It would appear an obvious statement to claim that despite there being hundreds of tennis players, it is a select few that have earned the title of “Grand Slam Champion”. The latest addition to this select group was Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, who just over 40 days ago was celebrating a Wimbledon triumph over the underrated German Sabine Lisicki. It appeared that this was to be the pinnacle of her career, her emergence as a real contender and a plateau to build off. It came as a huge surprise therefore to hear that this week following a loss to Simona Halep in the second round of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati she called time on her career, retiring due to the strain that her career was putting on her body, at just 28. As a result, theknightlyblog examines other tennis stars who called time early on their careers.
Whilst the sabbatical that preceded his eventual decision to retire from Tennis in 1983 might have foreshadowed what was to come, the fact that Bjorn Borg was just 26 made it a huge surprise and a loss to the sport. It is also important to establish that Borg was certainly not “passed it” and in fact despite his boycott of Grand Slams, his performance in the 1982 Akai Gold Challenge Round Robin Tournament showed he was still at the very top of his game. His success in the event was emphasised by the strength of his results, namely a triumph over his great rival John McEnroe (3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2) and a huge win over Ivan Lendl (6-1, 6-4, 6-2). This is cemented further by Lendl becoming world number 1 in February 1983, showing that he could still compete against the very best. Thus, his retirement is puzzling as it certainly appears he could have left the sport having achieved far more successes and having entertained even more spectators, perhaps with more enthralling duels with his huge rival John McEnroe.
Hingis exploded on to the WTA in 1996, when at the age of just 15 she won the Women’s Doubles at Wimbledon with her partner Helena Sukova. In the same year she progressed well in the Singles Draw at both the Australian Open and US Open reaching the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals respectively. However, it would be 1997 that cemented her as one of the sports’ greatest. Her singles victory in the Australian Open in 1997 at just 16 set the scene for the year that was to follow, as she went on to scope the Wimbledon and US open singles titles. She narrowly missed out on a Career Grand Slam within a Calendar Year as she lost in the final of the French Open to Iva Majoli.
Despite all this early success however, it was 5 years later at just 22 years of age that Hingis called time on her career, following injuries to her ankles. Her age again being a shock factor in her decision, as it was considered she hadn’t yet reached the heights that her early career promised she would. Despite subsequent comebacks, her singles career never recovered and therefore, she joins the ranks of those who called time early on promising careers.
The final member is the Belgian queen of clay Justine Henin, whose dominance in the French Open between 2005 and 2007 and 7 Grand Slam titles between 2003 and 2007 confirmed her as one of the most successful females in the WTA’s history. Her success and especially those in the French Open therefore meant that her retirement from the game in 2008 was a great surprise. This was not least because Henin was still the world number 1 and had been for over 100 weeks, in the process becoming only the seventh woman to hold the position for 12 consecutive months. Furthermore, her retirement came just a short time before the 2008 French Open was due to start, a tournament which her success on clay had meant she was favourite for and would have entered the tournament having won the previous 3 titles at Roland Garros. Her decision to not play it before her retirement puzzled many as it would have provided the perfect conclusion to her career, which appeared to have been ended prematurely.
Like many others however, she did return to tennis, coming back in 2010. Her comeback only lasted for a year though as in 2011 she retired indefinitely, as her form never reached the heights of her career prior to her original decision to retire. Furthermore, she became heavily hampered by an elbow injury which she had sustained at the 2010 Wimbledon Championship and this ultimately forced her out of professional tennis, despite still only being 31.
In the case of Marion Bartoli, what is clear from her fellow retired players is that an initial retirement is not indefinite, as all of the above examples returned to the game, so despite Bartoli’s claim she won’t return, only time will tell if she stands by her decision. What is highlighted however is that these examples had success very early in their careers, breaking into the game with a bang, unlike the more industrious approach that Bartoli has taken, playing in 45 grand slam events before finally winning a title. Therefore, it suggests that Bartoli is a late developer and perhaps her decision could prevent her reaching her true potential, unlike others who had experienced high levels of this before their initial retirements.
What is certain though, is that the big hitting power game of Bartoli will be missed by spectators around the world, who will be willing Bartoli to reconsider and grace the professional circuit once more.
By Alex Knight (theknightlyblog)
(Image courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk/sport)