who was separated from her mother for more than two years because of American visa restrictions, showed remarkable steel, drive and talent as she worked her way to the top at IMG Academy in Bradenton, as reported by The New York Post.
Sharapova turned pro in 2001 and burst on the global sports scene in 2004 when she defeated Williams to win Wimbledon at 17 years old. Her only sponsors at the time were Nike and Prince, but that quickly changed. The 6-foot-2 Russian was a marketer’s dream, and her agents at IMG quickly capitalized. She signed deals with Tag Heuer, Canon, Motorola, Colgate-Palmolive and others. The value of her Nike deal doubled. Her annual earnings jumped from $3 million to $18 million, which started her run as the top-earning female athlete on the planet, according to Forbes.
“When I first started playing, the girls on the other side of the net were always older, taller, and stronger; the tennis greats I watched on TV seemed untouchable and out of reach. But little by little, with every day of practice on the court, this almost mythical world became more and more real,” Sharapova wrote in her essay for Vogue.
Her career earnings on the court reached $38.8 million, according to the Women’s Tennis Association. That makes her the third-highest earning female athlete ever after Serena Williams and her sister Venus. Their winnings stand at $92.7 million and $41.8 million, respectively. While No. 4 earner Simona Halep, at $36.5, is likely to pass Sharapova soon, she is expected to stay among the top 10 earning women tennis players for the immediate future, given how many top positions on the earnings list are held by retired players. Sharapova’s earnings are also among the top-ever in her sport. Only five men — Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Fafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Pete Sampras — have made more, CNN reported.
Sharapova is ending her career a few years after a 15-month suspension in 2016-2017 that resulted from her testing positive for the banned substance meldonium — which can help an athlete’s oxygen uptake and endurance. It was added to a list of banned substances in late 2015, and Sharapova claimed she neglected to click on an emailed link explaining the change. In 2014, for example, Forbes magazine rated Sharapova the No. 34 most highly-paid athlete in the world — and tops among women — while Serena Williams was No. 55. By that point in their careers, Williams had beaten Sharapova in 16 of 18 matches and the American had won 16 grand slam singles titles, NBC News wrote.
In recent times, Sharapova has been slowed by shoulder injures, ESPN reports, undergoing multiple surgeries. She lost both matches she’s played this year, including the first round of the Australian Open, losing in straight sets to Donna Vekic of Croatia, 6-3, 6-4. Sharapova said for now, she’s looking forward to “a sense of stillness,” such as the simple pleasure of lingering over a cup of coffee in the morning, according to National Public Radio.