Maria Sharapova opened up about learning to embrace uncertainty and step out into the unknown during her tumultuous comeback to tennis earlier in the year, which saw her return after a 15-month suspension cut short after just three tournaments due to injury.
In a column for The Players' Tribune, Sharapova talked through the emotions she felt on the eve of her first match back from suspension, a first-round battle against Roberta Vinci at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart:
“Part of me felt like I had been through this before: I’d had my shoulder surgery, in ’08, and done most of the same long-term training; from that experience alone, I was pretty certain I could take extended time off and get my level back.
"But another part of me knew there was something unique about this particular time off. There is something about a suspension — the judgments, and the scrutiny, and the emotional toll — that is just hard to compare to anything else … and almost impossible to have any certainty about, until you’ve been through it. Those 15 months made it clear to me that there were two levels I had to get back to: physical, yes, but also mental.
"There was the known and there was the unknown.
"There was coming back — and then there was believing it.”
Sharapova also shared thoughts on fame and the “validation machine” that Twitter can be, choosing instead to eschew her peers’ post-match routine of checking social media in the locker room.
“I don’t need to know what people are saying about me,” she writes. “Knowing that they’re saying it, I suppose, has always been enough.”
She goes on, “One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that there is sometimes an overlap between people seeing you as having a mystique … and people seeing you as being invulnerable ...
“Because the truth is, I feel vulnerable all the time — no different from any other person. And the walls I’ve built around myself … they aren’t nearly as impenetrable as people think.”
The Russian, who is set to continue her return at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and Rogers Cup in Toronto, vowed to embrace the uncertainty as she heads into the North American hardcourt season.
“I’m sure I’ll win some, and I’ll lose some,” she writes. “I’m sure my dozens of critics will show up, and so will my thousands of fans. But ultimately, who knows? When it comes to tennis, good or bad — there’s really only one thing that I know for certain.
“I’ve missed it.”