London: Fifteen years after shooting to global fame when she captured the Wimbledon title and the hearts of Centre Court, an emotional Maria Sharapova quit the tournament in pain on Tuesday, raising more questions about her future in the sport.
The 2004 champion retired with a left arm injury in the final set of her tie with Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier who claimed a 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 5-0 win.
Sharapova, now ranked at 80 in the world, served for the match in the second set but then needed treatment on her arm.
The 32-year-old had only returned to the tour in Mallorca last month after five months out to recover from right shoulder surgery in January.
But despite that lengthy absence, the cold facts are that the five-time major winner and former world number one has not got beyond the quarter-finals of a Slam since she returned from an 18-month drug ban in 2017.
"I'm still proud that I'm here. This is not the easy way. I think the easy way would be just for me to maybe do other things," said Sharapova who was close to tears in her post-match news conference.
"This is far from easy. I've never taken the easy route. I've always worked, committed, focused. Like I said, these moments are hard, but I love what I do. I still have a lot of passion for it."
Tuesday's exit came despite her serving for the match in the second set.
With that opportunity gone, she needed treatment on an inflamed tendon and her fate was sealed against a player who had been defeated in the first round at the All England Club on her last seven appearances.
The loss came on Court Two, the same arena where she had been knocked out by Vitalia Diatchenko in 2018 and Michelle Larcher de Brito in 2013.
This year, she arrived at Wimbledon ranked at 80 in the world and unseeded for the first time since her debut in 2003.
That was a year before she claimed the Wimbledon title as a giggling, gangly 17-year-old who celebrated her victory by climbing up to the players box to embrace her father Yuri.
Her attempts to telephone her mother from courtside were thwarted by the unreliable mobile networks of the early 2000s.
Fifteen years later, Sharapova has no intention of walking away from a sport which has made her a multi-millionaire and a global icon.
"I've dreamed of having a family since I was very young because I'm very close to my parents," she said.
"I would love to have that connection in the future with hopefully my child. I don't see myself having a child and then coming back.
"It's never really been a vision that I've had for myself. Therefore, I think that's still in the future for me."
Updated Date: Jul 03, 2019 09:42:06 IST