As founding member of the Stuttgart Virgins Society, I wish Maria Sharapova well in her retirement.
It seems like only yesterday that she directed one of those dead-eyed stares — and what she thought were a clever few words — at the then tennis correspondent of The Sun.
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In fact it was April 2017, and for all that Sharapova has achieved since making her comeback from a drugs ban in the German city nearly three years ago, she might as well have given up then.
READ: Tennis reacts to Sharapova bombshell
But at the time, she was remarkably bullish for an athlete who had just served a 15-month suspension for taking banned substance meldonium.
At the press conference ahead of her return at an event named after one of her major sponsors — where else? — she had been on her very best behaviour.
Sharapova during one of many press conferences during her career.Source:News Limited
The cold contempt that was a regular feature of her interactions with the press had been replaced by a willingness to engage, even if the answers were pretty bland.
When I gave my name and employer ahead of asking my question, Sharapova gave a theatrical eye roll and said: “Oh, God.”
“Nice to see you, too,” I replied, which actually provoked a little laugh from her. I’d never felt so alive.
What, the five-time Grand Slam champion and highest paid female athlete in the world wondered, was The Sun doing in Stuttgart? Was it the first time I’d attended that particular tournament?
Yes, it was, I confirmed. “First time, wow, virgins!” she said, to sycophantic giggles from some present and to the delight of those who chose to interpret it as some deep, philosophical diss of the tabloid press.
Cop that.Source:News Corp Australia
In fairness, she answered my question about whether she would be building bridges with her rivals in the locker room defiantly but politely.
Why did she need fellow players as friends? How would that help her tennis? — that was her reasoning.
Only when she was asked by another British reporter — and it is almost always the British tennis hacks who put the tough questions — what was the [non-banned] alternative she had found to replace meldonium, the drug she said she had needed simply to be able to compete at the top level of her sport, did she shut the topic down with a curt response and a trademark frosty stare.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough to prevent injuries hampering her comeback to such an extent that she called time on her career in — where else? — Vanity Fair.
In her prime, Sharapova combined sporting excellence with model looks to become one of the most recognisable people on the planet. But never the most likeable.
All her achievements will always have that meldonium-shaped asterisk next to them, in the eyes of many tennis fans.
But we’ll always have Stuttgart.
This article was originally published by The Sun and reproduced with permission
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