STANFORD, CA, USA - It's been almost nine years since Marissa Irvin Gould - formerly just Marissa Irvin - retired from professional tennis. But now, after pursuing other endeavors, including becoming a mom, the one-time American star is embarking on another, much different magical racquet ride.
After some stellar junior results and a very successful two years playing college tennis at Stanford University, Irvin Gould began working her way up the rankings on the WTA - in her five and a half years as a professional between 2000 and 2005 she reached the third round of Grand Slams three times (all at the French Open - 2003, 2004 and 2005), scored a slew of Top 20 wins (including a Top 10 win over Justine Henin on home turf in Stanford) and made it as high as No.51 in the world herself.
Irvin Gould has only positive memories of her playing years - even the unseemingly positive ones.
"My best memories are a mixture of the thrill of playing at the big tournaments - the Grand Slams, Indian Wells, Miami - and then also the relationships I built with the girls I played competitively against, relationships I still have nearly nine years later now. We're all at different points in our lives - many of us are moms - and while we were competitors on the tennis court, we were friends off of it. I'm very close with Jenny Dent, formerly Jenny Hopkins - our families take vacations together.
"It's also hard to ignore when you have some big wins in front of big crowds. When I beat Justine at Stanford, that's memorable, of course. Or beating Daniela Hantuchova 7-6 in the third set at Indian Wells. It's not my hometown, but being from Southern California it felt like I was playing at home.
"You also remember the difficult losses. I remember losing to Martina Hingis in three sets at the US Open. Those tough matches that got away from you stick as well. But they're all good memories in the end. To compete the way I did against a future Hall Of Famer, I'm really proud of how I fought.
"It was also funny how coming from California I grew up playing on hardcourts, but my best results at the Grand Slams came at the French Open. I even beat some very good clay courters there!"
But after the US Open in 2005, at the young age of 25, Irvin Gould called it a career.
"There were a lot of factors that went into my retirement. In large part it was due to the fact that I wanted to pursue other avenues in my life. I wanted to finish my degree at Stanford and I wanted to get married and start a family - you can do those things while playing, but I'm not the type of person who wants to have my foot in a bunch of things at once. I want to do things 100% wholeheartedly. So when the burning desire to be in there week in and week out wasn't there, I knew it was time.
"When you're on the tour, it feels like you've been there for a long time. But looking back, my five and a half or so years would be considered relatively short compared to the girls these days."
Those avenues Irvin Gould talks about, she pursued all of them - and more.
"I went back and finished school, getting my degree in Political Science. I also took some education classes. And I had done tutoring over the years, so I thought, 'Wouldn't it be amazing to be a school teacher?' I pursued that and got my Master's Degree in Education. And I loved it. I always loved being around kids - I'm the oldest of all of my cousins. I taught third grade and kindergarten. And then when I got married, the next natural step was to have kids. We had three kids quite quickly - the first two are 12 months apart, then the third one two years younger. It was kind of crazy the first year, a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of looking around at 2am, wondering if anyone else in the world is awake too! But nothing really rewarding is easy, and it was the most rewarding and joyous experience in my life."
After achieving so many of her non-tennis goals, things have come back full circle - Irvin Gould has just released her children's book, 'A Magical Racquet Ride: Journey To The Four Grand Slam Tournaments Of Tennis'. She will be at the Bank Of The West Classic in Stanford this weekend to promote it.
"I just love books. People nowadays do e-books, but I really enjoy holding the book in my hand. I have a library of my own. And I've always written. When I was on the tour, on airplanes and in hotel rooms, I'd always write. I have a lot of writing I've never done anything with. Anyway, when I was teaching kindergarten, sometimes the parents of the kids would find out I played pro tennis, and that always sparks some interest. And I feel one of the best ways to teach kids about a topic is to find a book, so I went to the library looking for books on tennis, and all I found were either biographies, which are great but not really for kids to understand the sport, or instructional books, which, again, are great if I were trying to teach them how to play, but I just wanted to spark a little interest in the sport. I wanted them to understand what I did, or what they could so someday, and I also wanted my own children to.
"I was thinking, 'There's nothing out there, so why don't I write something?' And my son was really into Peter Pan. He loves the whole idea of a magical adventure, the fantasy of it all. And I love Harry Potter. People today love Game Of Thrones. People just love fantasy and magic. So I thought, 'How can I make tennis into an adventure and a fantasy?' And that's how the idea came along.
"My main purpose is to teach kids that tennis can take you anywhere you want to go. Whether you want it to help you make friends or get good exercise, or if someday you aspire to be a pro, it doesn't matter, tennis has so much to offer. It's played on almost every continent, it's one of the few sports played by people of all ages, and it's an incredible sport for both girls and boys - that's why the main characters are twins, a boy and a girl. I didn't want the book to seem too gender specific.
"Tennis is an incredible sport and I want kids to know it can take them anywhere they want to go."