'Tennis – I’m saying goodbye': former world No1 Maria Sharapova retires

Tennis ace calls it a day after slipping to 373 in rankings having struggled for the last few years

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Jon Turner: Maria Sharapova sigs autographs after her win in the match between Maria Sharapova v Ajla Tomljanovic at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Thursday, December 19th, 2019. Zayed Sports City, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Five-time grand slam champion and former world No 1 Maria Sharapova on Wednesday announced her retirement from tennis.

Sharapova, who spent an accumulative 21 weeks at the top of the WTA Tour rankings, has struggled with injury since returning to the tour from a 15-month doping suspension in 2017. Since the start of September 2018 when she exited the US Open at the fourth round, the Russian did not play for the rest of the season and was limited to just seven tournaments in 2019. So far this year, Sharapova has played just two matches, losing both at the Brisbane International and the Australian Open.

"Tennis – I’m saying goodbye,” Sharapova, 32, wrote in a column for Vanity Fair. “In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life. I’ll miss it everyday. I’ll miss the training and my daily routine: Waking up at dawn, lacing my left shoe before my right, and closing the court’s gate before I hit my first ball of the day.

“I’ll miss my team, my coaches. I’ll miss the moments sitting with my father on the practice court bench. The handshakes – win or lose – and the athletes, whether they knew it or not, who pushed me to be my best.”

Sharapova burst onto the tennis scene and into the consciousness of the wider sports world in the summer of 2004 when she won Wimbledon at the age of 17, defeating Serena Williams in the final.

Sharapova quickly became one of the biggest sports stars in the world and went on to win 36 tour titles, including the career Grand Slam of all four major titles, becoming the 10th and most recent female to achieve the feat when she won the 2012 French Open. Sharapova then won the her second Roland Garros title to take her total major tally to five.

She also excelled at the Olympic stage, winning silver at London 2012 and was Russia’s flagbearer at the same Games.

Sharapova’s career was derailed in 2016 when she announced she had failed a drug test after testing positive for meldonium.

She was initially handed a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation, before the suspension was reduced to 15 months on appeal. After returning to the tour in 2017, Sharapova managed to climb back up the rankings to No 21, but once injuries took hold again, she saw her ranking plummet. When she retired on Wednesday, she was ranked No 373.

Sharapova had spoken in December during a visit to Abu Dhabi to compete at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship that she still had the “fire” to return to the top of tennis, but now she has deemed it the right time to hang up her racquet.

“Tennis showed me the world –  and it showed me what I was made of,” she said. “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.”