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Tennis great Maria Sharapova retires, says goodbye to sport that made her an icon

"How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?" wrote Sharapova, 32, who won five grand slam singles titles.
Image: Maria Sharapova serves during a match at Foro Italico in Rome on May 17, 2018.
Maria Sharapova serves during a match at Foro Italico in Rome on May 17, 2018.Julian Finney / Getty Images file

Tennis great Maria Sharapova announced her retirement Wednesday, ending a stellar career that included five grand slam titles and prize money exceeding $38.7 million.

The Russian-born player wrote in the pages of Vanity Fair magazine a love letter to the sport that made her one of the world's most famous female athletes since the turn of the century,

"How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known? How do you walk away from the courts you’ve trained on since you were a little girl, the game that you love — one which brought you untold tears and unspeakable joys — a sport where you found a family, along with fans who rallied behind you for more than 28 years?" Sharapova, 32, wrote.

"I’m new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis — I’m saying goodbye."

She captured singles titles at Wimbledon in 2004, at the U.S. Open in 2006, at the Australian Open in 2008 and at the French Open in 2012 and 2014.

"In giving my life to tennis, tennis gave me a life. I’ll miss it everyday," Sharapova continued.

"I’ll miss the training and my daily routine: Waking up at dawn, lacing my left shoe before my right, and closing the court’s gate before I hit my first ball of the day. I’ll miss my team, my coaches. I’ll miss the moments sitting with my father on the practice court bench. The handshakes — win or lose — and the athletes, whether they knew it or not, who pushed me to be my best."

Sharapova is ending her career a few years after a 15-month suspension in 2016-2017 that resulted from her testing positive for the banned substance meldonium — which can help an athlete's oxygen uptake and endurance.

It was added to a list of banned substances in late 2015, and Sharapova claimed she neglected to click on an emailed link explaining the change.

Sharapova told NBC's "TODAY" that the suspension, which was initially two years, was unfair.

"For an honest mistake, a two-year ban, I don't think was correct," she said in an Oct. 5, 2016, interview.

At the time, the suspension cost her numerous endorsement deals.

The 6-foot-2 Sharapova was a favorite of worldwide brands such as Nike, camera manufacturer Canon and luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer.

In 2014, for example, Forbes magazine rated Sharapova the No. 34 most highly-paid athlete in the world — and tops among women — while Serena Williams was No. 55.

By that point in their careers, Williams had beaten Sharapova in 16 of 18 matches and the American had won 16 grand slam singles titles, Forbes reported. The still-active Williams, 38, now has 23 major singles titles.

Sharapova didn't address the drug suspension or her endorsement deals in Wednesday's Vanity Fair piece.

The all-time tennis great said she finally realized the end of her career was coming soon this past summer at the U.S. Open in New York when she needed "a procedure to numb my shoulder to get through the match."

"Just stepping onto the court that day felt like a final victory, when of course it should have been merely the first step toward victory," she wrote. "I share this not to garner pity, but to paint my new reality: My body had become a distraction."

Sharapova said she looks forward to a less stressful life, but thanked the sport that "showed me the world."

"In the meantime, there are a few simple things I’m really looking forward to: A sense of stillness with my family. Lingering over a morning cup of coffee. Unexpected weekend getaways. Workouts of my choice (hello, dance class!)," she wrote.

"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. 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."