What a difference a week makes.
After donning bridal-white frock at an Oscars after-party on February 28, Maria Sharapova finished her brief opening remarks at Monday’s highly-anticipated press conference by criticizing the rug pattern at her feet.
“If I was going 2 announce my retirement, it wouldn’t b in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with a fairly ugly carpet.” Sharapova. Standards
— judy murray (@judmoo) March 7, 2016
And that was hardly all that was beneath her on Monday. Not long after she announced that she had failed a seemingly routine drug test at the Australian Open in January, a few prominent parties opted to forego any semblance of an “innocent until proven guilty” concept. (See: Capriati, Jennifer; Ebden, Matt; and even Piers Morgan, desperate to be relevant in this flogging-by-tweet world.)
Notably, “innocent until proven guilty” is a decidedly American judicial principle. To her credit, Sharapova took—in her own words—”full responsibility” for the presence of meldonium, the so-called metabolic modulator in her system.
All eyes turn to the International Tennis Federation now, as it will decide whether to leverage a four-year suspension from the sport on Sharapova. Doing so would surely make an example of one of the most recognizable and downright bankable faces in tennis. (The ITF released its own statement after the WTA tour’s No. 7-ranked star made her own.)
These are troubling times for a reputation, a brand, a career that’s worth multi-millions away from tennis courts. Sharapova will be 29 in about five weeks’ time, and if she faces the full measure of the previously stated suspension for a meldonium-related offense—barring a successful appeal—she’ll be nearly 33 before the suspension lifts. It’s hard to see her playing peak tennis, even Top 10 ball, a la the Williams sisters at that point. It would be an absolutely gutting loss of momentum.
“I don’t want to end my career this way,” Sharapova said, “and I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game.”
“I made a huge mistake,” Sharapova said earlier in her remarks. “I let my fans down. I’ve let this sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of 4, that I love so deeply.”
Here’s the skinny of the matter: Sharapova controlled the messaging on this, and it was one of her worst days ever in the public gaze. The fate of her life on professional tennis courts the world over now rests with the ITF. She struck the right tones on Monday, offering fleeting humor while otherwise appearing somber and contrite throughout an all-of-10-minutes presser.
But it’s not all about appearances and the severity of a doping violation. And there was a point on Monday when she paused, sounding almost as if she were about to lose her composure. Imagine that, the notion of Steelypova ever doing so.
Say this about Monday, though: More so than after any match loss, she looked entirely human.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.