BUDAPEST, Hungary - While many of the biggest stars of the WTA are playing into their 30s, for some, unfortunately, that's not an option. Agnes Szavay, who went as high as No.13 in the world a few years ago and looked headed for a long and illustrious career, has had to call time at just 24 years old.
Szavay made a big splash on the tour as an 18-year-old in the second half of 2007 with a slew of big results - first WTA title at Palermo, the finals of New Haven, first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open, another WTA title at Beijing - that breakthrough few months saw her go from outside the Top 50 all the way to the Top 20, where she would spend an entire year, peaking at No.13 for five weeks.
The success kept coming in 2008, 2009 and 2010 - three more WTA titles and a slew of big wins, maybe the most memorable being a win over then-World No.3 Venus Williams at Roland Garros in 2009 (it was her equal-best win, having beaten a No.3-ranked Jelena Jankovic in the Beijing in 2007).
But a back injury caused her to miss all but six events in 2011 and put her out most of 2012, too.
"I have this stress fracture in two spots in my spine - I was playing with it for three years and they didn't see it," Szavay said as she came back to the tour briefly during the second half of 2012. "The bones went one centimeter apart, so I really had a lot of pain. I didn't take the operation because all five doctors we went to wanted to do different operations. I was trying a lot of alternative treatments."
Among the tournaments Szavay played in 2012 was the Olympics, understandably a very special moment for her. "I really wanted to play there - I'm so happy I could use my special ranking there," she said. "I lost first round but it was really nice to be back on the tour. It was very special for me."
It would be Szavay's last stretch on the tour - she announced her retirement in February 2013.
"This is a very emotional and in a way tragic moment in my life. For more than 10 years, my life was centered around tennis. That's what I'm good at, I love to play and I believe that I still had a lot in me. It took me a lot of time to make this decision, but I had no choice - I don't want to risk my health.
"I am proud of my achievements, my titles and awards. It was tough, but I have a lot to be thankful for. I've been contemplating the idea of retiring for a while now, because of all the injuries. The final straw was when I consulted a surgeon in Switzerland and I learned that even if I had the surgery, there are no guarantees that I could complete again. I had to realize that there was no other way. I believe that my fans want to see a 100% healthy Agi on the court, but there are no guarantees for that. Competing at a pro level is not possible with a broken vertebrae. My family and friends know very well that I have tried everything and that for the last four years of my career I was constantly struggling with injuries. At this point all I want is to be healthy and pain-free, because unfortunately I have some other health problems because I over-exerted myself. I really hope that I can pass on my knowledge and experience to the new generation. I have always dreamed of setting up a tennis school and teaching children. I believe that the time has finally come, although I didn't think I would retire so soon. I know that it's going to be a big change in my life but I know what my plans are and I'll do my best to accomplish them. I'm sure in the future you'll be hearing a lot about Szavay Tennis Academy.
"I'd like to take this moment and thank my family, my sponsors, my coaches, my managers, my fans, especially my Fan Club for all their support, and a special thanks to the Women's Tennis Association. One of the most beautiful memories of my life is playing and winning the final in Budapest in front of my home crowd. Twice. I really wish that many more Hungarians may experience that.
"I've already had quite a few big changes in my life. I had to say goodbye to a lot of things to pursue my tennis career. Now is the time for another big change, with many challenges and a whole new life.
"And I'm ready."