It was five months ago, 26 February 2020 to be exact and just before the chaos of COVID-19 really kicked in that one of the greats of women’s tennis announced that she was, to use a cliché, hanging up the racquets. Maria Sharapova made the decision to retire, official.
She received a wild card into the Australian Open and drew Donna Vekic in the first round and lost in straight sets. It was 21 January and at the time she was asked if she thought she would return to Melbourne; she was non-committal, but one could read between the lines. She said: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I was fortunate to get myself to be here. It’s tough for me to tell what’s going to happen in 12 months’ time.”
Over the previous few years Miss Sharapova had been through quite a bit. There was the well-documented suspension for consuming a banned substance but prior to that and subsequent to the ban, she endured constant frustration with injuries, in particular with her right shoulder. It was operated on, there was the rehab, the time spent away and all that went with making a return.
Full marks to Miss Sharapova for her mental strength in constantly trying to come back to the sport she loved. Money was never the issue, her earnings on and off the court would probably last at least four lifetimes.
Her competitive drive kept her going. Processing losses that at the height of her career would probably never have happened and, like her or not, she must be commended for the way she handled such disappointments in public. She never revealed her inner emotions. One sometimes wondered if there was Siberian ice in her veins.
While the dynamics of coronavirus had certainly started when she announced her retirement there is a chance to wonder if she would have made such an announcement had she really known about the lockdowns and the isolations and everything that comes with the current environment.
Not having to play would have provided the Russian who won 36 titles (the last at Tianjin in 2017), including five majors, the first at Wimbledon in 2004 and the last at Roland Garros ten years later, the opportunity to rest and further treat her injuries unhindered and without pressure.
It leads to asking the question if Maria Sharapova who is only 33, could possibly contemplate a comeback.
There is no doubt when players retire, they still want to maintain a level of fitness. It is what they have been used to, day in and day out, week after week, but the intense level of training goes out the window. There seems to be a bit more concentration here.
Miss Sharapova has always been active on social media whether promoting her line of sweets or keeping fans up to date with her fashion and design senses or what she did training wise during her playing days. That has not changed but what has been noticed is that there have been updates of work outs and they appear very intense … as if preparing for matches. Here are two examples from her Twitter feed:
You wonder if maybe she now thinks she should have waited before announcing. When she announced her retirement in Vogue, she said: “Tennis showed me the world, and it showed me what I was made of. 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.”
We already know what she is made of, but might she ask tennis to show her the world again?