After serving a 15-month suspension for using a performance-enhancing — and illegal substance — Maria Sharapova will return tomorrow to the women’s professional tennis circuit.
With the French Open on the near horizon and the clay court season officially underway, Maria’s reentry would have been a big story even before Serena Williams’ stunning announcement last week that she is taking a sabbatical from the tour because she is pregnant.
Maria has won five major championships, including two French Opens. Ever since winning Wimbledon as a teenager, she has been ranked among the very top female athletes in tournament and endorsement income.
Truth be told, I have never thought a great deal about Maria. Her style of play — hard baseline drives with very few forays to the net, huge grunts every time she swings her racket, and what to me seems like a perpetual scowl — have never really appealed to me. I admire her determination, but now it appears she was also determined to win with a little extra help.
I’ve wondered why. Maria has earned enough in her life on and off the court to purchase a small country. She is smart, a world-class athlete, and many sponsors, before and even after she failed her blood test for stimulants, have paid her millions to endorse their products.
Competing at any level in sports can be grueling, even for weekend warriors like the author of this blog. When I played in men’s tennis leagues, I put in hours of practice and had to psych myself up a great deal to compete against many guys whom I viewed as friends.
To this day, as I begin training for my 19th marathon, I ask for a lot of patience from my family. My lifelong love of sports has brought many personal rewards and lovely medals, but I have never taken home a check after a club tournament or a race!
There are many places on looping marathon courses where one could step over to the other side and shave off a great deal of time before the finish line. Along with that comes the risk of being caught. I competed once in a prestigious race in Virginia that was partly run on winding roads through beautiful residential areas. One of the competitors looked around, grinned, and cut a significant corner! Fellow runners called out in dismay. I was not one of them, and I had no interest in finding out what happened to the runner. I only know when all I want to do sometimes during a marathon is sit down on a nice bench, or I cramp up after a race or cry tears of exhaustion and exhilaration when I’ve completed all 26.2 miles, I also know that I’ve earned my finisher’s medal. I would not want it any other way.
Yesterday at school a student sang “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” I’m sure Maria Sharapova does not need my tears nor anyone else’s. But I wonder if she ever wakes up at night wishing she had tried to win entirely on her own.