Maria Yuryevna Sharapova is still hitting the headlines regularly despite not playing.
Why are we surprised?
Ever since she made her debut as a 17-year-old winning Wimbledon on her first attempt, the Russian diva is first among equals when embodying the glamorous side of her sport.
Her Sugarpova label expanded to incorporate not just candy but also eye candy— her own brand of apparel and cosmetics.
Sugarpova chocolate went on sale this May despite Sharapova’s provisional suspension from the sport following a failed meldonium test at the Australian Open this year.
A hearing into the her case was scheduled last Wednesday by the ITF.
The ruling probably hinges on the amount of the banned drug in her system at the time and how lenient or strict the governing body is about her continuance past the official ban date. WADA subsequently backtracked from tarring all barred athletes with the same brush when it was discovered that the drug could lie latent in the system for months after its use was discontinued.
Can Sharapova play again? Will she?
Speculation about her future has already begun in the media with commentators and administrators joining the media circus.
Former glamour puss Chris Evert chimed in.
“I think at 29 time is running out for Maria.Look, she started in her teens playing full schedules. I think that motivation and hunger—her hunger even more so has always motivated her to go out and play and that’s what we’ve admired in her so much is the intense hunger that she’s had.
And now that she’s getting a taste of real life. I’m seeing tweets she’s out and about, traveling and going to premieres, modeling and she’s everywhere. And I think as she gets a little taste of the good life who knows if she’s gonna comeback as hungry? I don’t know maybe she’ll have a little bit different attitude.
But at 29 years old and the players are getting better and better. And Maria, if you look at her results the past few years, she’s having more and more losses to players that are ranked below her. And I think she was starting to kind of get a little fragile anyway when this happened earlier this year. So I think it’s gonna be tough (to comeback).”
“If she comes back hungry and as mentally strong as she always has been then again nothing she can do will surprise me. But at the same time, I just wonder just about how much tennis she’s played in her career and the players getting better. I doubt whether she can get back to number two.”
Novak Djokovic felt otherwise:
“I obviously wish her all the best. I’ve known her for a long time. I feel for her with all that’s happening and I just hope she gets out of this stronger.”
But the most surprising comments have come from her own camp.
Shamil Tarpishchev, president of the Russian Tennis Federation, termed Sharapova’s future “very doubtful” and said that she was in a “bad situation.”
Tarpsichev later withdrew his remarks but doubts linger.
What does the future hold for Sharapova?
Can she return if she’s banned for a year or more?
It’s possible, theoretically.
Serena Williams still competes with the same vigour and determination that she displayed when she first burst on the scene as a 16-year-old.
But she and her sister Venus have enjoyed breaks from the game that other tennis stars would term a luxury.
Roger Federer—notwithstanding his withdrawal from this year’s French Open—continues to perform on the big stage and is ranked among the top three.
Federer, though, has fine-tuned his game over the years turning to Swede Stefan Edberg to help improve his serve-and-volley game. Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks and how. Federer may not have clinched a Grand Slam under his tutelage but he’s always the danger man should Murray, Djokovic or Nadal falter.
Williams is, of course, the supreme woman athlete of her generation. But Sharapova with five Slams has not been less consistent over the past few years.
Surely, she can make a fist of this setback and return stronger to the court.
After all, it is this generation of women players that has seen teenagers relegated to the side-lines as the likes of Kim Clijsters, Li Na, Francesca Schiavone proved that age is just a number.
Sharapova reworked her serve post a shoulder surgery. She belongs to the school of hard-hitting baseliners.
Can she add more weapons to her arsenal to overcome her younger opponents? Can she add guile and deception to the mix?
Mentally, she’s been right there in the top echelons.
Can she continue in the same vein on her comeback—if and when it happens?
Can Sharapova return?
Yes, she can.
Why not, you say?
Are you implying that of the 17℅ of Russian athletes tested positive for mildronate were all unaware of the performance-enhancing properties of the drug? Are you unaware that WADA is simply playing catch-up when it comes to listing the numerous synthetic steroids and chemicals that athletes—in this modern age—can and will consume just to get that extra yard of pace, that extra strength, that ounce of stamina, that edge over their competitors? Are fans to believe their PR machinery that they’re simply victims in this ‘arms race‘ of another kind?
Are they that gullible? Really?