Tennis star Maria Sharapova announced her retirement today in an exclusive essay for Vogue and Vanity Fair. Sharapova, 32, won five Grand Slams and was Forbes’ highest-paid female athlete for 11 straight years, but injuries and a suspension for using a banned substance have kept her off the courts for large chunks of the past four years. Her career earnings of $325 million from prize money, endorsements and appearances rank second all-time among women, behind her longtime adversary Serena Williams ($350 million).
Sharapova turned pro in 2001 and burst on the global sports scene in 2004 when she defeated Williams to win Wimbledon at 17 years old. Her only sponsors at the time were Nike and Prince, but that quickly changed. The 6-foot-2 Russian was a marketer’s dream, and her agents at IMG quickly capitalized. She signed deals with Tag Heuer, Canon, Motorola, Colgate-Palmolive and others. The value of her Nike deal doubled. Her annual earnings jumped from $3 million to $18 million, which started her run as the top-earning female athlete on the planet.
She continued to rack up sponsorship deals with Land Rover, PepsiCo and Sony coming on board. Nike introduced her line of tennis apparel, and her ballet flat was the best-selling shoe at former Nike subsidiary Cole Haan.
Sharapova became the biggest star attraction on the WTA Tour and could command as much as $500,000 for an exhibition. She used her fame to launch her own candy line, Sugarpova, in 2012, with plans to expand Sugarpova as a lifestyle brand with clothing and accessories.
She built a massive social media following with 15 million Facebook followers, and her earnings peaked at nearly $30 million in 2015 before her 2016 suspension for using meldonium, which had recently been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. Sharapova said she had taken the drug for a decade because of a family history of diabetes. Her suspension was reduced from two years to 15 months on appeal.
Sponsors like Tag Heuer stepped away from Sharapova, and her off-court earnings plummeted. She returned to tennis in 2017, but a lingering shoulder injury hampered her play.
Sharapova played only 15 matches last year, and her world ranking had dropped to 373rd by this week. Her final tournament was last month’s Australian Open, where she lost in the first round. She retires with five Grand Slam titles among her 36 overall singles wins, and she is one of only ten women to have won all four of the major tennis tournaments. She was ranked World No. 1 five different times, for a total of 21 weeks. Her $38 million in career prize money ranks third all-time on the women’s side, behind Serena ($88 million) and Venus Williams ($41 million).
“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 tweeted 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.”
Sugarpova continues to be a success for Sharapova. Revenue was on target to reach $20 million in 2019, according to a source. Sharapova the entrepreneur will be on display on Friday when she appears on ABC’s Shark Tank for the second time.