I wasn't that surprised, though, that Sharapova turned in her papers this week. And in the back of my head, I knew about the debate that would ensue upon her retirement and how it would mess with my blood pressure. And I knew I should have stayed off Twitter during this time, but if I hadn't, I wouldn't have seen this Nike tribute ad:
Let's see what the news has to say about this.
Ah, complicated? Are we gonna get honest here?
Five slams is not a small amount of Slams, Matt. It's actually pretty impressive especially when you consider that she has at least one of each major. She has two French Open titles. Two! Know how many Venus has? That's not what's "complicated" here.
Yeah, we're about to talk about the doping ban. Because it's a big deal. I read the whole ITF report, if you'll remember, and it was fairly damning. There's also the fact, which is only now sinking in for me, that this report revealed that she'd been taking a drug she didn't need for 10 years. That would start us, then, at 2006, the year she won her second slam. That means that most of those five Slams were won while she was taking meldonium. When she returned from her ban, she could barely crack the second week of a major.
Now that is complicated.
There is this sort of internal wrestling match that tends to ensue when we talk about Sharapova's career. I've tried to insert other names into that Washington Post headline above, another person's photo, to see if we would be so shy about discussing her drug ban in frank terms. Rafa Nadal (who's been dogged by these rumors anyway)? Serena Williams? I can't help but think this conversation would be different if we put in another athlete's name. If it were Nadal or Serena, there'd be nothing "complicated" about it -- they cheated.
Sharapova was assisted in keeping her nose above this fray by supportive sponsors, including Head, which -- I mean, if you ever rob a bank or commit some crime, please get sponsored by Head first. That way, you can get the support that Head gave Sharapova after her ban. Even this whitewashing effort by Nike in this retirement ad is ... a lot. She was taking a banned substance and got caught and ... mistakes? MISTAKES?
Of course Matt mentioned the ban in his story. Everyone does. It should be in the headline because it was significant and it might have been a major part of what made her successful as a player. This is a part of the ITF report that I can't unsee:
Did she call him as he advised? Another thought just popping into my head these years later.
I feel kind of bad writing this and I don't know why. I'm not making this report up. Maybe it's because I do want to remember Sharapova for being a badass on court. I know we can't call what she and Serena had a rivalry, but one thing they both had was this ability to clamp down mentally in a match and will their way to victory, even when it didn't look good. This thread about her shading her opponents is precious and I love it.
A thread of Maria Sharapova moments, by a tennis fan who loved to hate her:— Andrew Atkinson (@atkinsonfasho) February 26, 2020
Isn't she back in Poland already? Oh my god. Even when she went after Serena after that Rolling Stone profile and went off on Serena dating her coach my goodness that is what we look for here at Tennis with ATTITUDE. The ATTITUDE.