LONDON, Great Britain - Nine years since her last professional tennis match, former WTA Top 50 player Lilia Osterloh-Snape has announced her retirement from the sport.
A college tennis standout and NCAA champion with three WTA doubles titles under her belt, Osterloh-Snape will return to Wimbledon this week to make her retirement official.
Currently a tennis coach in Naples, Florida, Osterloh-Snape is relishing a return to the All-England Club - where she reached the fourth round in singles and the Junior final in doubles - for the first time since her playing days.
“It’s just all come full circle, having gained all of these new perspectives as I’m coaching now and after playing about 15 years on tour and one year at Stanford,” Osterloh-Snape told wtatennis.com in a phone interview.
“I mean, Wimbledon has so many great memories: from Juniors, reaching the Wimbledon Junior doubles final, and then reaching the third round and fourth rounds.
“And I’m sharing this experience with my husband, Daniel Snape, who is British. We’re really excited to see all the new changes: the new Court 1, the roof!”
Osterloh-Snape, 41, turned pro in 1997 after a successful stint at Stanford University: in her freshman year, she was a part of Stanford’s NCAA Team Championship-winning squad, and was later inducted into the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
The Filipino-American player was the was the No.1-ranked Junior in her home state of Ohio and in the United States, and the No.2 Junior in the ITF by the time she turned 18 - but instead of transitioning into the pro tour straightaway, Osterloh-Snape chose to hit the books for a while.
“My parents are both in education, so education was really important to me,” she recalled. “And it was always one of my goals to win the NCAA team title. It was just a bonus for me that year that I won in the singles. But the team title, sharing it with everyone on the team was really special. I’m sure anyone that’s gone to Stanford knows there’s a big tennis legacy there.”
After one year, Osterloh-Snape left Stanford after the spring semester to go pro - by the end of the summer, she had reached the third round of the 1997 US Open.
In 2000, she would reach the fourth round at Wimbledon and the US Open, and in April 2001 she achieved her career-high ranking of World No.41.
Active in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, Osterloh-Snape took home three WTA titles in doubles over the course of her career: Shanghai in 2000 (Tier IV) with partner Tamarine Tanasugarn, Auckland in 2007 (Tier IV) with Mariya Koryttseva, and Osaka in 2010 (International) with Chang Kai-Chen.
“[My doubles trophies] are actually still at my parents house. But it’s funny - a bunch of [my mom’s] friends came over and they’re always like, ‘But where’s that NCAA ring? We want to see the ring!’” she said, laughing.
But with so much tennis came the inevitable injuries - nothing major, Osterloh-Snape explained, but they took their mental and physical toll. The American had already had to navigate injury layoffs and comebacks during her 14 years on tour, and the doubles title in Osaka, which came late in Osterloh-Snape’s career at the age of 32, marked the end of professional tennis for her.
“I had been thinking about going back to school, and so then in 2011 I went back,” she recalled.
“Winning in Osaka was really special. It was right at the end of the year, and the timing was just right to get back into Stanford, just jump right in and immerse myself in all the tough courses.”
Osterloh-Snape completed her degree in International Relations (she shared an Econ class with Nicole Gibbs) and helped the Stanford team to another NCAA title in 2013 - this time, as a coach.
“When you look back, it’s like… well, I earned my degree in International Relations, but yet I was already kind of doing that on the tennis court for so many years,” she said. “Having that cultural experience, and then going back and doing it for my degree was kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, this is familiar, this is something that I really enjoy.’”
Almost a decade on since her time as a WTA player, some of Osterloh-Snape’s fondest tennis memories come from the sport’s biggest stages: defeating World No.5 Mary Pierce in 2000 on the Pan Pacific Open’s synthetic grass courts, competing against Monica Seles (“the best returner in the world”) at Stanford’s Bank of the West Classic, stunning Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the second round of 2001 Wimbledon, and then later in the tournament taking to Centre Court to face Martina Navratilova in a mixed doubles match.
She also forms a part of a unique piece of women’s tennis history, contesting the first women’s doubles match to be aired live in prime time. Partnered with good friend Kim Grant, she took on Jennifer Capriati and Martina Hingis at the US Open in 2001.
“I had lost my singles match to Jelena Dokic on Grandstand, and then Georgina [Clark, the WTA supervisor] came in and she was like, “Lilia, you’re on in 20 minutes! You’re prime time at 7:30, on TV!” she recalled with a laugh.
Now fully immersed in her role as a coach, Osterloh-Snape has worn many hats since her unofficial retirement in 2011. She's worked with WTA alumna Peanut-Louie Harper and her foundation Harper for Kids in the Bay Area, worked in Frankfurt, Germany for sports marketing and PR firm ITMS, was an assistant coach for Harvard’s women’s tennis team, coached at Worcester Tennis Club - one of the oldest tennis clubs in the U.S. - and serves the USTA as a Team USA coach in Florida, among many more roles.
But Osterloh-Snape’s biggest post-retirement goal remains a simple one: to pay it forward for the sport that has given her so much, in any way she can.
“I just want to give back,” she said. “I want to help [the next generation] reach their goals, whether that’s college, the pros, if it’s any leagues - whatever those goals are, I just really want to help others. So many people helped me reach my goals.
“I’m just really grateful that I’m able to give back and be able to coach. It’s a neat way to stay involved and help the next generation.”