2020 was already shaping up to be a fairytale final season for Barbora Strycova. The 34-year-old Czech sat atop the doubles rankings with partner Hsieh Su-Wei, and the duo had already bagged three big titles, including a sweep through the Middle East at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships and Qatar Total Open, before the tour was forced to shut down in March due to the global impact of COVID-19. Five months later, Strycova is ready to get back on court this week at the Prague Open, where is set to play singles and pair up with fellow reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in doubles.
"We were chatting and I said it was great that you're coming back to Prague and I'm really happy to have you here," Strycova told WTA Insider ahead of the Prague Open. "I was like do you want to play doubles with me? And she said yeah, I wanted to ask you the same question but you were first!
"I've always wanted to play with her and I have so much respect for her. She's such an amazing champion. It's really such a privilege to play with her here."
As Strycova readies for her competitive return, questions about her future on tour remain. The Pilsn native had originally floated the idea of retirement last summer during her dream run en route to the Wimbledon semifinals in singles and Wimbledon title in doubles. Plans to retire seemed to solidify during the off-season, when she announced a split with coach David Kotyza, in large part because she wanted to give him the freedom to coach other players while she finishing up her career. A bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Strycova had her eye on hanging up her racquet after the Tokyo Olympics.
Having mentioned the prospect of retirement during her run at Wimbledon this summer, Strycova said in Shenzhen she intends to play in Australia (singles and doubles with Hsieh) and has not thought past that yet.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) November 19, 2019
“I’m a person who will know when it’s time to go. But not yet." pic.twitter.com/IWDx7iQGvE
Then the shutdown came, the Olympics were postponed, and Strycova had five months at home. She put her racquets down for four weeks and settled into her new routine, one she embraced. The affable Czech even started a podcast, interviewing other Czech creatives and sporting greats like Jaromir Jagr, her former doubles partner Andrea Sestini Hlavackova, and Petra Kvitova.
"In the beginning of the quarantine, it was tough for me," Strycova said. "I didn't know how to approach the time. We had so much time. For me it was really strange to know that I would be in one place and I wouldn't have to travel. I cannot even go outside. It was a really tough three weeks.
"Then I got used to it and I found a rhythm. I found workouts that I really liked. Then I started to like it. At the end we started to play some matches here in Czech.
"It was interesting. I have to say, I got used to it. I don't miss traveling."
As for the question of whether the pandemic has prolonged her career or not, Strycova is torn but taking a wait-and-see approach.
"It's a great question and I think it's a tough question to answer," Strycova said. "As you said, 2020 was supposed to be my last year and the Olympics would be the cherry on the cake and everything changed. On one hand I want to say I don't want this to be it. I want to continue because I want to play full and I want to play tournaments like it should be played. This is how I want to do it.
"On the other hand, I don't miss traveling and I really like where I am. It's really tough to start again. Let's see how I feel at the end, how many tournaments we will play through the end of the year. And there's always Australia, my lovely country. So let's see."