LONDON, Great Britain - Former World No.5 Daniela Hantuchova, 34, announced her retirement on Thursday, capping off a long and storied career that began as a 16-year-old in 1999.
"I'm super happy," Hantuchova told WTA Insider at Wimbledon, where she is serving as a commentator for Fox Sports Asia. "I thought it was going to be the most difficult decision of my life, and it was. It took me a while to make this step, but once I did it I just feel such incredible joy, happiness, relief in a way. All the emotions are coming together in an incredible and beautiful way. I'm looking at everything that's happening to me with such appreciation that I feel like I couldn't have chosen a better time."
The rangy Slovakian, who will be remembered for her fluid groundstrokes, incredible work ethic, and love for the game, was an accomplished singles and doubles player who won seven singles titles, highlighted by two title runs at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in 2002 and 2007. She also won nine doubles titles and became just the fifth player in the Open Era to complete the mixed doubles career Grand Slam.
Hantuchova competed in 61 major tournaments, peaking with a run to the semifinals at the 2008 Australian Open. Overall, she competed in 369 main draw events and became the 37th player in WTA history to compile 570 match wins. Hantuchova continued to battle through primarily on the ITF circuit over the last few years, but a rib injury sustained at the Mutua Madrid Open this spring finally gave her the timeout she needed to organize her thoughts.
"After Madrid, after I had a stress fracture in my rib I couldn't do anything for months," Hantuchova said. "Those are the times you start to think about everything. I started to be focused on my own business and it's been going so well and I started spending all my time doing that, suddenly there was one day that I realized I didn't go to practice, I didn't go to the gym and I actually enjoyed that. I tried to ignore it, but for two weeks I tried to think about it a little more. Suddenly I just realized it was time for a new chapter in life.
"Tennis has given me so much and I'm so thankful for everything that has happened, the good and the bad, but I don't think I would be the person that I am today without all of it. Just having that appreciation for being part of the most beautiful sport in the world, it felt like the right time."
WTA Insider spoke to Hantuchova ahead of her retirement announcement to reflect on an 18-year career that took an intelligent, scrawny, concert pianist from Poprad, Slovakia and transformed her into a global star.
WTA Insider: How different is the Dani that stands here now having hung up her racquet compared to that 16-year-old who made her debut in Bratislava 18 years ago?
Hantuchova: I think in many ways the same. That excitement and the not knowing, I feel the same right now. I've closed one chapter of my life and I have no idea where the next one will bring me, but I have the same butterfly feeling inside of my stomach like I had when I joined the tour. So it's the same but maybe with a little bit more experience.
WTA Insider: How has tennis shaped your life?
Hantuchova: It's been my life. It's been in my DNA ever since I was five years old. I realize that the people and the things you truly love, you can never leave. So I'm not leaving the sport. I'm just leaving the part where I'm traveling 10 months in the year and competing and traveling with my tennis bag on my shoulder at every single airport.
Tennis has been the biggest love of my life so far. I hope the next one will be the real one, in a different way. It's been everything. It's in my DNA and it always will be.
WTA Insider: Over the years, with everything you've gone through on-court and off-court, how much has tennis and the tour been a sanctuary? How has tennis been there for you?
Hantuchova: I think it's been a university of life. You learn so much about yourself, about life, about other people, how to treat others, how to manage all the situations of life. I've never been to a university but I feel like I am so equipped and prepared for whatever is going to come after this.
I already see this with my own business. Whenever there are difficulties I'm like well compared to what I had to go through on the tennis court it's a piece of cake. I'm so thankful for that. Especially the tough moments, that's going to be my rock. Whatever life throws at me I always have it in the back of my mind, the things I had to go through in the tennis world.
WTA Insider: Having spent the last month or so reflecting on career, I have to think it almost seems like a slideshow in your head. What are the slides or memories that stand out?
Hantuchova: Amazing that you ask that now. Last night I shared the last two points of Indian Wells against Martina Hingis with my brother and parents. I was just pouring with tears. Tears in a beautiful, thankful way. I said with my brother, we never expected all that to happen.
Even just a few weeks ago, if you were to tell me that I had done so much in my career, I could never relate to that. Now that I'm out of it, it's like, that was not bad! It's the first time I could actually say that, finally. Being able to share all these beautiful moments that happened to me with my parents, with the people I love, it means the world.
WTA Insider: That's incredible to hear. I know you've always been incredibly ambitious, a perfectionist. It's nice to hear you say you realize what an amazing career you had.
Hantuchova: It's so funny that I get this feeling now! Even three weeks ago if you told me that I would say oh, it's nothing. I was talking to Martina Hingis yesterday. Thanks to her, when I won Indian Wells at 19, I felt so old. Now when I look at it, wow, to win Indian Wells at 19-years-old? I would take that any day.
It's that appreciation for and respect I have for all the players from my era that I will carry with me forever.
WTA Insider: What are you going to miss?
Hantuchova: The competitiveness. That adrenaline, that feeling when you get off the court when you go to the gym and enjoy it with your team and go to dinner. Having said that, I'm ok for the moment. Maybe it will come back but I am enjoying my life as it is right now.
WTA Insider: Are we going to see you in Legends? Like here at Wimbledon? Why not?
Hantuchova: Yeah why not! It will be sooner than I thought. It's something that I've already talked to with the players. We are all on TV and we talk. Kim [Clijsters], [Ai] Sugiyama, that would be awesome. I'm looking forward to this. That's why this transition is not that difficult because I know I'm not leaving. There is no way. So I wouldn't be surprised if very soon we are on the court again.
WTA Insider: That's great to hear. So what does the future hold?
Hantuchova: Short term, really just enjoying the moment. Having that freedom. I don't have to wake up to go to practice. I don't have to go to the gym. It's really difficult to describe. You always have this thing in the back of your mind, even if you have a short holiday, you're thinking about what's next. I was talking with my family that we can actually plan holidays, we can plan Christmas.
So I do want to enjoy that freedom and not rush into anything. Of course, knowing who I am, I will always be a busy girl. But I would like to slow it down, stay in one place and hopefully meet the man of my life and settle down, have a family, and hopefully kids. That's the long-term dream and we'll see how life will arrange all that.
WTA Insider: What do you hope that your fans and tennis people remember 'That's what Daniela Hantuchova represented in the game'?
Hantuchova: Just the love for the game (Tearing up).