Insider Exit Interview: Petrova Turns The Page On Illustrious Career
Published January 11, 2017 12:14
"I'd like to make it known that I'm officially retiring from the sport," she said in a letter to fans.
"I may no longer be competing but I will never be far from a court. My heart will always belong there."
Petrova has battled to get back on the court - at least on the professional level - for much of the last three years. A torn labrum took her off tour at the start of 2014, taking the Russian down a frustrating road of fits and starts as she made multiple comeback attempts.
"Throughout all these years, I've stayed fit and active," she told WTA Insider in a phone interview on Friday. "I played and worked out, but every time I tried to step it up and work towards a tour level, my body would break down. It's tough when you have all these pains and then have to go on the court, trying to perform at your best level. All professional athletes are perfectionists, so we're always asking 100% from ourselves. In order to play on the highest levels, you want just to focus on the game and not on things that are bothering you physically.
"I made one last push at the end of this year, but I've had this idea for some time. I thought it's important to let everyone know that I'm finishing up my professional career."
The announcement comes a week after rival and former No.1 Ana Ivanovic announced her own retirement, joining a growing list of Petrova's peers - Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, and Amélie Mauresmo to name a few - who have already stepped away from the game.
"Time flies by so quickly and all of the sudden you started getting called 'the veteran.' The first time you hear it, it sounds so funny, but then you see all the players you came up with starting to step aside and announcing their retirement, you realize just how long you've been here. In the back of our minds, we all want to play as long as we can, but for different reasons, we have to step away."
The two-time WTA Finals doubles champion can boast a longevity that stands in direct defiance of her own physical durability. Long before she became known as 'the veteran,' she arrived onto the scene as the game's brightest rising stars, winner of the 1998 junior French Open title and one of the first from her generation to begin climbing up the WTA rankings.
Setback often overshadowed success, as injuries dogged her at every turn. Few moments better exemplify Petrova's seemingly constant struggle with adversity than her first of two Grand Slam semifinal appearances, which came mere months after returning from a foot surgery that had ruled her out for most of the 2002 season.
"I've been in tennis for so many years; I had a very long and very good career. I dealt with a lot of injuries, like most of us, but it's important for me to finally turn the page in my book."
The book on her career is the greatest story almost told. Born to Olympic athletes and blessed with obvious athleticism, Petrova had all the weapons to win major titles across all three disciplines. It had appeared her time had come in the spring of 2006, when she took a trio of titles and a 15-match winning streak into Roland Garros.
"Coming to that moment, I had such great momentum; I'd won two or three tournaments in a row on clay, and had really built up my confidence and fearlessness. I was feeling good and strong about myself."
An upper leg ailment sent her spiraling out of the tournament; while her body recovered, she never regained the sort of fearlessness she fatalistically felt necessary to compete on the game's biggest stages.
"I was just never able to get that momentum going again. Maybe there were would be other injuries, but there was always something holding me back from getting to that level.
"Sometimes I feel like we're only given one chance, and if that chance isn't used or taken, you don't always get another. As long as you try your best and give your all, when you hang your racquets up, all you can say is that you did everything you could. It could have been better but there are some things in life that aren't up to us; we're not in control of everything. "
The 2012 Olympic Bronze medalist has been fully in control of her next chapter thus far, following along with the tour in between trips across the globe.
"I'm constantly on the WTA/ATP app, checking the scores, draws, rankings. My TV is always on and I'm always watching.
"I travel light now; I don't have to carry a racquet bag with a suitcase for sports clothes and another for casual clothes. We always used to travel heavy, and there was never much time to explore the city because all of your time and energy goes into playing and preparing for your matches. Now it's completely different; I can dedicate all my focus to visiting interesting places, going to museums, exploring new restaurants - and now I can stay up late!"
The Russian recently returned from Mexico, where she fulfilled a lifelong dream of seeing the Pyramids of Maya - one of the few places a woman who grew up all over the world had yet to explore.
"I obviously have a lot more time on my hands. I would like to spend more time with my relatives, especially my father in Moscow in the summer months when it's really nice. Hopefully, I'll also have some time to work on my personal life; one day, I'd like to start a family.
"There are a lot of little goals I hope I can achieve in the next year."
A bigger goal unsurprisingly concerns the tennis court, and a first foray into starting her own academy.
"My business partner and I are planning to team up with MV Sports Management and recruit some players.
"I would definitely like to stay involved in tennis. It teaches you responsibility and independence from a young age. You learn to be strong and stand your ground. I'm just looking forward to what the future has for me."
Petrova's story sprawls across multiple eras, with more than its share of successes and setbacks. If her career epilogue is any indication, it's clear she plans to put pen to paper in this next phase with as much gusto as she ever did with racquet to ball.
"Tennis has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember," she writes. It was pretty much everything I did on a daily basis and the little time I had off, I would spend with my loved ones. I suppose when the time comes to say goodbye, it becomes bitter sweet. It's confusing, somewhat painful, scary yet also gratifying.
"I've decided to turn the page and move on to another stage in my life and I'm ready to do it. Tennis has given me so much. It's given me a career, shaped me as a person, allowed me the opportunity to travel the world, make friends internationally and learn about many cultures.
"My opportunities have become endless and for that, I'm forever grateful."