A number of factors influenced Maria Sharapova’s decision to retire at 32 years old, including a close relationship with Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who had been an “incredible sounding board” throughout her career.
Bryant died at 41 in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
“We were supposed to see each other like three days after the crash,” Sharapova told the New York Times.
The tragedy helped her come to terms with retirement, a decision which she had made on the flight home from the 2020 Australian Open. She was eliminated in the first round on Jan. 20 against Donna Vekić, and her dour post-match interviews cast uncertainty on her future in the sport.
“It’s tough for me to tell what’s going to happen in 12 months’ time,” she told reporters after the match.
It would be Sharapova’s final tour appearance.
“I think we all seem at times in our journey like larger than life because of what we do, but everyone at the core is incredibly fragile,” she said reflecting on Bryant’s death. “And if anything it just opens up your eyes to what really matters in life, so that was a moment where I had a really good think about my future as well.”
Following her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2004 at 17 years old, the Russian star went on to win two French Open titles, one US Open title and one Australian Open title. She served a 15-month doping ban after testing positive for the banned substance Meldonium in 2016. She attempted a comeback once the suspension was lifted, but it fizzled due to various injuries.
“As I think you’ve seen throughout my career, my perseverance has been my greatest tool, my greatest strength. But I’ve started feeling like it was becoming a weakness, because the stubbornness that was keeping me going was keeping me going for wrong reasons,” Sharapova said. “Would I have loved to have a sixth, a seventh, an eighth Grand Slam trophy? That number sounds better, but I could have had zero when I started, and I got myself to a pretty incredible place.”