Dubai: It’ been a while since Maria Sharapova’s retirement news came through on Wednesday evening, but the women players’ fraternity is yet to see any spontaneous outpouring of emotions associated with someone who has won five grand slam titles, served the sport for close to two decades - apart from being easily the most recognisable face in women’s sport.
The 32-year-old Russian - for a variety of reasons - has always polarised opinions among her co-players though her legion of fans have remained loyal with her for a better part of her playing days. In the locker room, there was always the hushed whispers if she was too ‘aloof’ while the way she towered over all the other women in the endorsement sector must have triggered off the jealousy factor in some way.
However, the breaking point came when in March, 2016, a crestfallen Sharapova admitted before the media that she took Meldonium, a banned drug for her heart problems without knowing that it was on the prohibited list - forcing the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to slap her with a two-year ban which was subsequently reduced to 15 months. When she came back immidiately on the ban getting over, Sharapova found to her dismay that her world had collapsed around her.
The younger generation of players started looking at her with suspicion while the French Open authorities refused to give her the wild card - saying they had a ‘moral responsibility’ to deny a player accused of substance abuse.
“For the kids, for the young players, it is not OK to help with a wild card the player that was banned for doping,” said Simona Halep when Sharapova was handed a wild card in Porsche Grand Prix in 2017. “It is not about Maria Sharapova here, but it is about all the players that are found doped.”
The likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber publicly opposed wild cards for players returning from a doping ban - isolating Sharapova from the players’ community while the recurrence of the shoulder injury made it clear that she was no longer the player she once was.
It’s clearly a very complicated legacy that Sharapova leaves in her wake - and the Meldonium scar will continue to taint all her achievements on court. Some had even gone to the context of calling her a better version of Anna Kournikova, but it would be grossly unfair to label a former world No.1 in the same breath as someone who has never gone beyond the quarter finals of a grand slam.
The management team of Sharapova will still ensure that she stays relevant even after quitting the game - for she has not made a fortune of more than $ 200 million for nothing. But will she be placed in the pantheon of greats like a Martina Navratilova, Christ Evert, Steffi Graf or Serena Williams with her on-court tantrums and all?
The answer has to be a big ‘no.’