Sharapova retires from tennis at age 32 with 5 Slam titles

Russia’s Maria Sharapova with the Suzanne-Lenglen trophy after defeating Italy’s Sara Errani in the French Open Women’s Singles final at Roland Garros, Paris, 2012. (AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2020

Sharapova retires from tennis at age 32 with 5 Slam titles

  • Sharapova moved to Florida as a child and trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy
  • Powerful at the baseline, and famous for a never-give-up attitude, Sharapova reached No. 1 for the first time at 18 in 2005

Maria Sharapova was a transcendent star in tennis from the time she was a teenager, someone whose grit and groundstrokes earned her a career Grand Slam and whose off-court success included millions of dollars more in endorsement deals than prize money.
And yet, Sharapova walked away from her sport rather quietly Wednesday at the age of 32, ending a career that featured five major championships, time at No. 1 in the WTA rankings, a 15-month doping ban and plenty of problems with her right shoulder.
There was no goodbye tournament, no last moment in the spotlight, for someone so used to garnering so much attention for so long, with or without a racket in hand.
“I’ve been pretty good in the past, balancing my time with my sponsors with my tennis, because I know my priority. At the end of the day, what I love doing is competing, and that’s where my heart is at: on center court,” Sharapova said in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press right before that year’s US Open.
“There are a couple of sides of me,” she said then. “There’s the Maria that’s a tennis player. There’s the Maria that is a normal girl. And there’s the Maria who’s a businesswoman. And that’s where the ‘Maria Sharapova brand’ comes into play.”
Around that time, she signed a “lifetime” contract with a racket company, a deal that eventually was ended. And two weeks after that, she would win the US Open trophy while wearing an outfit that resembled a sparkly black cocktail dress, part of the “couple of sides” persona she cultivated.
Two years later, though, Sharapova missed the tournament at Flushing Meadows because she needed surgery on her shoulder, which has troubled her off and on ever since; she had another operation on that joint in 2019.
She lost the last four matches she played at major tournaments, with first-round exits in her past three appearances, including at the Australian Open in January. That turned out to be the last match of her career and made her 0-2 this season.
In an essay written for Vanity Fair and Vogue about her decision to retire, posted online Wednesday, Sharapova asks: “How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?”
She disclosed that she “had a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match” a half-hour before walking on court for a first-round exit at last year’s US Open, writing: “I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction.”
Born in Russia, and “discovered” by Martina Navratilova at an exhibition event in Moscow, Sharapova moved to Florida as a child and trained at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
“We’ll miss her, baby. She’s very special,” Bollettieri told the AP in an interview last year, when Sharapova returned to his academy as she worked her way back from her latest shoulder procedure. “The tour will miss her. ... Always competitive. All business.”
Sharapova burst onto the tennis scene at 17 by upsetting Serena Williams to win Wimbledon in 2004. She would beat Williams again at that year’s season-ending tour championship to improve to 2-1 against the American — and never won another one of their matchups, dropping the next 19 in a row.
Powerful at the baseline, and famous for a never-give-up attitude, Sharapova reached No. 1 for the first time at 18 in 2005. After adding her second major trophy at the US Open the following year, she collected an Australian Open title in 2008, and then won the French Open in 2012 and 2014.
Sharapova is one of only six women in the professional era to win each major tennis title at least once. She made 10 Grand Slam finals in all, going 5-5; the last came in 2015 at the Australian Open, where she was the runner-up to Williams.
At the 2016 Australian Open, where Williams beat her in the quarterfinals, Sharapova tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium.
After initially being given a two-year suspension, Sharapova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced the penalty, ruling she bore “less than significant fault” in the case and could not “be considered to be an intentional doper.”
Since returning from that suspension in 2017, Sharapova managed to reach only one Slam quarterfinal.
Her 6-3, 6-4 loss to Donna Vekic at Melbourne last month sent Sharapova’s ranking tumbling outside of the top 350 — she is 373rd this week.
Asked after that defeat whether it might have been her last appearance at the Australian Open, Sharapova repeatedly replied with, “I don’t know.”
“I put in all the right work. There is no guarantee that even when you do all of those things, that you’re guaranteed victory in a first round or in the third round or in the final. That’s the name of this game,” Sharapova said after what turned out to be her final match. “That’s why it’s so special to be a champion, even for one time.”
A little more than a month later, she told the world she was done with her playing career.
“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,” Sharapova wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “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.”

The day Tunisia made World Cup history in Argentina

Updated 3 min 46 sec ago

The day Tunisia made World Cup history in Argentina

  • Exactly 42 years ago, Tunisia’s golden generation of footballers became the first Arab or African nation to win a World Cup match

DUBAI: When Tunisia landed in Argentina for the 1978 World Cup, no Arab or African nation had ever won a match at the competition.

Egypt had been the first to try their luck at the second edition of the tournament, the 1934 World Cup in Italy, and though they played commendably against a strong Hungarian team, they ended up losing 4-2 in controversial circumstances. 

Morocco’s task in 1970 was perhaps even more difficult. They, too, gave it their best shot, but understandably came up short.

In their opening match, they took a shock lead against a formidable West German side that would eventually reach the semi-finals, only to lose to two goals by the legendary duo of Uwe Seeler and Gerd Muller. In the second match they crashed 3-0 to a Teofilo Cubillas-inspired Peru, before a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria saw them head home on a relatively positive note.

On June 2, 1978, it was Tunisia’s chance to break the duck. To say they were given little chance would be an understatement. Up against them in Group 2 were reigning world champions West Germany; Poland, who had finished third in 1974; and, first up, a Mexican team that had won the CONCACAF Championship a year earlier and was expected to easily post two early points on the board.

However, in the days when teams like Tunisia, and others from Africa and Asia, would rock up to the World Cup as completely unknown quantities, coach Abdelmajid Chetali had quietly built a formidable team that was gaining in momentum.  

Only three months before the start of the World Cup, they had reached the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations only to lose 1-0 to eventual winners Ghana. Perhaps more indicative of their growing pedigree was the performance that had earlier confirmed their qualification to Argentina 78.

The first three rounds of the CAF qualification campaign had already seen Tunisia overcome Morocco, Algeria and Guinea to reach the final, round robin group stage with Egypt and Nigeria. This was played on a home and away basis, and going into the last match, Tunisia found themselves two points adrift of Egypt and needing to beat the group leaders to qualify for their first-ever World Cup. A draw would have seen Egypt return to football’s ultimate stage for the first time in 44 years.

It looked a tall order for Tunisia, but they would pull off a trick that, in the coming months, would become familiar to anyone who underestimated their capabilities.

A barnstorming 4-1 at Stade Olympique El Menzah in Tunis on Dec. 11, 1977, is now part of Tunisian football folklore. The sheer power and versatility of their display against an Egyptian team that had beaten them 3-2 in Cairo just over two weeks earlier should have been a stark warning to future opponents.

If the Mexicans had seen a video recording of that match, they certainly were not paying too much attention. On that memorable day, Tunisia were simply devastating, playing a brand of football that hinted at what was to come.

But on their World Cup debut in Argentina, things did not go immediately to plan. At Estadio Gigante de Arroyito in Rosario, Tunisia had started tentatively, as if overly conscious of their underdog status. And when Mexico took the lead through captain Arturo Vazquez Ayala from the penalty spot — after Amor Jebali had handled — just before halftime, the match seemed to be following the expected script.

Whatever Chattel said at halftime, however, would inspire Tunisia to deliver its — at that point certainly — finest-ever 45 minutes of football. And what had weighed heavily on the players’ shoulders in the first half was suddenly and gloriously cast aside. 

The Mexicans simply did not know what hit them with Tunisia, orchestrated by the brilliant Tarak Dhiab, ripping them apart with a sensational display of one-touch, counterattacking football.

The equaliser came on 55 minutes when defender Ali Kaabi, at the end of a flowing move, controlled on the edge of the Mexican penalty area and curled a low shot past Jose Pilar Reyes in goal.

The Tunisians were rampant, but for 25 minutes the match hung in the balance.

With 10 minutes left, another devastating sequence of passes prompted by captain Temime Lahzami and the irrepressible Dhiab saw Nejib Ghommidh finish expertly to give Tunisia a priceless lead, the goalscorer himself famously getting a kiss from a photographer behind the goal on live television.

There would be no way back for the shellshocked Mexicans, and the mercy bullet came in the 87th minute as another Tunisian defender,  Mokhtar Dhouib, stormed into the penalty area to finish into the roof of the net; 3-1 and history made.

Tunisia had just recorded the first-ever World Cup win by an Arab or African nation, and in their very first attempt no less.

With West Germany and Poland having played out a goalless draw the previous day, Tunisia, remarkably, were top of their group after the first round of matches.

They could now dream of an even bigger prize, qualification to the second round, which hours earlier would have been deemed a laughable notion.

Up next were a formidable Poland team that included 1974 World Cup top scorer Grzegorz Lato, elegant captain Kazimierz Deyna and a young rising star by the name of Zbigniew Boniek.

Sadly there would be no repeat of the result against Mexico, though Tunisia’s performance was no less heroic. 

Just as in their first match, Tunisia conceded moments before halftime, a horrible miskick by Kaabi allowing Lato to volley home from close range.

Tunisia came storming back in the second half and the World Cup was denied one of its greatest ever goals when a quite astonishing passing move ended with Lahzami volleying past Jan Tomaszewski in the Polish goal only to see the ball strike the crossbar and bounce back into the goalkeeper’s arms.

The captain threw his arms to the heavens in disbelief.

Despite a flurry of late close calls for Tunisia, Poland held on to a win they could scarcely have imagined would be this difficult when the draw was made.

Tunisia could still qualify to the next stage provided they beat the West German team of Sepp Maier, Bertie Vogts, Rainer Bonhof and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.

Though the current reigning champions, Helmut Schon’s team was a shadow of the Franz Beckenbauer-led one that had claimed the big prize against Holland four years earlier, and in hindsight, perhaps a Tunisian shock would not have been the miracle it might have seemed at the time.

And they came close, too, but a commendable 0-0 final score was not enough for a top-two finish in the group and progress to the second group stage.

Their historic feats in Argentina would pave the way for the likes of Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia to record famous victories in future World Cups.

The Eagles of Carthage may have just fallen short, but Chetali, Dhiab and the rest of Tunisia’s beloved Golden Generation had ensured their names will forever echo in African and Arab football history.