Sharapova retires: A career timeline of highs and lows

andrew hendrie:

Maria Sharapova compiled a legendary career, but it wasn’t without enormous controversy - in wake of her retirement, we look at the key moments through the years.

2001-2002: Professional debut


Sharapova played her first pro tournament on her 14th birthday at an ITF in Sarasota, USA on April 19 2001, while she went on to make her WTA debut the following year in Indian Wells as a wildcard, beating Brie Rippner in the opening round before going down to nine-time major champion Monica Seles.

2003: First WTA title; Top 50 breakthrough


It didn’t take long for Sharapova to announce herself on the WTA Tour after her debut, with the Russian making the fourth round of Wimbledon – earning a maiden top 20 win over Jelena Dokic – before capturing her first WTA title at the Japan Open. Sharapova also went on to win a second WTA crown in Quebec City, receiving the WTA Newcomer of the Year award for her explosive impact.

2004: Spectacular Grand Slam triumph


Maria Sharapova after winning Wimbledon 2004 (PA Images)

After claiming her first top 10 scalp earlier in the season, Sharapova completed one of the most memorable Grand Slam title runs in history at Wimbledon, conquering defending champion Serena Williams as a 17-year-old, becoming the third youngest champion in All England Club history. Hailed by sections of the media as ‘the most stunning upset in history’, Sharapova entered the top 10 for the first time – and from there her life changed forever, with the teenager instantly recognised as one of the leading athletes in global sport.

Sharapova also won the year-end WTA Championships, repeating her Wimbledon triumph over Serena – but, little did we know at the time, that would ultimately be her last ever win against the American…

2005: Rise to World No. 1


Sharapova lost to the eventual champion at every Grand Slam in 2005, but she did become the first Russian woman to hit the No. 1 ranking on August 22, usurping Lindsay Davenport and holding it for a total of seven weeks. She secured three titles in Tokyo, Doha and Birmingham and was a semi-finalist at the Australian Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and WTA Finals.

2006: Second major crown


After winning Indian Wells at the beginning of the season, Sharapova caught fire towards the end of it, going on a 19-match winning streak that yielded a second Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open, where she beat Amelie Mauresmo and Justine Henin. Titles in Zurich and Linz followed before Sharapova’s run was snapped in the semi-finals of the WTA Finals by Henin. Nevertheless, Sharapova finished the year at No. 2 in the world – her highest year-end finish to date.

2007: Rollercoaster season


Sharapova made her first Australian Open final to launch the season, but was demolished by Serena – who was ranked No. 81 at the time – in the title match. However, bu virtue of reaching the final, Sharapova regained the No. 1 ranking and remained there for a further seven weeks before relinquishing it to Henin after failing to defend her Indian Wells title. First signs of shoulder trouble that would ultimately plague the Russian throughout her career surfaced this season, causing her to miss a large chunk of the year and fall out of the top five for the first time since 2004 as a result.

Sharapova managed to regroup however, narrowly qualifying for the WTA Finals before surging into the final, where she lost to Henin in three hours and 24 minutes. Despite the defeat, Sharapova was back into the top five by season’s end.

2008: Silverware and Surgery


Kicking off the year with a bang, Sharapova stormed to her third major title without dropping a set at the Australian Open, ending Henin’s 32-match winning streak in the quarter-finals before taking out Ana Ivanovic in the final.

Sharapova wins 2008 Australian Open (PA Images)

Sharapova would end up on a 18-match winning streak herself, which ended in the Indian Wells semis, before regaining the No. 1 ranking once more in May when Henin suddenly retired and requested her ranking be removed immediately. The Russian would go on to suffer a number of uncharacteristic defeats, including a second round Wimbledon exit to No. 154 Alla Kudryavtseva, before revealing she’d been dealing with a rotator cuff tear since April, subsequently undergoing surgery in August and missing the remainder of the year, finishing it at No. 9.

2009-10: Struggles post-surgery


Forced to abandon her Australian Open title defence in 2009, Sharapova only started her season in May and understandably found it tough to recapture her best tennis for much of the next two years, only making one Grand Slam quarter-final during this period as her ranking plummeted to No. 126 at its lowest point. The Russian did manage to swiftly rebuild her ranking due to some consistent results towards the end of 2019, but big titles alluded her as she ended that year at No. 14 and 2010 at No. 18.

2011: Top 10 return


On the back of a semi-final at Roland Garros and runner-up finish to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon, Sharapova forced her way back into the top 10, doing so when she won the Cincinnati title, which elevated her to No. 4 – her highest ranking post-surgery. Sharapova would finish the season at that ranking after qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time since 2007 – although she was forced to withdraw in the group stage due to an ankle injury.

2012: Career Slam Completed


After some challenging years with injury and loss of form, Sharapova experienced arguably the finest moment of her career in 2012, completing the Career Grand Slam when she won the French Open title over Sara Errani. That triumph also propelled her back to the World No. 1 ranking.

Sharapova completes the career slam in Paris (Photo by Christian Liewig/ABACAPRESS.COM)

However, just as she returned to the top of the world, Sharapova was sent crashing back down to earth, suffering her heaviest every defeat to Serena in the London Olympics final (6-0 6-1), while she then lost the No. 1 ranking after suffering an upset defeat to Sabine Lisicki in the fourth round of Wimbledon. Sharapova was ultimately unable to regain the No. 1 ranking for the remainder of the career, losing to Serena for the 13th straight time in the WTA Finals title match, meaning Victoria Azarenka held on to the top spot at season’s end.

2013: More shoulder issues


Following a bright start to the season in which she made the Australian Open semi-finals and French Open final (losing to Serena once more), Sharapova’s season took a turn for the worse as she suffered a now-famous loss to qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito in the second round of Wimbledon. She would go on to pull out of the U.S. Open due to a shoulder injury that ultimately caused her to shut down the year.

2014: Successful comeback; fifth major crown


Sharapova returned to the tour with a bang and went on to compile the equal-best season of her career, winning four WTA titles – including a second French Open, defeating Simona Halep in the final – while she also finished the season as World No. 2 after winning the Premier Mandatory crown in Beijing. Sharapova had the opportunity to overtake Serena for the No. 1 ranking but she was unable to make it out of the group stage at the WTA Finals.

2015: Last Grand Slam final….


Sharapova’s losing record to Serena slumped to 2-17 as she suffered another heartbreaking loss in the Australian Open final – which would end up being the last time the Russian contested a major final. Sharapova put together a consistent season despite injury troubles, registering a 39-9 record, winning two titles and helping Russia make the Fed Cup final, however she only played one match from July-October.

2016: Doping controversy


In one of the biggest scandals in tennis history, Sharapova was convicted of doping and subsequently handed a reduced 15-month ban after testing positive to meldonium at the Australian Open – a newly banned substance that helps increase blood and oxygen flow throughout the body, along with being used to treat coronary artery disease.

During a now-iconic press conference in a Los Angeles hotel (where she joked she would never make a retirement announcement on such an ‘ugly carpet’ in wake of rumours she was ending her career), Sharapova claimed she was unaware the substance was placed on the banned list, but WADA still imposed a 15-month ban on the Russian, forever tarnishing her reputation and leaving question marks as to whether her career would have been as successful as it was without meldonium.

Sharapova’s statement and explanation of her meldonium use was as follows:

“I received a letter from the ITF that I failed a drugs test at the Australian Open. I take full responsibility for it. For the past ten years I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my family doctor and a few days ago after I received the ITF letter I found out that it also has another name of meldonium which I did not know. It is very important for you to understand that for ten years this medicine was not on WADA’s banned list and I had legally been taking the medicine for the past ten years. But on January 1st [2016] the rules had changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance which I had not known. I was given this medicine by my doctor for several health issues that I was having in 2006.”

The Court Arbitration for Sport (CAS) released a short statement of their own after reducing Sharapova’s ban from 24 months to 15 months.

“Ms. Sharapova committed an anti-doping rule violation and that while it was with “no significant fault”, she bore some degree of fault, for which a sanction of 15 months is appropriate.”

2017: Never be the same again…


In the midst of widespread controversy regarding particular tournament’s decisions to award her wildcards, Sharapova made her return to tennis in April 2017 at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. Ultimately, it ended up being one of Sharapova’s best tournaments before retirement, with the Russian advancing to the semi-finals.

Sharapova would go on to break back into the top 100 after starting unranked in April and won her first title since 2015 at a low-level tournament in Tianjin, but despite some encouraging moments, the writing was on the wall…

2018-20: Shoulder problems resurface; announces retirement


Sharapova in her last ever match vs Donna Vekic in Melbourne (PA Images)

Despite returning to the top 25 and making the French Open quarter-finals in 2018, Sharapova was never able to consistently produce the sort of tennis she did before her ban. The Russian would lose in the first round of Wimbledon for the first time to Vitalia Diatchenko, despite serving for the match, and lost a night match on Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open for the first time after previously holding a 22-0 record, going down to Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round.

Sharapova’s lingering and persistent shoulder trouble kept her off the tour for the bulk of 2019, with her ranking falling to No. 131, which was her lowest year-end mark since 2002. Awarded a wildcard into the Australian Open, Sharapova suffered her third first round Grand Slam exit in a row when she lost to Donna Vekic. That match would ultimately be the last of Sharapova’s career, with the five-time major champion announcing her retirement on February 26 via an essay for Vanity Fair.