Marlene Weingärtner: Chasing Another Dream
Published December 28, 2011 12:00
ULM, Germany - It can be rare for someone to achieve one dream in their lifetime, let alone two - but Marlene Weingärtner is almost there. Once a dangerous player on the WTA, and holder of one of the biggest upsets of the last decade, the German is now closing in on another fantastic achievement.
One of the best juniors in the world in the mid-1990s, with a style very reminiscent of one of her contemporaries, Martina Hingis, Weingärtner made the transition to WTA events as a 15-year-old, playing her first main draw at Palermo in 1995. It took her a few years to make her mark but she would end up making the quarterfinals or better 12 times at WTA events, including a Premier semifinal at Charleston in 2001 and her first final at Bali in 2004. At the Slams, she made the round of 16 twice in singles and quarterfinals twice in doubles.
She also had a penchant for the upset - though she would never go any higher than No.36 herself, she beat four Top 10 players in her career, her biggest moment coming in the first round of the 2003 Australian Open, where she rallied from 62 30 down and pulled off a shocking 26 76(6) 64 stunner over Jennifer Capriati, who was ranked No.3 and the two-time defending champion. In fact it was the first time any defending champion lost first round there.
"I was young when I started, 15 at the time, but back then everyone was really young when they went on tour. I was a very good junior so I did the same thing," Weingärtner reminisced. "Thinking back, it was a very good experience for my life. I saw so many things, learned a lot, and had to deal with a lot of unique circumstances - I had to be very mature. It was not a normal path.
"After I beat Jennifer, I felt unbeatable. I proved I had the talent to keep up with those top players. Maybe what I had trouble with was the physical aspect."
The combination of injuries and overall fatigue from a decade of pro tennis caught up with the German, and at age 25 she took an indefinite break.
"I stopped because I was having some problems with my back. I was also very young and really exhausted after 10 years on the road. I had to take a break. My first thought was taking maybe half a year to recover and come back, but then I started training again and wasn't getting the intensity I wanted."
Weingärtner temporarily shifted her attention to studying medicine.
"I always wanted to do it - my mom is a doctor, and when I was young I went to the hospital with her a lot of times and liked it a lot. I knew I could do it, so I decided I'd start to study medicine while I got my health back and recovered.
"I was always interested in the anatomy of the body and from being a professional athlete I knew my body very well, and all the injuries players have to deal with in their careers. I thought in the future I could work with athletes, not only on the physical part of sport but also on the psychological part."
After resuming training and planning to return in summer 2007, she suffered another back injury and had to take a year off everything - and make a decision.
"I decided it would be better to focus on my studies. Now seven years have passed and I'm in my last year of medical school. Here in Europe you have six years of medical school and then you can decide which specialty you prefer. It has been hard work but tennis taught me how to be intense, disciplined and mentally tough. Not mentally tough like in tennis, where you are dealing with motivation and pressure, but mentally tough in a different way.
"I did my first big exam already, and I have my second one coming up.
"Anything is possible with determination."
Weingärtner never retired from tennis. She also came back for one doubles match back in 2008 - so is the door still open, even just a little bit?
"I was practicing a little bit in 2008 and played doubles at Bad Gastein that year with Sandra Klemenschits. We thought it would be fun to play a match together. I wanted to make her happy, after she lost her twin sister just a few months before. Since then she is back playing on the tour again, which is great. She's such a good, inspiring person and really appreciates life.
"Sometimes I still think about coming back because I miss tennis and I miss competing. I've been off the tour for seven years but a lot of players my age are still up there doing well. I still love the game. A lot of things have to come together if I want to be up there again - first of all health, mental toughness, a good coach... basically the right team and all the right things."
Who knows which direction Weingärtner will take after medical school, but one thing is for sure - she has a much different perspective on it all now.
"Tennis is a very special life. You have such a nice lifestyle - travelling the world, staying in nice hotels - it all seems normal then, but everyone else our age was working just as hard as us in different jobs. Now I can appreciate what we had.
"My mind is clearer, my feet feel on the ground."