WTA Insider David Kane | The former World No.7 looks back on her career, her decision to retire, and what advice she would give to her younger self - and the next crop of rising stars.
WTA Staff

Not much has changed for Nicole Vaidisova. The former World No.7 is still traveling the globe, discovering new countries and cultures to explore.

But these days, the two-time Grand Slam semifinalist leaves her racquets at home.

"Ever since I decided, 'This is it,' I just wanted to take a breather and just really enjoy life," she told WTA Insider. "It's definitely different, going from the tour - where you're on a set schedule and you know your whole year is going to be mapped out - to deciding what you want to do and feeling like doing and want to see.

"For example, I've always wanted to see Iceland; obviously there's no tournament there, and it was really nice to be able to plan a trip, see something for the first time, and get my mind off tennis. It was a good time for me."

There hadn't been too many good times in the months leading up to her choice to conclude her second career. Close encounters with Ana Ivanovic and Simona Halep had gotten her close to the Top 200 in early 2015, but chronic injuries stunted her progress at every turn. For the 27-year-old, it began to feel as though there was little to life beyond fixing a broken body.

"It's been a long time coming because I was dealing with so many injuries - repeat injuries - and I had to spend so much time at doctor's offices and rehab facilities, trying new and different things that would end up not working.

"It got to the point where I was so worried about every pain and I said, 'This is it.' I don't want to put my body through any more radiation or surgery, or any more poking and prodding. There's only so much a person can take.

"It was just a vicious cycle."

So...This has been one of the hardest words for me to write.After months and months of thinking and agonizing about this, I have decided to retire from professional tennis.It has been one of my hardest and most emotional decisions of my life.As many of you know,I have been struggling with various injuries on/off for the better part of the last 2 years and it has gotten to the point where I have spent more time in hospitals,physical therapy and doctors offices then on the court,playing the sport I love.This has been painful and exhausting,not just on my body,but on my mind as well and I have reached the point where I did not want to put my body throught it anymore.Coming to this final decision took me months,as even through all the ups and dows,it is a game I grew to love for what it is.Ever since I decided to come back 3 years ago,it has been a roller coaster ride of huge highs and lows,on and off the court.I am forever grateful and feeling so incredibly lucky to have had the unwavering support and uncoditional love of my family,friends,Daniel,as well as my medical and tennis team.Without them,it would have been imspossible to come back.My tennis career has been anything but ordinary,but above every opinion,comment and what ifs,I can proudly say it has been MINE.I do not regret any decision,good or bad,as it has made me the person I am today.As I close this chapter of my life,I look back in amazement at everything I was able to do.I am proud to have been able to compete with the best athletes in my sport and represent the Czech Republic,the country I love,in many fed cups and Olympics,it has been an honor.Finally,I can never thank all of you enough for all the support and words of encouragement that I have received over the years,it has meant the world to me and kept me going when I wanted to give up.Thank you,from the bottom of my heart,I will never be able to express enough gratitude to every single one of you,I am so honored. 20 years ago, this little girl had a dream,and today, I can say it has come true ??

A photo posted by Nicki Vaidisova (@nicolevaidisova) on

The cycle began not long after the Miami Open, where she pushed Halep to three sets and appeared poised to rise up the rankings the way she did as a teenager, before a shoulder surgery took her off the tour in 2010. A second surgery proved necessary to kick start her comeback in 2014.

"The shoulder has always been in the back of my mind, because after two surgeries, it's never going to be 100% again. I also don't think it helped that I stopped for such a long time. Going from zero to 100, I don't think my body reacted to it that well. I think all of the injuries after the shoulder had to do with that.

"But it was also a little bit of bad luck. I was feeling good about Miami and was practicing when I tore a tendon in my ankle, basically a week after. The same thing happened later with my wrist.

"The last two years was me playing for a couple of months, getting injured, and then trying to build back up from zero - going through rehab and getting back into shape again. It just takes so much out of a person to feel like you're continuously starting over."

A pattern of stops and starts gave way to more permanent pain, leading Vaidisova to reassess and, ultimately, retire.

"Bone spurs in my heels were basically the nail in the coffin, because they keep coming back - in both heels. Any athlete who's had to deal with this knows it's such a pain because you're walking on them every day. I went from having therapy to having radiation on it. They weren't really helping, and it became a cycle of getting rid of one, which would take six months, and then another would grow back on my outer heel.

"Even though I stopped playing, I still have to get laser treatments because growths on heels are so hard to get rid of. It affects you on a daily basis because you're walking every day. I can't really go running because that aggravates it.

"Right now, I'm not feeling so much of a time crunch where I need to fix it right this second just to compete, so I want to take a gentler approach where I can get rid of it over time and not really do anything invasive."

Nicole Vaidisova

Few would have predicted Vaidisova's story would end this way, certainly not a 12 years ago, when she began her career as the sixth youngest WTA titlist in Vancouver, aged just 15.

Within a year of that initial breakthrough, the talented ballstriker was among the most consistent forces in tennis, winning three titles in three weeks, and getting within a game of the French Open final in 2006.

"I was so young," she said of the fornight that saw her claim wins over Amélie Mauresmo and Venus Williams en route to the semifinals. "It was just so surreal. I couldn't even believe it myself that I was there.

"I was just a young girl who couldn't believe how far I'd come, and the players I'd beaten."

Nicole Vaidisova

A second semifinal appearance soon followed at the Australian Open, before injuries and inconsistencies caused a crisis of confidence.

"I think at that time, I really didn't know myself, to be honest. I was really frustrated, not only being injured, but on the court, a lot of things in my personal and family life were not going good. I just wasn't a happy person on the court, and it was making me miserable. I just needed to get away, and I didn't know in that moment if I was going to come back or not."

Three years of soul-searching led her back to the game; this time, it would be on her terms.

"When I was growing up as a child, it was just a given. This is what I did. I played tennis, and you don't really think about what else could be out there, or if you really love it or not because this is just what you're doing. You also get a little lost in the mentality where winning is everything, and moving on, wanting to do better from one tournament to the next, with better scores and better results.

"When I went through my surgeries and I didn't play, I realized I missed it. I missed the game and really wanted to get back to playing. Through that, you realize if you really do love the game or not."

Vaidisova plans to pursue new passions in the fall when she enrolls in university, but has an eye on remaining a part of the game in one way or another. Resolved not to regret, she hopes the next group of prodigies takes time to enjoy the view, even as they aspire to the tour's more dizzying heights.

"I did what I could to really get myself healthy, fit, and ready to compete on that level, and it's not always a fairytale. Sometimes things are just not meant to be.

"I just wish, that because it was so new, and everything was so intense, that I had more time to really enjoy it. I never really looked back and appreciated the moments where I was winning tournaments or doing well at the Grand Slams. In the moment, you're going 100 miles an hour, and I was too young to really appreciate it for what it was in the way that I do now that I'm older.

"The field has gotten tougher overall; the girls are more athletic, and you have so many young girls charging up the rankings. It's hard to step back and appreciate things when you're younger and have a team, especially when a lot of them are family members. But I really wish I could say that to them - along with my younger self - to just enjoy and remember those moments."

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.