March 25, 2009

Where Retirement Means Squat

I suppose when most people hit sixty-five and look forward to their retirement, they have some idea of how they're going to pass the time -- maybe travel around the world, take up knitting, finish reading War and Peace, improve their serve-and-volley game.

It's supposed to be leisure time.

But when you're a professional tennis player -- and retire before you're twenty-five -- you may realize that leisure is a lot like work. And that might be why so few are able to stick to the plan.

Just about nine years ago, a nineteen-year-old Venus Williams, ranked #3 in the world, said she was considering leaving the sport to focus on her education and her investments. At that point in her life, she hadn't yet won a Grand Slam singles title, though she had made it to the finals at the U.S. Open in 1997 -- her sister Serena, a year younger, won at Flushing Meadows the following year.

Well we all know how long that retirement lasted. Venus swept the championships at Wimbledon in 2000 and also took home the trophy in New York -- her first two of seven major titles she's now won in her career.

Of course, her "retirement" was only rumored, suggested by some -- much like that of Marat Safin who, just last fall, intimated the same. But this year his face is all over the tour -- he's playing Davis Cup, appeared at top-tier tournaments in Melbourne and Indian Wells, and has brought his ranking back from #90 a year ago to #23 now.

The most recent rumors of a comeback swirl around another former world #1, Kim Clijsters. The Belgian also-ran took the top position in 2003, but was largely outshone by countrywoman Justine Henin, who'd already won her first of four French Open titles. Kim, on the other hand, didn't bring home her own -- and only -- Slam for two years, when she defeated Mary Pierce in the U.S. Open finals.

Clijsters never returned to defend her title -- she was sidelined in 2006 with a wrist injury and decided to leave the game in 2007, at the ripe old age of twenty-three. But tomorrow Kim returns to the public eye. She's holding a press conference and is expected to ask for a wild card entry to this year's Open.

So much for "So long!"

Kim's return to the sport will certainly be appreciated. Like Justine Henin, who retired last year while still ranked #1 in the world, Clijsters was near the top of her game when she chose to bow out. And in a world where the top spot is being tossed around like a hot potato, another strong contender will surely be welcome.

But my real reason for wanting Kim to come back is that, deep down, I feel seeing her face on the court, may just spur Henin to rethink her choice. The two had a superb competition over the years, with Justine holding a slim 12-10 lead over Kim. Sure there are plenty of new names in the mix that could spawn the next big rivalry, but won't it be fun to watch these two try?

Hope to see y'all soon!

No comments: