Farina Elia Retires from Sony Ericsson WTA Tour
Published October 26, 2005 12:00
"I really didn't expect to be ranked this high when I started out. I have to give all the credit to my husband for his love and support, especially for the last five or six years. He's the reason I started playing better towards the end of my career. He pushed me and helped me reach that level. Without him I couldn't have done it."
HASSELT, Belgium - One of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's most enduring veterans has called it a career, just days after Magdalena Maleeva did the same, as Silvia Farina Elia officially retired from professional tennis in Hasselt, shaking hands at the net one last time with young Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. Similar to Maleeva, Farina Elia began her career in the late 1980s and was a contender well into the new millenium, but unlike last week's retiree, the Italian did not hit her stride until almost 10 years after her professional debut, making her one of the true late bloomers in the history of the women's game.
Farina Elia was born in 1972 in the northern Italian city of Milan, as one of three children to Carlo and Alda Farina, who both worked as insurance agents. She was introduced to tennis when she was 10 years old by her mother, a recreational player herself, and immediately began showing promise. Her evident talent for the game and hard work ethic spawned many successes in the juniors, and at 16 she embarked upon what would become a successful 17-year run as a professional.
Although she clearly possessed the technical and physical prowess to succeed, Farina Elia struggled early on in her career with pressure situations in matches and arguably underachieved for her first several years on the Tour. It took three years from the time she played her first professional match in 1988 to break into the world's Top 100, and nearly seven years to crack the Top 50. Through the end of 1997 she only reached one Tour singles final, at a smaller event in San Marino in 1991.
"I think when I was young, I couldn't handle it, especially when I was playing on a big court against a strong player," Farina Elia said. "I couldn't handle the emotion and the pressure."
Never one to shrink from a challenge, Farina Elia began drawing from her experience while playing under pressure, working harder to focus and let loose on her beautiful one-handed groundstrokes when the chips were down. In 1998, all of 10 years after her debut, she began hitting her stride, reaching four finals and winning over 40 matches in one season for the first time. She would wind up in the Top 20 by the end of the season, the first Italian to grace that elite since Raffaella Reggi eight years before.
Farina Elia continued her late bloom after getting married in September 1999 to Francesco Elia, who would become her coach for the second chapter of her career. Most notable among her late achievements were capturing the Strasbourg title three consecutive times between 2001 and 2003, twice qualifying for the season-ending Tour Championships in 2001 and 2002, reaching her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon in 2003 (in her 40th career major), and appearing in her biggest Tour finals at Antwerp and Amelia Island in 2004 and 2005 respectively.
"It was my goal for many years," said Farina Elia on the Wimbledon run, which would turn out to be her lone major quarterfinal. "It's like when you go for dinner but you don't eat dessert. You always feel that something is missing. So, I always believed and tried to reach this goal."
The Italian reached a career-high ranking of No.11 in May 2002 - the highest ever for an Italian woman - and although she never made it to the Top 10, she certainly enjoyed many successes against that elite group. She notched 11 victories over Top 10 players in her career, including Gabriela Sabatini, Conchita Martínez, Monica Seles, Lindsay Davenport and both Williams sisters. In fact, Farina Elia is the only player in 2005 to have taken down both Williamses, defeating Venus in Dubai and ousting Serena at Amelia Island. Needless to say, her achievements in her late 20s and early 30s far outweigh those during her first years as a professional.
"I have so many good memories. I'm proud of playing the final this year in Amelia Island against Lindsay. I never thought I would reach that level again. I'm delighted with my wins over Venus and Serena this year. Also I'm proud of my win over Seles when we played Fed Cup in my country, that meant a lot to me. The highlight has to be reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon two years ago and playing three sets against Kim."
Farina Elia had an up-and-down 2005, beginning strongly with the aforementioned run to the final at Amelia Island and reaching quarterfinals or better four other times, but she struggled during and after the summer with a nagging shoulder injury, winning just one match on the Tour since Wimbledon.
"The first half of the year was perfect, I played well and enjoyed myself. Things changed at Palermo, where I injured my shoulder. I was completely down at that time, I thought of finishing my career then, but at the same time I'm someone who never backs away from a challenge and made myself a promise to finish out the year."
The 33-year-old has not discussed any retirement plans, but seems excited to find out what life has in store for her next.
"I want to discover a new life away from tennis and see what it brings. It's like closing one door and opening another one. I'm looking forward to it because it's something that you have to discover. You have to start a new life and I think it's going to be a difficult moment but also exciting. I know that my tennis career is a very small moment in my life and the important thing is to be healthy and happy."