Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas both paid tribute to Maria Sharapova and her “great impact” on tennis after the Russian star announced her retirement.
Five-time grand slam champion and former world No 1 Sharapova called time on her tennis career on Wednesday following a lengthy battle with injury that has resulted in her playing just two matches this season. "Tennis – I’m saying goodbye,” Sharapova, 32, wrote in an editorial for Vanity Fair.
Sharapova leaves tennis after becoming just the 10th – and most recent – female player to win all four grand slam titles. She also spent a total of 21 weeks at the top of the world rankings, won 34 tour titles, an Olympic silver medal, the Fed Cup, and the WTA Finals on her debut appearance in 2004. However, injuries have taken their toll in recent years, particularly since returning from a 15-month doping suspension in 2017.
On the back of her on-court achievements, Sharapova became one of the biggest sports stars on the planet, transcending tennis and building a multimillion-dollar brand and business empire. For 11 consecutive years, she was the highest-paid female athlete in the world.
Sharapova also channeled her influence into philanthropy, becoming a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and setting up the Maria Sharapova Foundation.
“Her impact on the sport was great,” Djokovic said after beating Philipp Kohlschreiber to reach the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals on Wednesday. “It still is great, and it's going to keep on being present because her brand exceeds her tennis achievements. She's a very smart girl, someone that I’ve known very well for a long time.
“She has the mind of a champion, someone who 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 in the world, legend of the sport, it's not easy to restart all over again. She has done that so many times in the last five years.
“Great respect to her. She should definitely be proud of everything she has achieved.”
Men’s world No 1 Djokovic was recently with Sharapova in the UAE when both players competed at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) in Abu Dhabi in December. Tsitsipas was also at MWTC with Djokovic and Sharapova, and the Greek world No 6 believes the Russian will be remembered as an all-time great.
“I spoke to her little bit. I met her last year,” Tsitsipas said after his win in Dubai over Alexander Bublik. “I understand the way she approached tennis, the attitude, all of that.
“She had a really good career. I think many people are jealous of the career that she had. Obviously she was behind Serena, another great athlete, but I would say after Serena she was probably the best.
“She had a really good career with great victories, great achievements in tennis. I think she added a lot to our sport.”