Qualifying matches that have begun at the Australian Open these past few days have been a showcase for players who are in thick of their careers, on the cusp of making it in the top tier of the men’s and women’s professional tennis tours, and who have a hard time saying good-bye.
Daniela Hantuchova reached the semifinals in Melbourne eight years ago when she was 25. Back then, she lost a heartbreaking match to Anna Ivanovic, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6. Even though she reached No.5 in the world, she never came that close again to reaching the final of a major.
Yesterday, Daniela, who is now 33 and ranked No.227, lost in the first round of qualifying to a player ranked outside the top 100.
Anna and another former top player, Nadia Petrova, recently announced their retirements from professional tennis after injuries, comebacks, and, quite frankly, seeing their best years go further into the past.
Nadia spoke openly about injuries halting her momentum when she had reached the peak of her confidence on the court. While her body recovered, she never again regained the fearlessness that allowed her to compete with the very best.
Speaking about her career achievements, Anna noted that “I can only play if I can perform up to my own high standards, and I can no longer do that, so it’s time to move on.”
Anna, Nadia, and Daniela have all earned enough in prize money and endorsements to be set for life. All also would find employment in some area of the tennis universe — as a commentator, coach, or tournament director, for example — in a heartbeat.
Nadia said recently in an interview that “sometimes I feel like we’re only given one chance, and if that chance isn’t used or taken, you don’t always get another. As long as you try your best and give your all, when you hang your racquets up, all you can say is that you did everything you could. It could have been better but there are some things in life that aren’t up to us; we’re not in control of everything. ”
So I’ve wondered about Daniela. I realized at around my 10th marathon that I had already run my fastest. Sure enough, my times have been slower for the next eight, but I still enjoy the training, taking in a beautiful course, staying fit for most of the year, and feeling like I’m on top of the world once I reach the finish line!
The tennis world has been lucky to have Daniela, a graceful champion. I hope when she knows for herself the time is right to say good-bye that she will feel rewarded for all she has given the game.