SYDNEY, Australia - Jarmila Wolfe, née Gajdosova, has officially announced her retirement. The 29-year-old Australian won two WTA singles titles in her career - at the Hobart International and Guangzhou International Women's Open - and reached a career-high No.25 in 2011.
Wolfe left Slovakia to pursue her tennis career in Australia when she was 15 years old and was granted citizenship in 2009. From the moment her Aussie passport touched her hands she was a Green & Gold stalwart. She competed in eight Fed Cup ties for Australia, represented Australia at the London Olympic Games in 2012, and tended to find her best results on Aussie soil, having won in Hobart and the mixed doubles title in Melbourne with Matt Ebden in 2013.
A powerful hitter with a booming serve, Wolfe's career was finally undone by a serious back injury, which has left her in daily pain and discomfort. Each comeback attempt ended with more scan and injections, until the weight of it all became too much.
It's not the way she wanted to leave the sport, but Wolfe says she has a loaded scrapbook of memories to take with her as she enters her new "normal" life as a wife and, hopefully soon, a mother.
WTA Insider sat down with Wolfe at the Apia International earlier this week to discuss the circumstances surrounding her decision to retire and to reflect on her love for a country that welcomed her with open arms.
Little note for all my fans ??? pic.twitter.com/fanVbVyStP
Insider: Can you talk through your decision?
Wolfe: It's still not an easy one. Last year at the Australian Open I retired in the first round. The doctors found I had a herniated disk - well, two actually, at the top and the bottom of my back. Apparently, 17 years of being a professional does that to you. There's nothing I could do to prevent it. It's literally from overuse.
So I took some time off, I didn't play Fed Cup in Slovakia, and six weeks later I tried to come back and my shoulder gave out. So I had shoulder surgery and I had six weeks off and then was back to training. I started training again, I was playing sets, I was serving properly, everything was great.
I decided to play the Citi Open because I live in DC and it's a few minutes from my house. I played singles, lost in three sets, and everything was perfect. I was very happy, my shoulder survived.
The next day I played doubles and at 5-5 in the first set I literally got stuck. I couldn't move. I was in pain. My back had seized up. It was the same thing that happened at the Australian Open. I knew the feeling. They found that I had a bulging and herniated disk.
I tried to do a fitness session in October and I was in so much pain. If I tried any training, I couldn't move for five days. The surgeon wouldn't operate on it because it wasn't guaranteed the surgery would fix it. When he said that, I thought, 'What's the point? You don't want to just be part of a tournament, or just hope that you can play a match or recover to play a second match.'
I thought about it, battled with it until December. I spoke to my husband about it and thought, 'You know, after going to the doctor every day all those months, waiting in the waiting room, getting poked at with syringes through my back, I just got so tired of it.' And being in pain all the time, just mentally I couldn't deal with it. It was too much.
I said out loud, 'I don't think I can play and I don't think I want to because of the pain.' I can't even guarantee that I can play at the level I need to be, because you can't just go hit some balls and then think you can be on the level of Angie [Kerber]. It doesn't work that way.
Once I said it out loud it just sounded like the right decision.
It's not on my terms, but I think I'm ok with it now. It's the right decision. I enjoyed the time I've been off the court now. I've been happy at home. I learned to cook and bake and I'm good at all these wifey things. As sad as it is, I'm happy about it. It's something that has to be done.
I decided to plan this trip to Australia because it is my home. I wanted to do it here. I wanted to see everybody and just be home and enjoy home as a normal person, like normal people do. Hopefully people won't forget me.
Insider: I don't think that will happen. When you hit a forehand as big as you did, people don't forget. So if you don't do any training and put physical stress on your body, can you be pain-free?
Wolfe: No. Even flying here from DC, we had to schedule it with a stop in Hawaii because I can't sit on the plane that long. This morning it took me an hour until the pain stopped shooting through my legs and I can stop limping.
So this trip, as difficult as it can be for the pain, I still wanted to have it as my retirement trip so I could thank the Australian public for taking me in and taking me as Australian and supporting me all this time and being part of my career - being part of my whole life really, 15-16 years, that's half my life.
I wish I could have done it at the Australian Open so I could have a proper goodbye, but Sydney's great too.
Insider: So what are your fondest memories on tour?
Wolfe: I started very early, when I was really young. I never forget playing Alicia Molik when I was 14 years old at my first tour event (2003 Budapest). It made me really excited for what my career could be.
I'm very happy I got to win a tour event on Australian soil. I love the first tournament I won in China. I played really well, I was on my own, I think I lost like eight games going into the final. I was on fire. I think the semis was like 32 minutes, it was silly.
The fact that I got to play the London Olympics, I'll always be an Olympian. My brother lives in London, so he got to see me. Wearing the green and gold, is definitely special. Winning the Australian Open mixed doubles will always be special. My mom passed away a few months before that, so I'll remember that a lot.
Then there are the great matches. I played Angie in Fed Cup against Germany, and I played so well. Andrea Petkovic also the next day. Playing Serena at Hopman Cup, she's a good friend and hilarious. Playing Venus in the fourth round of Wimbledon. It's all so special.
Insider: What has tennis meant to you?
Wolfe: Tennis has been my whole life. I decided to change continents, I lived in Australian on my own since I was 15 years old. I made my own life with it, my own living off it. I had to leave my parents, I, unfortunately, had to sacrifice seeing my mom which I regret because she's no longer with us.
It's something you decide to do and you either stick with it or you don't. You put all your heart and soul in it and that's what I've done. Good decisions, poor decisions, ugly ones, quotes I wish I never made (laughs).
It was my life for a very long time and everything I did was to be a professional tennis player. Now I think I can close the door, even though I'm not completely leaving, I'm sure I'll stick to tennis somehow, but it's time to live a normal life. Be a wife, be a mom, enjoy the little things in life.
Insider: So what are your immediate plans?
Wolfe: Definitely start a family. Hopefully we get lucky and it doesn't take us too long. For now we're based in D.C. My husband works for the government as a private contractor for the Navy. But I'm open to wherever it takes us.
Family is first on the agenda, but I've always enjoyed coaching and commentating. I would even enjoy being an agent, to help with the juniors. I'm definitely not leaving. I'm not going away. Not just yet.