Maria Sharapova Retires From Tennis ... 'I'm Saying Goodbye'

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A tennis legend is calling it quits ... Maria Sharapova just announced she's done with the sport for good.

"Tennis -- I’m saying goodbye," Sharapova wrote Wednesday.

"Tennis showed me the world -- and it showed me what I was made of," the 32-year-old added. "It's how I tested myself and how I measured my growth."

"And so in whatever I might choose for my next chapter, my next mountain, I'll still be pushing. I’ll still be climbing. I'll still be growing."

Sharapova was a former No. 1 player in the world ... and won five career Grand Slams -- including Wimbledon in 2004 when she was just 17 years old.

Of course, Sharapova also gained a ton of fame from her rivalry with Serena Williams ... which was more of complete and utter dominance than actual competitiveness.

In 23 career matchups ... Serena won 20 of them, including 18 in a row at one point!!

Maria, though, still won the U.S. Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open twice in 2012 and 2014.

But, Maria's career didn't come without controversy ... she tested positive for a banned substance in 2016 and was ultimately suspended from the game for 15 MONTHS.

In fact, the test caused such a backlash in the tennis world ... Genie Bouchard straight-up called her a "cheater" who deserved a lifetime ban.

Sharapova -- who battled numerous shoulder injuries throughout her career -- said Thursday of all the ups and downs in her career, "I realize that tennis has been my mountain."

"My path has been filled with valleys and detours, but the views from its peak were incredible. After 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, though, I'm ready to scale another mountain -- to compete on a different type of terrain."

Kobe Bryant Tennis Superstars Pay Tribute ... At Australian Open

Some of the biggest tennis stars in the world showed love to Kobe Bryant at the Australian Open on Monday ... from Nick Kyrgios to Rafael Nadal and Coco Gauff.

24-year-old Kyrgios was particularly emotional before the 4th round matchup against Nadal -- wearing Bryant's #8 Lakers jersey and choking back tears as he warmed up at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

After the match, which Nadal won, Rafa put on a Lakers baseball cap and led the crowd in a round of applause for the 41-year-old NBA star.

"What can I say? I woke up this morning with this terrible news," Nadal said during the on-court post-game interview.

"It's super sad. He was one of the greatest sportsmen in history. He deserves a big round of applause. It's one of these days that you want to forget but of course, Kobe Bryant will be in our hearts and in our minds for the rest of our lives."

Coco Gauff and Catherine McNally also honored Kobe by customizing their tennis shoes. 15-year-old Gauff -- from Atlanta -- wrote "RIP Kobe" on one shoe and "RIP GiGi" on the other.

Rafael Nadal Return Shot Nails Ball Girl in Face ... Apologizes With Kiss

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Scary moment for tennis superstar Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open ... he hit a return shot right off a ball girl's face ... but he made up for it by kissing her owie!!

Rafa was in the middle of his 2nd round match with Federico Delbonis on Thursday, when he ripped a vicious return shot that ended up missing his target and going wide.

The shot hit the ball girl that was standing near the umpire's chair ... and Nadal rushed over to make sure she was okay.

After exchanging a few words, Nadal gave her an apology kiss on the cheek before returning to the match.

Nadal went on to win and move on to the 3rd round ... but admitted he was shook by the incident.

"For her, it was probably not a good moment,” Nadal said after the win ... "She is a super-brave girl."

Nadal added, "It was one of my most scary moments that I had on the tennis court, as the ball went straight onto her head."

The brave ball girl didn't leave empty-handed ... 'cause Nadal gave her his headband after the win!!

Now, ice up!

Serena Williams Shuts Down Megxit Question ... 'Good Try'

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NOT TOUCHING THAT
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Pro tip for all future Serena Williams interviewers ... whatever you do, do NOT ask about her friend Meghan Markle ... 'cause you WILL get shut down.

The tennis superstar faced the media after her Australian Open match on Monday ... and the first question wasn't about her win over Anastasia Potapova, it was about Megxit.

“Your good friend, Meghan Markle, who attended your last 2 slams, and Harry, have taken a move, a stance that many people think is extraordinary and historic," the reporter said.

"What are your feelings about that? Have you spoken to her?”

Serena Williams & Roger Federer Help Raise $5 MIL For Australia ... In Epic Tennis Event

THIS IS AWESOME!!!

Some of the greatest tennis players EVER -- from Serena Williams to Roger Federer -- hit the court Wednesday ... and it was all to help raise nearly $5 MILLION for Australia fire relief!

With the Australian Open set to kick off next week ... legends like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic joined Serena and Federer at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne to get some pickup games in for charity.

The event was great ... the superstars hammed it up for the crowd, got in a little tennis action and, most importantly, raised roughly $4.8 mil to help victims of the raging wildfires.

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As we previously reported, more than 2,500 homes have been destroyed since the blazes began ... with the fire killing at least 28 people.

The tennis world has been super active when it comes to helping relief efforts ... with stars like Nick Kyrgios famously pledging $200 per ace to the cause this season.

As for the Australian Open event, it's still going down as scheduled for now ... although players have already expressed concern over the poor air quality.

"I think there has to be some kind of line in the sand, you know, some kind of rule where you measure the air," Genie Bouchard told Gizmodo this week ... "And if it’s over a certain number, or however they measure it, then you just don’t play."

The Open matches are set to begin in Australia on Monday.

Australian Open Player Quits Match After Coughing, Falling Due To Smoke-Filled Air

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Slovenian tennis pro Dalila Jakupovic was forced to quit her qualifying match at the Australian Open on Tuesday ... after she coughed and collapsed to the court due to the air quality.

Of course, the air in Melbourne is currently considered "the worst in the world" as smoke from the wildfires has taken over the area.

Despite the chief health officer saying the air was very poor or hazardous, the qualifying round of the tournament kicked off on Tuesday ... and several players have complained about the conditions already.

Jakupovic was in the middle of the second set of her match against Stefanie Vogele when she started coughing uncontrollably and went to her knees.

“I was really scared that I would collapse," the 28-year-old said ... adding that it was unfair for players to have to play in the current conditions.

"I never had breathing problems. I actually like heat," Jakupovic added. "I just couldn't breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor."

Other tennis pros needed assistance during their matches ... including Genie Bouchard and Bernard Tomic.

As for the status of the remainder of the tourney ... organizers say they will monitor the situation before making any decisions but can possibly move things indoors.

Coco Gauff Adorably Scolds Dad For Cursing ... During Match

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"YOU CAN'T SAY THAT"
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15-year-old rising tennis star Coco Gauff might have to put her dad in a time-out -- he accidentally cursed while coaching her during a match ... and she called him out for it!!

The whole interaction was thankfully caught on camera because Coco and her dad/coach were mic'd up for her ASB Classic match in New Zealand ... and in between sets, he gave her a pep talk.

Her dad, Corey, is heard giving out compliments left and right ... but got a bit carried away when he said, "There's one thing you did the last 3 games, you ain't give up no free points on no damn serve. That serve is weak."

That's when Coco chastised pops for using a bad word while mic'd ... saying, "You can't curse."

Dad's reaction is priceless ... at first he can't believe he cussed on a hot mic, but then directly apologized into the microphone for the slip-up.

But then Corey, still in disbelief, asks Coco again if he really cussed ... and she tells him he did, in fact, say "the d word."

"Oh, well that don't even count," Dad responded.

Coco wasn't havin' it, though ... saying, "in some places, it does!!"

Dad apologized once again ... and Gauff went on to lose the match to Laura Siegemund.

No word on whether Coco has punished her coach for using such foul language.

Tennis Star Nick Kyrgios Pledges $200 Per Ace to Australia Fire Relief

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It's time to start rooting for Nick Kyrgios ... because the Australian tennis star has pledged to donate $200 for every ACE he lands to help wildfire relief efforts in his home country.

"I’m kicking off the support for those affected by the fires," the 24-year-old announced ... "I’ll be donating $200 per ace that I hit across all the events I play this summer."

It's a big deal considering Kyrgios smashed 597 aces in 2019 ... so if he matches that total, we're talking around $120k.

At least 17 people (8 in the past week) have been killed in the Australia fires -- which have been burning since October -- with at least 17 more people missing.

More than 1,000 homes and buildings have been destroyed so far and officials are concerned things could get even WORSE in the coming days.

Several Aussie tennis stars have already been inspired by Nick's gesture -- and are following suit with ace-based donations.

Alex de Minaur said, "I like this I will go $250 per ace, just because I don’t think I’ll be hitting as many aces as you mate."

John Millman added, "I’m not at your level boys but I want to get involved. $100 for an ace over the Australian summer."

Serena Williams Gets Boxing Lesson ... From Iron Mike!!!

TRAININ' WITH MIKE

Here's Serena Williams getting boxing lessons from one of the fiercest fighters of all time ... and Mike Tyson's showing another champ how to throw a serious haymaker!!!

Check out this video of Iron Mike working with the tennis star in Florida ... coaching her through some punching combinations and then holding the heavy bag as Serena absolutely unloads.

Sounds like Mike is impressed with Serena's punching prowess ... Tyson says she "has some serious power." Talk about a ringing endorsement!!!

No word if Serena can take a punch like Mike ... but she can sure as hell throw one!!!

Tennis' Juan Martin del Potro Forget My Injury ... Peep My Model GF!!!

Here's tennis star Juan Martin del Potro showing us how he's recovering from that pesky knee injury ... a Miami beach romp with his model girlfriend!

Feelin' better already?!

Juan -- the former #3 ranked player in the world -- fractured his kneecap earlier this year after slipping on grass during a tourney and had to undergo surgery to repair it.

He's hoping for a big-time comeback when he's all healed up -- but in the meantime, the 31-year-old Argentinian stud is relaxing in Miami with actress/model Sofia Jujuy Jimenez.

They reportedly started dating earlier this year -- and it seems to be going REALLY well ... at least judging by the PDA in the pics!

From what we can tell on her IG page, Sofia is a pretty good model ... meaning, she looks damn incredible in a bikini.

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Caroline Wozniacki Retiring from Tennis ... Wants to Start Family

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6:40 AM PT -- We just spoke with Caroline in New York and she told us what she'll miss the most about being a pro tennis player!

That's a wrap for Caroline Wozniacki ... almost!

The 29-year-old tennis star says she's officially retiring from the sport -- right after the Australian Open in January -- to focus on other aspects of her life, including growing her family.

"I've played professionally since I was 15 years old," Wozniacki says.

"I've always told myself, when the time comes, that there are things away from tennis that I want to do more, then it's time to be done. In recent months, I've realized that there is a lot more in life that I'd like to accomplish off the court."

Caroline says getting married to NBA star David Lee "was one of those goals" -- along with "starting a family with him while continuing to travel the world."

She also wants to focus energy on raising awareness for rheumatoid arthritis -- a condition she suffers from.

"So with that, today I am announcing that I will be retiring from professional tennis after the Australian Open in January," Wozniacki says.

"This has nothing to do with my health and this isn't a goodbye, I look forward to sharing my exciting journey ahead with all of you."

As far as her tennis accomplishments, Caroline was pretty damn good.

"With 30 WTA singles titles, a world #1 ranking for 71 weeks, a WTA Finals victory, 3 Olympics, including carrying the flag for my native Denmark, and winning the 2018 Australian Open Grand slam championship, I've accomplished everything I could on the court."

Not bad, right?

Wozniacki and her hubby recently took classes at Harvard Business School as part of a program that helps athletes build a second career outside of sports ... so post-tennis life has been on her brain for a while.

Congrats!

Originally published -- 6:41 AM PT

Roger Federer Zverev's The Next Big Superstar 'Gonna Make Life Difficult!'

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Roger Federer knows he ain't gonna be the best forever ... and he's revealing to TMZ Sports his biggest threats to the throne -- and one of the guys just helped Fed break a huge record!!

We spoke with the 38-year-old superstar out in NYC and asked straight-up which young guns are giving him the biggest headaches ... and Federer name-drops 2 dudes he's got in the rearview -- 22-year-old German Alexander Zverev and 21-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece!!

Of course, Federer and #7 Zverev just broke a major attendance record when more than 42,000 people showed up to watch their exhibition in Mexico City over the weekend.

Federer beat Zverev in the exhibition, but Tsitsipas got the best of Fed in the ATP World Tour earlier this month ... before going on to win the whole thing.

"There's a few guys right now. They're gonna make life difficult for us next year," Federer tells us.

Also worth noting -- check out the crowd surrounding Federer in NYC. The dude still draws a huge group of fans everywhere he goes!!

Rob Gronkowski Dances His Face Off With Lakers Girls ... And Venus Williams!!!

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The newest Laker Girl is ... GRONK?!

Yep, the (ex?) NFL superstar hit the court at Staples Center on Tuesday night to join the Laker Girls with Venus Williams and James Corden ... and it was ... something!!!

There were high kicks, hip thrusts and some booty poppin' ... and LA's home crowd LOVED IT!!!

If we had to guess, seems the routine was all for a bit for Corden's "The Late Late Show" ... because why the hell else would this happen?

One person who was (sorta) impressed? Rob Gronkowski's girlfriend Camille Kostek, who used to cheerlead for the Patriots.

"Still deciding if I’m a proud girlfriend over this," Camille said. "Nevertheless .... this is an EPIC #NeverNotDancing moment I am proud to witness by Mr James and Robert James I LOVE YOU BOTH"

The wild show capped off an eventful day for Gronk ... 'cause just hours before he broke it down at Staples Center, he announced he was staying retired this season and opting to party instead.

As for how the Lakers fared with the 6'6", 265-pound beast rootin' them on ... they kicked ass, beating Oklahoma City, 112-107.

Maybe LeBron can do some more recruiting to L.A. and get Gronk there full-time???

David Beckham's Son Romeo, Romeo ... Wherefore Art Thou, Bieber???

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Justin Bieber caught a tennis match across the pond this weekend ... is what you might think at first glance with this photo. Turns out, it's another young famous guy with JB vibes.

David Beckham's second-oldest son, 17-year-old Romeo Beckham, was out Sunday in London watching pro tennis players Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas face off in the Nitto ATP Finals tournament ... where they were actually playing in the final round.

Romeo had a great view sitting next to a beautiful blonde, and interestingly enough ... he was proudly rocking some Drew gear -- which is Bieber's popular unisex clothing brand.

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What's wild is that Romeo is a dead ringer for the Biebs, especially with that beanie on. As we've seen, Justin has rocked a similar style himself -- they could be twins, frankly.

Meanwhile, Justin was very much in L.A. this weekend ... enjoying himself a lazy Sunday with his two Savannah cats, his dog and a whole lot of Drew gear around the house. On Sunday, he kept plugging his line ... and even got around to plugging Kylie Jenner too.

We might have to get a Drew emoji going pretty soon considering how much it seems to be taking off. In the meantime, though, this will have to do ... 😎

Rafael Nadal Eviscerates Reporter For Marriage Question ... 'That's Bulls**t'

Rafael Nadal DESTROYED a reporter who asked the tennis star if his recent marriage caused him to play like trash Monday ... telling the journalist his question was straight-up "bulls**t."

Nadal married his childhood sweetheart, Xisca Perello, in Spain last month ... and in his first big competition at the ATP World Tour Finals since the nuptials, he got wrecked by Alexander Zverev in straight sets, 6-2 6-4.

So, a reporter asked him afterward if perhaps the reason for his poor play was because of his recent wedding vows ... and that's when Nadal started to tee off.

"Honestly, are you asking me this?" Nadal said. "Is [this] a serious question or it's a joke? Is it serious?"

The reporter pushed forward ... but Nadal kept the clap-backs coming.

"I'm surprised," Nadal said. "It's a big surprise for me you ask me this after I have been with the same girl for 15 years and having a very stable and normal life."

"It doesn't matter if you put a ring on your finger or not. In my personal way, I am a very normal guy."

Finally, Nadal ended the uncomfortable exchange by saying, "Okay. We move to Spanish because that's bulls**t. Thank you very much."

For as awkward as the encounter was ... Nadal kept his cool for the most part -- which is good news for the guy, considering he's got to play another match on Wednesday.

Can't wait for that post-game presser!

Pro Female Tennis Players Fight Breaks Out After Match Over Aggressive Handshake

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BOILING POINT
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There was definitely no love in this tennis match ... as 2 female pros got in an intense shove-off after the final point on Thursday ... and it was all over an aggressive handshake!!!

The match was between Canadian player Katherine Sebov (white shorts) and American Alycia Parks (pink shorts) in the round of 16 of the ITF W60 tournament in Las Vegas.

Sebov won the match in straight sets, but things got physical after Parks claims Sebov squeezed her hand too hard at the net following the match ... and made it clear she didn't like it one bit.

Parks -- who was already heated and had thrown her racket after the final point -- went after Sebov following the shake and that's when all hell broke loose ... with the 2 players shoving each other!!!

The line judge had to interfere ... and Parks' dad jumped a fence (hilarious BTW) to get on the court to help break it up.

Things finally cooled down ... and Parks addressed it with reporters after the match, saying, "She squeezed my hand very hard."

Another pro, Sachia Vickery, also backed Parks' claim, saying, "I was there she def squeezed her hand at the net. I hope they don’t try to spin this."

"The ref clearly says he saw it . Won’t be shocked if nothing is done about it tho"

The ITF is investigating ... but hasn't announced any punishment.

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