World No 1 Novak Djokovic has described Maria Sharapova as an inspirational figure and has praised her fighting spirit following her retirement from tennis at the age of 32.
Djokovic heard about Sharapova’s retirement after he reached the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals by swatting aside German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Sharapova, whose Wimbledon victory over Serena Williams in 2004, aged 17, propelled her to stardom and riches, broke the news in an article for magazine Vanity Fair.
The former world No 1 has played only two matches this year, losing in the first round of the Australian Open, with her ranking sliding to 373.
Djokovic asked the crowd to applaud Sharapova for everything she accomplished before reflecting on her achievements.
“She’s great fighter. As dedicated as someone can really be in our sport,” said Djokovic.
“The willpower and the willingness to kind of overcome all the obstacles she had, especially … with injuries and surgeries and trying to fight back, come back to the court and play on her desired level.
“It’s truly inspirational to see what mind of a champion she has. I’m sorry that it had to end with an injury obviously but at the same time she had a fantastic career and she can be proud of herself.”