By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) - Maria Sharapova's fellow players described her as inspirational and praised her fighting spirit following the Russian's announcement of her retirement from tennis at the age of 32 on Wednesday.
The injury-plagued Sharapova, renowned for her never-say-die approach to the sport despite regularly being hampered by shoulder problems, won five Grand Slam titles.
World number one Novak Djokovic heard about Sharapova's retirement after he reached the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-finals and asked the crowd to applaud her for everything she accomplished.
"She's great fighter. As dedicated as someone can really be in our sport," said Djokovic.
"The willpower an 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."
It was Sharapova's victory over two-times defending champion Serena Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final that propelled the then little-known 17-year-old to superstardom and riches.
She went on to win almost $40 million in prize money, becoming one of the highest paid sportswomen in the world and one of the most recognisable athletes on the planet.
Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who knows the challenges of returning to competition since her career was stalled after a knife attack, commended Sharapova for always demanding more of her body than it would allow.
"She's been amazing competitor, she never gives up," said Kvitova. "Even if she didn't play well she was still believing in her game and still being aggressive and believing in her shots, which I'm really admiring."
Tennis great Billie Jean King said on Twitter that ever since Sharapova, who has also established a confectionary company called Sugarpova, won her maiden Grand Slam title she has been a "great champion".
"A 5x major champion and a former World No. 1, her business success is just as impressive as her tennis achievements," wrote King. "Maria, the best is yet to come for you!"
A winner of 36 WTA titles who completed her career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2012 and spent 21 weeks atop the world rankings, Sharapova was at times the biggest attraction in her sport.
"She will be greatly missed by her millions of fans around the world, but I know this will also mark an exciting new beginning for Maria," said WTA chairman Steve Simon.
"I look forward to following her successes in the years to come as she steps away as a true champion of our sport."
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)