The 2019 ASB Classic is set to end on Sunday, and so too is the 13-year career of perennial New Zealand No.1 Marina Erakovic. Erakovic announced her retirement back in December with the help of a viral Instagram video that featured the Kiwi literally running off into the sunset.
"I thought it might be nice to do something different," she told me over the phone shortly after releasing the video. "My very good friends who helped me with the video, we were at their beach house, so we decided to do it on the beach. One recorded it and another handed me the cards. It was a team effort! I just wanted to do something humorous and laid-back. After all, it’s just an announcement, and isn’t that big of a deal, so I thought there should be some humor in it."
In a rollicking interview with the nine-time WTA title winner, Erakovic discussed how she decided to walk away after over a decade on tour, her years as a member of the WTA Players' Council, and her future plans - including a new EP, Voices, available on iTunes.
Note: This interview, conducted in mid-December, has been condensed and edited for clarity.
David Kane: We have to start by talking about your video announcement on Instagram, which got fairly universal praise across the tennis world. What inspired you to go in that direction?
Erakovic: It’s something that every athlete asks themselves, ‘How am I going to retire?’ For me, I’ve always had a creative streak, especially on Instagram with my music videos. I thought it might be nice to do something different. My very good friends who helped me with the video, we were at their beach house, so we decided to do it on the beach. One recorded it and another handed me the cards. It was a team effort! I just wanted to do something humorous and laid-back. After all, it’s just an announcement, and isn’t that big of a deal, so I thought there should be some humor in it.
I filmed it about three or four weeks ago, and the weekend we filmed it was literally torrential rain the whole time. We had about a 15-minute window where it wasn’t raining; that’s when we were like, ‘Let’s do this now, quickly!’ Once we finished, it had started pouring again!
DK: What ultimately prompted your decision to retire?
ME: The last few years, I’ve been struggling with injuries. The biggest one was my back, and I was retiring from a lot of matches and withdrawing from tournaments. At the end of last year, I decided to take a break and see if my body can recover. Around June or July, I started hitting some balls again, but it wasn’t great. That’s when I knew it was time to call it. When you’re struggling with issues like that, it’s hard to get the motivation, as well.
I tried to keep it out of my mind for most of the year and take a complete break. I didn’t follow too much tennis or social media, and it wasn’t until I set a date for retirement that I started to look back. During your career, you don’t stop much to think about it, and so that’s when I reflected more. It was a nice experience and a bit emotional.
DK: What matches or memories on tour come to mind most?
ME: There were a lot of good matches that I played in Auckland, because I had that home crowd support and the cheers were amazing. I remember winning my first title in Memphis or when Tammie Tanasugarn and I made it to the semifinals of Wimbledon all the way from qualies. I had some great Top 10 wins, and got to play Wimbledon, which had been a big thing for me since I was a junior. It all comes back in bits and pieces, but there isn’t anything that stands out above the rest. It’s more of a whole timeline.
DK: What do you think it will be like returning to the ASB Classic for the first time post-retirement?
ME: It will probably be strange being at the tournament, feeling like I should be scheduled to play, wondering when I’m on! It hasn’t hit me yet in that way, because I'll be seeing all the same players, all my friends. It’s not like I’ve been away for 10 years. It’ll still be very fresh and weird, to be honest.
DK: What extra pressure, if any, comes with being the only top player from your country?
ME: It was different. I didn’t think about it too much because I would go out and play, and got used to doing things on my own. It wasn’t until you start seeing players from one country get together in a group that you remember, but I was able to develop relationships with a lot of different players. I got along with the Aussies, the Brits, the Americans, Serbians and Croatians because I speak the language.
I had a Spanish coach for a while, so I was living in Barcelona and hanging out with all the Spanish players. I got to make friends on all corners of the Earth. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I was elected to the Players' Council, because I mingled!
DK: Speaking of the Players' Council, what was that experience like, and what did you learn from it?
ME: It was a great experience learning what happens behind the scenes. It was great to see the changes being made. It’s a bit of a process because you have to listen to a lot of groups and concerns, and then make decisions. What really made me proud was that all the girls on the Council – there’s normally eight – were all really level-headed, and you could talk to them about any issue. We were all on the same page, and that was very cool, because we all have the intention of growing our tour, and to be the leading sport out there.
DK: What are some of the next steps and future plans for you?
ME: During my career, I’ve been chipping away at a business degree. I’m an economics major. I’ve been doing one paper per semester, though sometimes I would skip one, to the point where I feel like I might die before I finally finish! Next year I will transfer to the University of Auckland, and I’ll be a regular student. It’ll also give me more time to figure things out, tick that box of tertiary education.
At the moment, I’d like to step out of the tennis world for a bit; I don’t see myself coaching or within a federation or administration. I do see myself helping out behind the scenes in any way I can, and tennis will always be a part of my life.
DK: You released an EP the same week of your retirement announcement; was that a bit of cross-promotion there?
ME: (laughs). I wanted to release my EP at the end of the year, and it just sort of tied together. It was maybe clever to do it at the same time, but definitely something I’d been thinking about since January. I had these songs, and wanted to tidy them up to put them out there.
Music is a big passion of mine, and I’ll continue to do that. I loved doing the videos on the ground, making covers and originals. If anything comes out of that, fantastic, but at the moment that doesn’t pay any bills!
DK: Still, it's something not many other players pursue. How did you get into the field?
ME: It started when I was playing a tournament in Redding, California. I was 20 or 21, and I got injured, sprained my ankle really badly. I was in the States, scheduled to play another four or five events, but I had to skip the first two or three. There was a Guitar Center across the street from the hotel I was staying at. I bought myself a little Yamaha traveling acoustic guitar. It became something for me to do while I’m on the road, a creative outlet. It was actually very therapeutic, because the tennis tour can truly be a long grind.
DK: The grind must be particularly tough being from New Zealand, so what has it been like being home for a sustained period of time?
ME: Oh David, it’s been so nice, honestly! (laughs) People laugh at me, but just vacuuming my house, I get so excited. I get mail in the letterbox, like legit real mail. This is the first year I got to see a changing of the season, you know, like how the sun goes down later, and everyone is looking at me like I’m insane. But it’s just those little things that I’ve really enjoyed. It’s made me very happy.
My family went on holiday to Europe in June, and I thought about how relieved I was not to have to take that 20-hour flight! When my love for travel comes back, I’ll be happy visiting the Slams again.