Suárez Says Goodbye
Published September 04, 2007 12:00
NEW YORK, NY, USA - One of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's all-time greats has called it a career at one of the sport's most prestigious venues, as Paola Suárez retired from professional tennis at the US Open over the weekend. The Argentine will leave behind a legacy for South America, being just the second from her continent to get to the Top 10 in singles and the first to attain the world No.1 ranking in the doubles discipline.
As a youngster in Argentina just starting out, Suárez played tennis for fun, never really considering pursuing tennis professionally. But with her results improving and the star of countrywoman Gabriela Sabatini on the rise, her intentions began to change.
"I began to play tennis just to enjoy it and have fun, but I started to improve so I chose to make it my career," Suárez stated. "When I was young it was Sabatini. She was so popular and I saw her everywhere. I never actually said, 'I want to be like Gaby,' but the results started coming and I kept going. It was strange!"
After some success in the minor leagues, Suárez went pro on March 1, 1994, and the Tour success didn't take long to follow. She would win her first of eventually 44 doubles titles in 1996 in Bol, Croatia with Laura Montalvo, and in 1998 she would win her first of four singles titles in Bogotá, Colombia.
Her most memorable doubles triumphs came on the biggest stages, the majors. She ends her career with eight of them: one Australian Open (2004), three US Opens (2002, 2003, 2004), and four Roland Garros titles (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005). All of those, as well as one Sony Ericsson Championships title (2003) and three Wimbledon runner-up finishes (2002, 2003, 2006), came with one partner.
"We had some really nice moments and we'll always have good memories," said Suárez of Virginia Ruano Pascual. "We had a great time on the court, laughing all the time and having fun. That was the key to our partnership. And we're friends as well. Virginia was important for my career and in my memories of tennis."
Her four singles titles were perhaps overshadowed by more resonant singles runs at the majors. She made her first Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros in 2002, her second at the US Open in 2003 and then reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2004. That was followed with a quarterfinal at Wimbledon a few weeks later.
"Making the semifinals of the French Open, one of my favorite tournaments, was the most important result of my career," said Suárez, who fell to Dementieva in that match. "It's on clay and in Paris, both of which made me feel really great. Also, winning the Olympic doubles bronze medal in Athens was exciting."
But in the last few years injuries became frustrating. After she and Ruano Pascual won Roland Garros in 2005, Suárez was forced to withdraw from the rest of the season due to a hip injury that would later require surgery; although she would come back to the Tour in 2006, she would begin struggling with more injuries. Earlier in 2007 she announced she would be playing her last professional season.
"After the hip surgery I didn't feel really good, and I just had too many injuries after that. I was just too tired of having all the injuries. I just felt beaten. And I wasn't having the same results. And I'm 30 years old - it was time to move on."
Originally she was going to stop after Wimbledon, then decided to extend that.
"I was supposed to retire after Wimbledon but I didn't tell anyone, and then I thought that wasn't a good idea for the fans and those who follow my career. So, I started practicing again for the US Open. Then I told the press I'd be retiring!"
Suárez fell in singles qualifying, then in the opening round of women's doubles. She fell in the second round in mixed doubles with Zimbabwe's Kevin Ullyett, and after the loss was given an on-court presentation which included kind words from current doubles great Liezel Huber and the uncorking of two bottles of Chandon. Suárez had her chance to thank a few people and, with teary eyes, said goodbye.
"I was always so surprised at how so many players from different countries could come together," said Suárez when asked about her best memories. "We were all different in culture and language, but came together with one thing in common."
Suárez was the first woman from South America to reach No.1 in doubles, holding it for a total of 87 weeks (the fifth-longest total of all time). Aside from Sabatini, she was the only South American woman to reach the Top 10 in singles, getting to a career-high of No.9 on June 7, 2004 (after her Roland Garros semifinal).