A note from our Women’s Sports Editor
I will never forget watching Maria Sharapova win Wimbledon aged 17. It was 2004 and I had only just started my career in sports journalism, a rookie. It was a different era, one in which sports journalists brazenly asked female athletes about marriage, and other outlandish non-starters.
All these years later and times have changed. The fact that a women’s sport department exists, for a start. And if you asked an athlete now whether getting married might affect their career you would be given more than an eyeroll.
The legacy of that dated approach to women’s sport, however, lives on today. As we searched for photographs of Sharapova’s maiden Grand Slam victory over Serena Williams for this issue we struggled to find much variety. An iconic moment, barely captured. Trying to illustrate this month’s historical tribute to the trailblazing African American tennis star of the 1930s, Ora Washington, was near-on impossible.
Sharapova has since become one of the most photographed sportswomen of all time, both on and off the court. In this, her first British newspaper interview since retiring earlier this year, she tells Molly McElwee about the drive behind her success as a businesswoman, how she sees her future beyond sport, and reflects on the legacy of 28 years in tennis. As Billie Jean King told the 13-year-old Sharapova: “Whatever you do does not just shape your path, but it shapes the path of the generation to come.” For 11 years the richest sportswoman on earth, Sharapova helped to forge a path that would show marketeers sportswomen are worth investing in.
That commercial change is finally filtering down across women’s sport, and Katie Whyatt explores how football is the latest to benefit from the move to professionalisation. Elsewhere, it is fascinating to note how successful many sportswomen have been in making the transition to a different career – despite so many having been prematurely forced out of sport through injury, or as in the case of Paralympian Danielle Brown, through a reclassification of her disability.
While in men’s sport we are well accustomed to the narratives around retirement – depression, divorce, debt – in women’s sport we have yet to fully understand how ending a sporting career affects female athletes. What are the common experiences? Where is the data? There are so many gaps in our collective knowledge. We hope this issue goes some way towards addressing the chasm.