WTA Insider David Kane | Former World No.29 Sofia Arvidsson recently announced her retirement; how will the two-time Olympian look back on a fruitful career?
WTA Staff

Every athlete starts with a dream, one she carries through her career, and one she aspires to achieve before that career comes to an end. Growing up in France, Marion Bartoli set her sights across the Channel and dreamed of winning Wimbledon. Finishing her career with a US Open trophy, Flavia Pennetta was over the moon, and yet still felt pangs of regret at having never won her home country's tournament in Rome.

Sofia Arvidsson announced her retirement from tennis not long after New Year's Day; her dream was somehow simpler and grander than the rest. Peaking at No.29 in the rankings with two WTA titles, the Swede wanted little more than to be an Olympian.

"When I was young, I watched so many sports on TV, but the Olympics was always special," she told WTA Insider. "I would watch the opening ceremonies and think that those are the best athletes in the world, and I was dreaming I could be there."

Arvidsson's dream came true in 2008, when she qualified for the Beijing Olympics and played eventual gold medalist Elena Dementieva in the second round.

"It was a very special moment when I got to be at the opening ceremonies with 90,000 people screaming. I had to battle to be there because I had injured my knee at Wimbledon, but I always liked to play for my country."

As the London Games loomed four years later, Arvidsson was playing some of the best tennis of her career, earning two Top 10 wins in 2011 and a title in Memphis to start the season in 2012. But her dream of returning to the Olympics became a nightmare when the Swedish Olympic Committee initially refused to send her.

Johanna Larsson, Sofia Arvidsson

"I remember I was practicing on grass somewhere and I was waiting for the call from the Swedish Federation to tell me if I got into the Olympics. I was in by the rankings for sure, but the Swedish Olympic Committee still had to say yes."

Heartbroken by the rejection, she refused to stay down for long. 

"They called my coach to say, 'no,' and I sat down and was crying for five minutes, and then I stopped and said, 'let's practice again.'"

With the backing of former WTA CEO Stacey Allaster and a strong push from the International Tennis Federation, Arvidsson was eventually chosen to be doubles specialist Robert Lindstedt's partner for the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles event. The loophole allowed her into the singles draw, but the irony of her selection was not lost on the thoughtfully articulate veteran.

"I was a mixed doubles specialist who really didn't play mixed doubles," she said, adding with a laugh, "I don't think I ever won a mixed doubles match in my career! It's just that there was a big chance of winning a medal back then because there were only 16 teams.

"As a country you should be proud of your athletes; if you're Top 50 in tennis, it's not easy to make the cut. So I was a bit disappointed, because in the end, I was there, but it felt like they didn't want me there."

There won't be a third Olympic appearance for Arvidsson, who has hung up her racquets on the eve of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Turning pro in 1999, the Swede, a former junior national champion in table tennis, was a stalwart in the Top 100 for most of her career before her ranking began to drop, her desire slowly ebbing along with it.

Sofia Arvidsson

"Motivation is not something you can buy, and I just felt like, for the last one and a half years, the hunger to play hasn't been the same. The last year I've been trying to just see if there's something left. I've been trying, working hard, but I just felt like, no, I don't want to do this anymore.

"It's sad in one way, but in another way, I'm happy I can choose when to quit. Last month, I didn't play at all, and I didn't miss it; I didn't even think about it. It's very emotional, of course, because I've played for a long time. It's been my life, and I've played full-time since I was 16.

"It's a big decision but I feel it's right."

Retiring without ceremony or a long goodbye, Arvidsson quietly announced her decision on Twitter, a few days after another Swedish tennis star, Robin Söderling, confirmed his own intent to do the same.

"Of course, it would be nice to go out like Pennetta did, winning the US Open, and then being like, 'bye, see you!' I don't know if I'd like so much attention; it would be too emotional to play a match and then retire.

"The last few days I've gotten a lot of messages and people calling. That's kind of overwhelming that you have so many people that have been following you and appreciate you."

Sofia Arvidsson

Few appreciated her more than the fans that attended her favorite tournament. Three of her four WTA finals appearances came at the Racquet Club of Memphis, and that success earned her two trophies and a personalized parking spot at the venue itself.

"Memphis is always going to be special in my heart, that's for sure. I had one good run there and when you come back, you have good memories. I remember when I won my first title there, they said, 'we can send you the trophy, or ship it to you,' and I said, 'nuh-uh! It's going to be on my knee the whole way home!'"

Another constant in her career was a rivalry with former No.1, Jelena Jankovic. The Serb and Swede first met in the finals of the junior Australian Open in 2001, a tournament that provided Arvidsson with the initial impetus to dream big on the tennis court.

"I was thinking how it was so nice to play the Grand Slams, because you saw all the big stars and thought, 'maybe one day, I can be there!' In the beginning, it's hard; you transfer from juniors to seniors, and suddenly I was playing players that I'd only seen on TV!"

Jankovic won that meeting in Melbourne, but the two went on to split their WTA head-to-head at two three-set matches apiece, and Arvidsson still remembers the epic encounters they had as pros.

"I was up 6-3 in a third set tiebreaker [at the 2008 Miami Open], and then I had two more match points, but I lost. I was at the net and I had this pretty easy one, but the girl's fast, so she ran it down. I was thinking that I should have hit it in the other corner!"

Sofia Arvidsson

Their US Open rematch a few months later was equally electric, with the unseeded Arvidsson pushing the Serb to another photo finish, this time on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"That was just a fun game. During the match I was looking up and I could see John McEnroe sitting and commentating my match. I was like, 'oh my god!' That was kind of funny, and I was like, 'come on, focus!'

"That's really what you play for, to play the big players on the big stadiums. It was a really cool experience."

Her biggest win came in Beijing, where she upset reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova - who went on to win her next 12 matches - on a night she half-seriously expected to lose.

"We had plane tickets for the day after, and I was thinking, 'this is perfect. I play a great player on a night match, and I think I was following Roddick and Anderson, really cool players, and that's a good way to finish this trip!'"

Arvidsson admitted to feeling wistful when seeing photos of her fellow players in Australia, and though she may yet return to the sport in some other capacity, the Olympian is excited to move forward and find new dreams to pursue.

"They say there is a life outside tennis, but I'm really happy. I could not have imagined, when I picked up a racquet when I was eight that I would reach this level, to experience all that I have done.

"I feel really fortunate, because I have lived my dream."

Sofia Arvidsson

Follow Sofia's post-tennis journey on Twitter @Sofia_Arvidsson!

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.