In recent years, it sometimes seemed the chance to somewhat ameliorate the glaring weakness in her resume with a few face-saving wins against Williams was an incentive for Sharapova to continue playing. Her failure to accomplish that will be a mark on her legacy. Sharapova built a career out of intimidating rivals, but Williams forced her into a painful role reversal.
There has never been any love lost between the two fiercest competitors of their time, but they largely kept their antipathy toward each other under wraps. It did poke through briefly in 2013 in the highly publicized “black heart” controversy.
Sharapova has been a role model for a number of young Russian immigrant athletes who have come to the U.S., including recent Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin. Yuri Sharapov, Maria’s father, whisked her off to the U.S. at age 7 in 1994 to find opportunity and develop her game with a succession of famed coaches: Rick Macci, Nick Bollettieri and Robert Lansdorp. Sharapova has been a permanent resident of the U.S. since 1994, but is proud of her Russian identity and represents the nation in international competitions (she was the flag-bearer for Russia in the 2012 Olympics).
There will be no Tokyo Olympics for Sharapova, it appears, at least not on as a competitor. She may turn up there as a commentator, as she did for the Sochi Winter Games in 2014. In her retirement announcement in Vanity Fair and Vogue, Sharapova wrote:
“Looking back now, I realize that tennis has been my mountain. My path has been filled with valleys and detours, but the views from its peak were incredible. After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, though, I’m ready to scale another mountain-to compete on a different type of terrain.”
Analogy aside, the declaration suggests Sharapova is eager to segue fully into the business landscape she has explored, off and on, during her career. We’ll see how the qualities she brought to bear in tennis work in an arena where relationship-building and respect for peers and competitors is important. Her self-knowledge is likely to come in handy in more ways than one.