Tennis: It may be goodbye for Maria Sharapova

Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova speaking during a press conference in Los Angeles, on March 7.
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova speaking during a press conference in Los Angeles, on March 7. PHOTO: AFP

Sharapova's injury problems signal that a comeback at 31 could be near impossible

LONDON • Returning gloriously from an extended suspension is not beyond some of the greats of sport, even close to a 31st birthday.

However, to expect Maria Sharapova to complete a two-year ban and then reappear as the prodigal daughter of the WTA Tour appears close to fantasy - even though her sponsors Nike and Head are standing by her.

The general belief around the tennis world yesterday, after several luminaries admitted they were taken aback at the severity of her sentence, was that the player who has won five leading titles and completed the set of Grand-Slam trophies at singles, would struggle to compete again at the highest level.

There have been instances of women's tennis starts coming back from lengthy absences.

Martina Hingis, for example, had a two-year ban after testing positive for cocaine in 2007. Today, at age 35, this Swiss continues to excel on the doubles court.

However, Martina Navratilova, who retired from tennis in 1994 when she was 37 but went on to play mixed doubles at the US Open just a month short of her 50th birthday, thinks this could be the end for Sharapova.

"Two years: Yikes! It will be hard to come back from this," she tweeted.

American legend Chris Evert told USA Today: "I don't think Maria can do a two-year ban. I don't think she can come back."

Former British player Jo Durie added: "Maybe if she is successful with her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and gets the ban reduced down to a year, she will have a chance.

"It was pretty widely well known that Maria was not exactly popular with the rest of the girls, she always seemed aloof and not willing to be sociable.

"The other players will be thinking that she used a banned substance in an attempt to give herself the edge over them, and the unpopularity will deepen."

Sharapova's Wimbledon title win in 2004 was regarded as a breath of fresh air in women's tennis.

She should be remembered with respect for the way she added the Australian, US and, most amazingly of all, two French Open titles, when she admitted to struggling initially on clay.

However, it is her medical history and long catalogue of injuries that make a dramatic comeback so doubtful.

Women's tennis is not a no-go zone for the over-30s, and Sharapova's body has not suggested that it could survive a long career.

There were the shoulder problems that required surgery in 2008.

More recently, an injured left forearm caused her to miss several tournaments at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

Consequently, it does appear that this doping ban will mean the end for a champion who may not be universally popular but certainly always possessed the ability to get people talking.

THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'It may be goodbye for Maria'. Print Edition | Subscribe