Julia Goerges left no stone unturned and no effort wasted in her 15-year career on the WTA Tour. The 31-year-old German announced her retirement last week, closing the book on a resilient career that saw her reach a career-high No.9, capture seven WTA titles, and join the exclusive club of Wimbledon semifinalists in 2018.
"To be honest, every single player would be jealous of her career," said Maria Sakkari. "She won one of the nicest tournaments on tour in Stuttgart, she has had some amazing Grand Slams. The way her career went was, as I said, many players would be jealous of it. Top 10, won tournaments, being a very nice person. It's the most important thing for me.
"Having that reputation of being a good human being is the most important thing that she can take with her now that she stops."
Goerges joined the WTA Insider Podcast to explain her decision to put down her racquets, how she felt being part of Germany's "Golden Generation" of talent, and how she left a lasting impression with her legacy in the locker room.
Read Part I of the interview below. Part II will be posted on Friday.
WTA Insider: First of all, what has brought you to the decision.
Goerges: Well, it was not like something which came overnight. I was already thinking a little bit about it for some months. I originally always said that I'm going to stop around the age of 30, which is already a little bit over now, so I think I've done some extra years already. But in general, I've gotten to know also the life besides tennis. Obviously more now due to the circumstances we're having at the moment. So that also forced me a bit to see that life has also some other sides other than tennis.
I mean, I've been on the tour for 15 years and I've given up a lot of things which I would have loved to do. So I think it's also time a bit to really spend more time with family, friends, and get away a bit from the tennis circus. It doesn't mean that I'm out of it completely, but just that I don't compete anymore. I'm practicing and I'm doing a lot of fitness, but just that I don't compete anymore, which was stressful, traveling and all that stuff. So that altogether came to the point that I said, OK, I hang up the racquets in a professional way.
WTA Insider: At what point did your career mortality begin to set in?
Goerges: The thing was you need to always improve yourself and you always need to be willing to go on the court, work hard, every single day, day in, day out. I came to that part where I enjoyed it for let's say three or four days in a row, but then I also said, hey, I also enjoy only doing the fitness part now for three, four days, and not hitting. Which was fine for some parts of competing because I also hit the ball cleaner when I play less sometimes because it resets a bit your mind as well and just recharges it. But I could not do that the whole year, always hitting three or four days and then three, four days just fitness, which keeps me on a certain level but not the level I wanted to be competing at.
Everybody is developing, the tennis level just went up way more than like five to seven years ago. Just to play and compete and be Top 100, which is great, no doubt in that, but if I do something I do it 100 percent or 110 percent. I could still be playing successfully doubles, I'm sure, but that's nothing for me because I think what I've done I've done professionally, with 100 percent effort in it, with a professional team. That's what mattered for me.
I think that I'm not capable of doing it without 100 percent focus. I would have loved to do it, but I also see the other side of life, which makes me feel a bit, ah no, I want to see the other part too.
And I still want to do something for the brain to keep staying active, because you see 24/7 tennis balls. It's all revolving around that job, which is fine. You need to commit to it. But it's also time to do something else, to be a bit creative, I think.
WTA Insider: You seem very at peace with the decision. Sometimes there is tension when a player retires because maybe their body won't let them play and they feel there are still things they want to do. Especially with what you did over the last three years, it must help to think you left it all on the court.
Goerges: Yeah, definitely. I think I've proven a lot of things, like coming back from a lot of rough years and then really prove myself to be able to become a Grand Slam semifinalist to get into the Top 10.
I think people, I know they still think I could have achieved more, especially in Grand Slams. I'm happy with what I've achieved because a lot of tough losses also made me the person I am now. So if you've just got all the stuff by just coming easily to you, it doesn't really mature you in some situations.
So I think with me it's personally fine to close that chapter because I've always said as long as I'm enjoying it, I keep doing it. But as soon as this stops, I'll stop as well. I heard that sign and for me it's fine. I went off with a big smile off the court saying, OK, this chapter is over.
I still love tennis. It's a great sport. It's a passion. But it's also not made for everyone and since you've had to give up a lot of stuff, I think it's also at some point time to say, OK, now it really goes on in a different way.
WTA Insider: Fifteen years is a long time to play professional tennis. Take us back to the earlier days as a young girl, picking up a tennis racquet, and taking up a sport that would take you all around the world. Could you ever have thought this is what it would lead to?
Goerges: Not really, if I'm honest. I mean, when I started, I still did other activities, like swimming and even clip dancing. So I had to decide whether I want to become a professional tennis player or not. But my parents always gave me the opportunity to afford that way, which I'm very thankful for. Without them, I could not have done it.
But I never would have thought that I would come such a long way. I think it was always a dream. I think the first barrier to break is the Top 100, where you say, whoo, this is something you want to do, and then you get another goal and another goal and another goal.
But I would have never thought about it when I played in that little town where I'm from and then the club to really come to the biggest courts in the world and playing in front of thousands of people who enjoyed you playing or to watch you play. I think it's just great and it makes me proud of what I've achieved, too. I'm not regretting something.
WTA Insider: Let's talk about the 2011 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. You beat No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the final, your father was in tears, you became the 1st German woman to win Stuttgart since Anke Huber. What are the memories that stand out to you?
Goerges: Well, first of all, I got a wildcard because I didn't make it into the crazy cut Stuttgart always has. I was not that low, I was ranked 36 or something. Not enough for Stuttgart (laughs).
We had the Fed Cup week before, I think against the US. I played with Andrea [Petkovic]. It was first of all, a crazy Fed Cup weekend. It's always exhausting, especially when you play at home and then keep on going on to the biggest tournament in Germany.
In the beginning of the week, I remember my mom always came with her best friend and I said to her, look at this beautiful car, maybe I'll drive it down on Sunday. And she's like 'Ja, Ja'. Typical German mom (laughs). 'Ah yeah let's see.'
Then at the end, I did it and she looked at me and said, What did you do? I said, Yeah, I told you, I'd drive it down (laughs). So it was actually a funny story with my mom, but I never would have thought of winning the tournament seriously. I just made a joke at that point, because it's seemed so far away.
But I was also a bit lucky because Vika Azarenka, she retired in the second round and then I fought through some really tough matches. I think against Sammy (Stosur) in the semifinal I was 0-30 or 0-40 down at 5-5 in the third. So there were some crucial moments and I think it also keeps you a bit going in the tournament.
Then against Caroline, I think I did a pretty good job in terms of tactics against her and my game always suited very well against her. I think she never liked it and we always had some great battles. But just in general, it was a great tournament. And also Madrid, which came after.
But it also brought me a bit back. Expectations are coming because you are now in the Top 20 and things have happened. But it also caught up a bit with me because I would say that there was not so much around me who could have told me to do things differently or how to put the things in perspective.
If you're young on the tour and very fresh, you sometimes let media things get to you, which I think I did way better as soon as I had my kind of "second career" because I learned from the mistakes I had done before and learned how to not let media affect you in terms of your performances. Just accepted the way it is, not really reading it, and just try to take it as professional as you can.
That was a big factor, I think, which also caught up with me in those three, four years where I didn't perform the way I wanted to.
WTA Insider: Germany has such a storied history of tennis, almost to the detriment to this Golden Generation of German tennis, with you, Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic, and Sabine Lisicki. The standards and expectations are so high because of what Stefanie Graf achieved. What would you have advised yourself and what did you do differently to handle the media better in the second phase of your career?
Goerges: First of all, the first years it was not really fun going to any press conferences because they always told us, yeah, when are they going to be successful? When will they win a Grand Slam? And then even after Angie won all the Grand Slams, that was still not good enough.
I think now they feel it a bit more, how good this generation has been for German tennis, even though it is not the same success that has been in place in terms of what Steffi did. But this is crazy. This is a legend. It's not gonna happen once again.
I think every single one of us has done a big part and has had a big role in this golden generation, everyone for herself. I think it's nice that we all played well, always at different parts of the years because it always helped other ones to see, OK, I can do that too. Then it all went up, up, up, and everyone got better.
In general, I think for German tennis now, we are all at the age of 31, 32. So there won't be a lot of years left for the other ones, Angie, Andrea, Sabine. I think it's interesting to see how the young ones will come after us, because I think you need to give them time and also to see that this was very special but this is not normal, what is coming out every 10-15 years in tennis in any country. Because there have always been good players, there are maybe times where tennis hasn't been as present on TV, but it can always change.
Never put a lot of pressure on one single person because we had four people where the pressure was let's say, 25 percent on each of us and it was a nicer feeling. Still, we felt sometimes annoyed by getting those questions, but if there's just one player left when we are all gone, it's tough for that player to really develop and feel like, OK, I can just do what I love to do and I'll work hard on the way up, but it doesn't mean that you are succeeding or something.
So take off the stress a bit and give them time to develop and see what the outcome will be. But I know there are high expectations, as everywhere.