In 2016, before the results of a drug test banned her from tennis, Maria Sharapova thought about the end of her career. She would play until the U.S. Open of 2017 and then walk away at age 30, her playing days complete no matter the results on court.
These days retirement isn’t in her mind. After a 15-month suspension she’s competing again and, at the U.S. Open, played better than anyone expected. Her loss on Sunday put her out of the tournament after four rounds, but leaves her hopeful for the immediate future.
“It’s been a really great ride in the last week,” Sharapova said. “It’s great to get that major out of the way. It was an incredible opportunity. I’m very thankful for the opportunity.” Sharapova has gotten several chances to play in events despite her low ranking, but the U.S. Open was the only major tournament to give her a wildcard.
Next for Sharapova: She’s going to promote her autobiography in various spots next week, including New York, Cleveland and Los Angeles.
The book reveals that Sharapova had planned to retire from tennis as soon as this year. Now, though, she plans on going as long as possible. The book cites her 15-month suspension as a big part of the reason.
Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium, a cardiac supplement, said Sunday that her time away from the game changed her view.
“When I was in my middle 20s, I didn’t think that my body would be ready to compete at such a level,” she said. “And I just got a completely new appreciation of what the body can do at 30 years old, or past 30 years old.”
Sharapova’s representative team claims she has lost little, in terms of income, with her sponsorships. One watch company, Tag Heuer, declined to renew its deal when it ended. Most sponsors—including Nike, Evian and Porsche—have kept their contracts with her.
As for her support, in tennis there’s a mixture between those who have no complaints, and others who are still cynical about her suspension. Caroline Wozniacki, a former No. 1, lashed out about Sharapova’s treatment at the Open considering she wasn’t ranked high enough for direct entry into the main draw.
“Someone who comes back from a drugs sentence and, you know, performance-enhancing drugs, and all of a sudden gets to play every single match on centre court, I believe is a questionable thing to do,” Wozniacki said. “It doesn’t set a good example.”
Sharapova brushed that idea aside in her response.
“I don’t make the schedule,” she said. “I’m a pretty big competitor. If you put me out in the parking lot of Queens in New York City, I’m happy to play there. That’s not what matters to me. All that matters to me is I’m in the fourth round. Yeah, I’m not sure where she is.” Wozniacki lost in the second round.
There are those who have forgiven Sharapova, especially considering that her drug was legal for years and then banned without her realizing it. Anastasija Sevastova, the 27-year-old who beat Sharapova on Sunday, recalled when Sharapova won Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004.
“I have great respect for her,” Sevastova said. “I was playing … at a tournament, and she was winning Wimbledon the same day basically.”
Sharapova has had a slow, unhealthy season but said she plans to travel to Beijing for a tournament that begins at the end of September, and then continue to play the rest of the year. She said one of her goals is as ambitious as ever: become No. 1 in the world. But no matter what, she said, she was happy that she’s healthy enough to compete again.
“I think there are a lot of positives,” she said. “Playing four matches, playing in front of a big crowd and fans. Just competing, you know, being in that competitive environment. That’s what I missed.”
Appeared in the September 5, 2017, print edition as ‘Sharapova Rethinks Her Exit Strategy.’