NEW YORK, New York - Two decades on from when she first turned pro as a 15-year-old from Valencia, Spain, Anabel Medina Garrigues is finally ready to hang up her racquets and focus on the next chapter of her career.
A two-time Roland Garros doubles champion and Olympic silver medalist, Medina Garrigues will draw the curtain on her professional career at this US Open, where she is playing her doubles first round alongside her compatriot Arantxa Parra Santonja on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old Medina Garrigues peaked at No.16 in the world in singles in 2009 and was also ranked No.3 in doubles.
With an illustrious resume that includes 11 WTA singles titles and 28 doubles trophies, Medina Garrigues will remain connected to tennis after her retirement as Spain’s Fed Cup captain.
Last year, she enjoyed great success as the co-coach of Jelena Ostapenko during the Latvian’s stunning run to the French Open title.
WTA Insider caught up with Medina Garrigues, to reflect on her 20-year professional career.
WTA Insider: How do you feel entering the final tournament of your career? Have the emotions hit you yet?
Medina Garrigues: I’m feeling good, because I’m really calm with myself, because my head is completely 100% ready to retire. I don’t have any doubts, I’m not like, ‘Oh, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I can play longer’. No. I’m 100% sure so that’s what makes me feel relaxed because I know it’s the right moment and I know it’s what’s best for me. So I’m feeling okay. I want to play this tournament.
When I finish I will be of course a little bit sad because it’s the end of my career because I finished a long career, over 20 years long, very successful and happy with my results. Of course always you’re thinking maybe you could do more, but now I cannot go back. So I’m happy to end this and start with other things.
WTA Insider: When you turned pro in 1998, could you have imagined you’d still be playing 20 years later?
Medina Garrigues: No, 20 years, it’s a lot. I had a really bad injury in my knee so that made me think that maybe my career would be shorter but we could manage in a good way so I could stay playing for 20 years, so I think it’s more than enough (laughing).
WTA Insider: Now that you’re hanging up your rackets, do you get a sense of your role and legacy in Spanish tennis?
Medina Garrigues: Well I was the No.1 in Spain in singles for more than 10 years and in doubles we did a great job with Virginia [Ruano Pascual] as a Spanish team. So I think during those 10 years I was trying to help Spanish tennis to grow, to improve with the young girls.
After that Carla [Suarez Navarro] and Garbine [Muguruza] came along and they’re doing a great job. So it was their time, I did my job and then they came, so I think in this way I’m happy with this career, and especially with the 10 or 12 years I was No.1 in the country.
WTA Insider: It may be hard to pick just one, but for you, what were some of your happiest memories when you reflect on your career?
Medina Garrigues: We have a tournament in Spain called the ‘National Masters’, it includes the eight best players in the country, I was 18 years old and I beat Conchita Martinez and Arantxa [Sanchez Vicario] in that tournament so I think that was the beginning of my career. And I don’t think there is a Spanish player who was able to beat Conchita and Arantxa, let alone in the same tournament. It gives me a lot of nice memories because it was a nice crowd, it was full, that was very nice, it was the beginning.
And then, I won Palermo five times, so I think that was also very nice but the most special one was the first one. I was 18, very young, and we didn’t expect it was going to happen but then it happened and it was very nice.
After that, maybe less important, but for me was very important, [winning doubles at] Roland Garros. I remember I beat [Amelie] Mauresmo in Strasbourg, in a big battle, she was playing at home and it was a nice win against her because I respected her a lot.
And then the most special was the silver medal in Beijing. We couldn’t win the gold but the way that we had to play all that week, unbelievable matches, super tough. Almost from the first round we were in trouble all the time, so to win the silver medal – and we were working for that for three, four years – was super nice.
WTA Insider: In Beijing, as you and Virginia progressed through the draw, did you get the sense that you could actually get a medal for Spain?
Medina Garrigues: You know what, at that time I was working with a psychologist and two or three months before the Olympics, she asked me, ‘Are you thinking of Beijing?’, and I said, ‘No, no I prefer not to think about it’, and she said, ‘No, you have to start thinking about it because you have to start preparing for the Olympics because this is your goal, so you cannot avoid it, you have to think about it, because you have to prepare yourself’.
First of all we saw the draw. That was very, very important at the moment because at the time, the Williams sisters was the team that nobody beats, so we saw that they were on the other side of the draw. We had very tough players in front of us, but we prepared very well for the Olympics and we were confident. With Vivi we didn’t play well the tournaments we played with no-ad and super-tiebreak. But we were playing very well the tournaments with ad and third set. We did semis in Australia, we won the French Open and then we arrived to the Olympics with this format, ad and three sets. So we were pretty confident in our game in that moment.
In the second round I remember we played [Samantha] Stosur and Rennae Stubbs and we were losing by a set and a break and we ended up winning that match and it gave us a lot of confidence.
We were 3-0 down against [Lindsay] Davenport and [Liezel] Huber in the quarter-finals and we won 8-6 in the third. You know when you are winning these kind of matches that you are feeling more and more confident. And then in the semi-finals we beat the local Chinese team [Yan Zi and Zheng Jie]. That was unbelievable. I remember the Bryan brothers were before us and the court was full because the Chinese team was next up. So already the court was super full and we crossed them in the corridor and they said, “Okay ladies you have the court ready”. And when we won there it was like ‘wow’.
Winning there against the locals, all the crowd with them for sure, it was super nice. The Queen of Spain was there at the court. I remember I looked up there and I said, ‘Vivi, is that the Queen there?’ and she said, ‘Yes’. I’m like, ‘How yes? It’s the first time I see her in my life’.
WTA Insider: How do you imagine you’ll be remembered in the sport?
Medina Garrigues: I know they will remember me like ‘Oh Medina, she has a lot of character’, I know for sure. But I also think they’re going to remember, ‘Oh Medina was super tough, she’s a tough opponent, fighter, running down everything, playing and fighting until the last point’. Even when I was in tears I was running and running and fighting until the last ball.
WTA Insider: What do you think were your toughest career moments?
Medina Garrigues: The worst was when I broke my cross ligament in 2002. I was out for one year and I had to come back after one year and my knee was not good. I was playing super good, I won the tournament where I beat Arantxa and Conchita, and then I did quarters in Auckland, final in Hobart, and was in the fourth round at the Australian Open. At 18, I was 40 in the world and everything was super nice and then in one second everything went super bad. I think that was the worst moment of my career for sure.
WTA Insider: What are the biggest lessons from tennis you’ll carry with you moving forward?
Medina Garrigues: If I have to say something to the young players is: ‘No darle tanta importancia a las cosas’. Don’t give things too much importance. Now that I’m looking from the outside, I would say that normal things, or things that weren’t that important, I was like super stressed of that, and now I’m realizing that that didn’t help me be a better player.
Also, I’m realizing now how hard we worked during our careers. How many weeks we were away from home, the sacrifice that we didn’t realize we were doing because we did all our life, but now that I’m stopping, I’m thinking, ‘How did I do that? How did I travel to Australia 30 hours then same day I practiced two hours?’ I’m thinking of that now and I say, ‘No chance’. But in that moment you are inside of all these walls that make you go that way, it was super sacrifice.
But that gave me a lot of power and the ability to easily make sacrifices.
WTA Insider: Are there any players you loved facing, and any you dreaded playing against?
Medina Garrigues: I loved to play against Justine Henin and Maria Sharapova, they were the two players I really enjoyed playing the most. I never beat them but it was really nice to play against them. I really enjoyed their kind of game and I was feeling good on the court.
And then against Anna Chakvetadze, uuufff, she made me feel like a mosquito. You know when you play against a player and you feel you can’t do anything? And also Patty Schnyder, she made me feel the same way. Those kind of players you play against, in Spain you say that she’s my ‘mother’, like giving me lessons. So it happened to me with Patty and Chakvetadze.
WTA Insider: Not many people can say they helped coach a player to a Grand Slam title but you did that with Ostapenko. I know you’re now Fed Cup captain, but how do you reflect on that experience and would you want to coach again in the future?
Medina Garrigues: I really liked it. I enjoyed it a lot. I think after my career, okay I was not a Grand Slam champion, but I was on the tour for 20 years and I have my experience in my own way. I was 16 in the world so that was not that far from the big, big players. So I think it’s good because I can transfer to them the experience that I have in the court, out of the court, in the bad moments…
What I felt with Alona is that all the doubts that she had I already had, and I had a coach that helped me deal with these things, in that moment I could help her in the same way. I think it’s something that I feel doing with passion, and it works.
With Alona it was working a lot, that doesn’t mean that it’s going to work with all the players in the world but with Alona it worked a lot, I think we did a great job and now that I’m a Fed Cup captain, it’s something I always thought about doing because it’s something super nice for a former player, and of course I’m focused now on that.
I would like to bring Spain the highest possibility of winning a Fed Cup. But of course this period is going to finish at some point, I don’t know when, I hope after a long time but the moment when it finishes, of course I would like to return to coaching a player that wants to work with me because I think it’s something I do well and I can help players get the best that they can.
WTA Insider: Why do you think it worked with Ostapenko?
Medina Garrigues: I was trying to make her more consistent on the court and that was my goal. And outside of the court, she’s very young, she has to have fun and do different things. So I was really focused on the work that I thought was very important for her, and that was the court. So outside of the court, she’s young and I believed she should be free to do what she wants. Also with her mother, I had a good relationship. She’s also a coach and I understood completely that the mother was the coach and is also the mother and Alona likes to be close to her family and I understood that. When she was on the court she was very focused on the work and was listening a lot.
WTA Insider: Who do you think were the most influential people in your career?
Medina Garrigues: My career was like phases. At the beginning it was my family. I think I have the mentality of my dad, he’s a hard-worker, and I have the freshness of my mum. I took the part of my dad for the court and outside the court I’m my mum. My dad has character and my mum is super happy. So my coach, Gonzalo Lopez, sometimes would wake up in the morning and he’s asking me, ‘Today, you are Medina or Garrigues?’
My dad couldn’t be very close to me at the beginning of my career because he has to work a lot, he was working more than two jobs to help our family so in that moment, my mother and my grandparents helped me, taking me to practice and tournaments.
And then, at that time I had a coach that made me the player I am, the technique, I think he did a great job. His name is Salvador Ros. And after that it was Gonzalo who has been my coach since I was 16 years old. I think we’re the only team who were together from the beginning until the end of my career. He helped me be a very successful player but he helped me become the person I am now. His values were much stronger than my tennis and he always told me, ‘Anabel, first you’re a person and then you’re a player, so it doesn’t matter what happens in tennis, you have to be first a person’. He helped me a lot with this.
And [my boyfriend] Antonio, he helped me a lot in the end of my career. His support is very important for me and he helps me be a better person and I’m happy to have him by my side.