October 1, 2009

The Farewell Tour

This year we will have to say good-bye to a few familiar and (mostly) friendly faces on the ATP & WTA tours. And in this week's action, many made some earlier exits than they might have wanted.

Fabrice "the Magician" Santoro is one of the most popular players out there, and for the last twenty years he's been entertaining us with more than just his athletic prowess -- he's got a comic flair of which few others can boast. On top of that the Frenchman has won an impressive six titles during his career, most recently back-to-back trophies in Newport in 2007 and '08 -- he lost in the semis this year to Sam Querrey. He's had some bad luck with draws this year, but has nevertheless maintained a ranking in the thirties, now just slightly higher (thirty-nine) than his age (thirty-six).

In this week's PTT Thailand Open Santoro was awarded the seventh seed, but he faced a tough first-round match against a young Evgeny Korolev. Though he out-aced his opponent, thirteen to five, and hung tight through three tight sets, after almost three hours he was sent home. Not the best result at one of your last tournaments, but certainly a good showing.

Another soon-to-be retiree had a slightly better result this week, but not by much.

I've never been the biggest fan of former world #1 Marat Safin, but even I have to admit that when he announced that this would be his last year on the circuit I realized we'd be losing a big personality on the court. He certainly wore his temper on his sleeve, and without a title since 2005's Australian Open over four years ago, Marat's certainly had plenty to be frustrated about. This year alone he's dropped from the top twenty to the high fifties; he's lost ten times in the first round of tournaments, and his best Grand Slam was a third round exit in Melbourne.

In Bangkok this week Safin started off with a bang -- defeating fifth seed Philipp Petzschner in the opening battle. But today he had a tougher test against qualifier Marco Chiudinelli. The slightly younger Swiss (Marco is twenty-eight to Marat's twenty-nine) was able to stave off the Russian's advances, successfully defending three break chances and winning the second set in a tiebreak to advance in straights.

While Safin probably would have liked to play a little more this week, he might have some other things to keep him busy. In a teleconference during July's LA Tennis Open, he had this to say about his post-professional plans:
"Well, of course I'm gonna take it easy at the end of the season after I retire, because I need a couple months just to relax and just to realize that [I] really retired ... There's plenty of things to do. I'm gonna stay active and do something different, definitely not gonna retire and then sit on my -- sit on the beach and do nothing ... I have a few projects, I'm gonna be working."

He declined to say what he'd be working on, but my money's on an acting career -- maybe playing Eric Dane's long-lost brother on Grey's Anatomy?

A little further north in Japan, home-grown Ai Sugiyama was playing her last tournament in her native land. The thirty-four year old has been a #8 singles and a #1 doubles player during her career and hasn't finished out of the top forty in at least ten years. Ai's had her share of first-round losses in 2009, but she's also beaten Patty Schnyder and Anabel Medina Garrigues. She also made the semis in Sydney and the third round both in Australia and Wimbledon.

At the Pan Pacific Open she was treated to a touching good-bye ceremony, with long-time doubles partner Daniela Hantuchova embracing her on court. "To be honest it's really tough to find someone like Sugi. She's just an incredible person. So friendly, so sweet!" the Slovakian wrote in her blog last week. Their friendship is apparent in their game too -- while Ai was forced to retire from her opening singles match against Nadia Petrova when she was already down a set, she and Hantuchova did team up to win their first round against Vania King and Jie Zheng. Here's hoping there's at least a little more steam in that engine!

It will certainly be sad to see all these players go -- no matter what you think of them, they always brought something special to the game. And though we know that few retirements in the sport are permanent, I can't help but already feel a little nostalgic about what will soon be missing.

Of course I wish them all the best, but if Fabrice, Marat and Ai should find themselves back on a court soon, I'm sure a lot of people would be celebrating!

1 comment:

Pauly P said...

No doubt about it, I am going to miss both of these guys? They had really unique game styles and were very charismatic. Both were great characters as well as revoir!