Ranking the Most Surprising Retirements in Tennis History
Marion Bartoli's sudden retirement rocked the tennis world. Barely more than a month after winning Wimbledon, her only Grand Slam title, she retired after a routine loss with her first match in Cincinnati. Nobody saw this coming.
There have been other surprising retirements in Open-era tennis with some of the biggest stars in tennis. Usually, there is a hint that this will occur, but it can still be stunning when a top player is still playing so well.
The following ranks high-profile retirements from tennis while giving most consideration to a player's stature and impact on tennis.
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Pete Sampras: He gets a special mention because the status of his retirement had been up in the air since his 2002 U.S. Open title. Tennis fans knew he was close to the end, as he rested and recovered from injuries, but he was so great it was conceivable seeing him reappear at Wimbledon 2003. His formal retirement announcement came nearly a year after his last match, in August 2003.
Tracy Austin: She was only 21 years old in 1983 and a two-time U.S. Open champion, but injuries derailed her attempts to stay at the top. The impact of her retirement was laded with sadness because of her seemingly limitless potential to be a dominant player on the WTA. She tried unsuccessfully to come back a few years later.
Andrea Jaegar: Another young phenom who retired in in 1985 at age 19. Jaegar had been a French Open and Wimbledon finalist in 1982 and 1983, but a shoulder injury finished her troubled career.
7. Kim Clijsters
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Kim Clijsters was a dominant player by age 20 in 2003. She achieved the No. 1 ranking and got to four Grand Slam finals before finally winning a Major in her fifth try at at the 2005 U.S. Open. She had also been hinting at retirement throughout the year.
When she did retire in May, 2007, she was still only 23 years old. It seemed too early for her to leave tennis, but she had been battling injuries and wanted to concentrate on her personal life.
Two years later, Clijsters made a comeback. She had had a baby, but quickly found her top form. She played her most career's best clutch tennis in notching three Grand Slam titles before bowing out again.
6. Andy Roddick
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Andy Roddick was no longer a Grand Slam contender by the time the 2012 U.S. Open rolled around, but nobody was prepared when he announced his retirement a day before his first round match.
He sat down and got right to the point, and as reported by the New York Times stated, "I’ll make this short and sweet. This is going to be my last tournament." He explained that injuries and lack of motivation made it hard for him to compete.
Each of his four matches carried a special air of attention, but finally his retirement was official with a loss to Juan Martin del Potro.
5. Steffi Graf
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Although Steffi Graf had been battling injuries and a young Martina Hingis, it was still a shock when she suddenly announced her retirement in August 1999. She had just won the French Open, was a Wimbledon finalist, and still ranked No. 3. It seemed like she had more great tennis ahead at age 30.
But Graf was always a perfectionist. She explained to the AP, via canoe.ca that "I have done everything I wanted to do in tennis. I feel I have nothing left to accomplish." She also emphasized that it was not about injuries but that "I'm not having fun anymore."
Graf left tennis as perhaps the greatest singles player in the history of women's tennis.
4. Marion Bartoli
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Marion Bartoli makes this list because of her 2013 Wimbledon win. It was her first Grand Slam victory and a mighty achievement for someone who was a very good player but not at the very top of the WTA power structure. She had also just matched her career high No. 7 ranking.
Her announcement caught everyone off guard. She had played at Toronto and lost her one match to Simona Halep at Cincinnati. Nevertheless, at age 28 she had achieved her career's pinnacle. It would be similar to if ATP journeyman David Ferrer had won the French Open and then retired weeks later.
Bartoli said in The Telegraph that injuries made it hard for her to continue and that "I really felt I gave all the energy I have left in my body. I made my dream a reality and it will stay with me forever, but now my body just can't cope with everything."
3. Martina Hingis
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She was only 22 years old and holder of five Grand Slam titles, but Martina Hingis had been struggling with injuries and the rise of other powerful and great players on the WTA. She retired in February 2003.
She seemed unwilling to compete if she could not be at the very top, as explained to BBC Sport: "When you have been world number one for four years you cannot content yourself with less."
Later in the year, she insisted that her new life away from professional tennis was for the best, according to her famous comment via nationalpost.com: "I want to play tennis only for fun and concentrate more on horse riding and finish my studies."
Now Hingis is making a second comeback to tennis, but the shock of her first retirement impacted the balance of power in the WTA.
2. Justine Henin
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Justine Henin was the No. 1 player in women's tennis when she suddenly retired in May 2008. She was still only 25 years old and the favorite to win the French Open. It seemed completely inexplicable that she would walk away when it seemed a certainty she would add to her seven Grand Slam titles.
Henin had been so dominant and admired by other WTA legends including John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King. King told BBC Sport that, "Pound-for-pound, Justine was the best player of her generation."
Though she made a comeback in 2010, she was unable to recapture her dominance and battled an elbow injury. She retired for good the following year.
1. Bjorn Borg
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Bjorn Borg had become tennis' biggest international superstar with 11 Grand Slam titles by age 25. He was the most fit player on the tour and seemed to have many more Major titles in his future. He also had not won his elusive U.S. Open title.
Following his 1981 defeat to John McEnroe at the U.S. Open final, Borg walked out of Flushing Meadows before the press conferences and ceremonies. There is the general belief that Borg was devastated and burned out, but much of this is still speculative.
Borg would only play the Monte Carlo tournament in 1982 before disappearing from competition for the rest of the decade. He announced his retirement in January, 1983.
It was a shock not just to tennis, but to the sports world at large. There were many people who admired his commercial appeal and mystique with winning at the French Open and Wimbledon.
Generations later, Borg's retirement is still discussed along with his great credentials that made him one of the greatest players of all time.