Whether it was her first appearance in 2001 at the age of 14 or her final appearance at the Australian Open there was always that aura and intimidating air of playing Maria Sharapova.
The walk onto the court, the famous shriek she gives out, the stare or the missing off the lines when walking around the court there was that aura of playing against the person as well as the player.
Sharapova made her ITF debut in 2001 at the age of 14 but at just the age of 15 made her WTA tour debut at the Pacific Life Open (Indian Wells). Maria who was unranked won 5-7 6-1 6-2 against Rippner in round one to secure her first main draw win and her first defeat came a couple of days later to a certain Monica Seles losing 0-6 2-6.
There have been soo many moments which I will come to in her career which have defined her character, attitude and her personality on court but has her legacy and reputation been tarnished by what happened a few years back.
On the 7th of March 2016 the Russian summoned journalists from around the world to what she described as a “down town Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet” to announce she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open a couple of months before.
Sharapova throughout her career was taking a drug called Meldonium, she was taking it due to several health issues she was having in 2006. She was being sick, getting the flu and having irregular EKG results and a family history of diabetes.
On January 1st in the updated WADA banned substance manual the drug was banned but this somehow bypassed Sharapova and her entourage.
I am of that belief and still am now that it was negligent by her and her team to not even check the updated list seemed quite bizarre when doping control has been such a constant talking point in worldwide sport.
It caused debate throughout the game on the morals of then wildcards when she returned which I wasn’t a big fan of but she did see her ban cut.
Her ban from tennis was cut from two years to 15 months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The court declared that despite Sharapova being unaware Meldonium was added to WADA’s banned list she should not be considered “an intentional doper”
It did tarnish her career and that was a shame.
Social media is a wonderful tool and sadly it is as we know used to slander people and get away with it. There is a difference between expressing an opinion and going after someone personally.
I’m a tennis fan but I was never a massive Sharapova fan and I wasn’t a big fan of the welcomed return she had to big events in the sport but I respect what she has done in the game and that comes back to 2004.
The Wimbledon win at just the age of 17 was quite remarkable. At 17 and seeded 13th in London she orchestrated her way round the first three matches with ease dropping 11 games and winning 36.
A few weeks before Sharapova played her first Grand Slam quarter final on the clay at Roland Garros and struggled 1-6 3-6 against the Argentine Paola Suarez so that knowledge even at a young age wasn’t there in the big events.
11th seed Ai Sugiyama was her opponent in the last eight at Wimbledon she had to come from a set down and level at 5-5 in the second set before edging to take it 7-5 and run away with that third set 6-1.
6-1 became a favourite scoreline for the Russia as it was what she needed from 2-6 6-6 down against Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals. After winning the tie-break 7-5 against the 5th seed she raced away once again.
17 years old and a first Grand Slam final, it doesn’t happen often. It was the rivalry we all expected to kick on but remarkably her 6-1 6-4 demolition of Serena turned out to be just her first or two wins over the American throughout their history against each other.
What made her great was her determination, she was never a fan of the clay courts at all. For anyone though a record of three quarter finals and one semi-finals appearance at Roland Garros in six years between 2004 and 2009 is a good record.
Maria once described herself at Roland Garros in 2007 following a win as:
“I was like a cow on ice”
She didn’t like it but she never stopped trying despite the discomfort on the surface and also the injuries she maintained that determined edge.
Between 2011 and 2014 Maria won an incredible 25 of 27 matches she played at Roland Garros winning the title in 2012 and 2014 and make three consecutive finals and it clicked for her in Madrid and Rome winning three titles in that period too.
Sharapova achieved soo much but she falls into that category of how much could she have won without the injuries?
After the drugs ban she did struggle to stay fit and find momentum. If it wasn’t the shoulder, it was the knee and it was non-stop for her but she continued and it would have been tough going from a player who wins titles yearly winning over 40 matches but between 2017 and 2019 only won 43 and lost 24.
One of the talking points in her career was the rivalry with Serena Williams. There’s respect there but Sharapova kept herself to herself pretty much on the tour. The matches they played were great fun but an early rivalry which the Russian led at 2-1 come the end of 2004 turned into one way traffic with Serena winning their next 19 matches to finish their head to head at 20-2 in favour of the American.
The last match they played was their first meeting in over three years as it was the first round of last years Australian Open. It was highly anticipated but a sad viewing from a neutral perspective at high far away Maria was as she lost 1-6 1-6.
I had the pleasure at the beginning of last year of watching Sharapova live against Caroline Wozniacki and it was everything I expected and more. It was a fun match but no matter what was happening she played with that belief and determination.
For me that will be Sharapova’s legacy. She had great early success but built on it, she did fade away. She tried to and she did better herself. As I said she was unfortunate with injuries but she brought a spark to the court.
You knew you were playing Maria Sharapova and that just added pressure. The walk on the court, the stare down from the service line and drama and personality that came with the tennis. She brought a new side to women’s tennis and it was fantastic.
One of her iconic moments on the court for me was in Cincinnati in 2014 when she led 4-3 15-40 against Ana Ivanovic and was broken. Earlier on in the match Ana had the doctor on as she wasn’t feeling great and had her blood pressure checked and after being broken the Russian made a comment to the umpire…
I do hope we see Maria around tennis in the future and I expect her to make a success out of what she does next. She is not only one of the biggest names in tennis but in sport and with her business as well she takes on any task with that undoubted determination.