The retired tennis star should have been remembered for her five grand slams and tremendous competitive spirit but simply cannot be
Maria Sharapova announced her retirement from tennis after failing to overcome a chronic shoulder injury (Getty
If only we could remember Maria Sharapova’s career purely on the fact she won five Grand Slams – the first of which was Wimbledon when she was just 17 – and that she is one of 10 women to have won every Major.
But we can’t. Because of those 15 months that she spent out of the game because she broke anti-doping rules.
Sharapova, who announced her retirement on Wednesday after admitting defeat to an ongoing shoulder injury, was a tremendous competitor; single-minded and tough as nails. For a time she was the only other woman outside of the Williams sisters whose aura was so powerful that other opponents would appear to be beaten as soon as they stepped out on court. Indeed, among the participants on the women’s tour, only Serena Williams seemed to have a spell over Sharapova when she was at her peak, winning 18 of their 20 meetings.
But in one afternoon in 2016 all her success on court paled into insignificance when it was announced that she would be banned for taking Meldonium, a drug which is usually used to treat angina.
Read more: Maria Sharapova will be the first – but soon Federer, Nadal and Serena will all follow her into retirement and end a special era of tennis
Her ban was eventually reduced to 15 months on appeal, during which she was found to have not deliberately set out to cheat – the drug she had taken had only recently been banned and she claimed not to have seen the missives from the World Anti-doping Agency, the International Tennis Federation and the Women’s Tour. There were five notices to players in total telling them of the impending change in status for Meldonium, but Sharapova said she missed them all.
And so the pictures of her kneeling with arms raised in triumph at winning Wimbledon in 2004, or her adopting a similar pose when she completed her career Grand Slam at the French Open eight years later are tainted by the knowledge that she achieved both with performance enhancing drugs in her system – legal or otherwise.
Which wouldn’t be so bad. But since returning in 2017 (as a wildcard entry at an event sponsored by one of her main benefactors, Porsche) she has displayed not even an ounce of remorse for her transgression.
Maria Sharapova celebrates victory at Wimbledon in 2004 (Getty Images)
Nor, it must be said has she explained how she was able to continue at the highest level without the aid of Meldonium, which was prescribed as a necessary medication for over a decade before her ban.
She admitted she was stupid and embarrassed for the mistake, but has never explained fully why she took a drug meant for six-week courses on and off for years. And contrition? Forget it: next question, to use the phrase Sharapova tersely uttered every time the subject was brought up in press conferences.
Since her return she has been welcomed by some – namely tournament organisers and the special kind of tennis fans that slavishly worship their chosen heroes – and booed by many others. She has never attained the level she was able to reach before her ban, hampered as she was with the shoulder injury which ultimately ended her career.
And because of her ban and subsequent lack of remorse, the level of achievement and adulation she received is forever tarnished.