Game, set, match
Farewell tour is over -- here's what I leave fellow pros
Posted: Friday October 26, 2007 11:06AM; Updated: Friday October 26, 2007 1:33PM
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- I realize much too big of a deal has been made of my retirement, but it's now official: The ATP Tour is rid of me for good.
I lost to Mikhail Youzhny, 6-2, 6-4, on Wednesday in the first round of the St. Petersburg Open and closed the door on this chapter of my life. It was a weird feeling toward the end of the match knowing these were all situations I would never get to experience again. But I'm at total peace knowing that I did everything I could throughout my career to reach my potential.
I appreciate the uniqueness of retiring at the ripe age of 30, but the way I look at it, I've been a professional tennis player since I was 10 -- at least that's how it feels. I can't remember a day that I haven't woken up with the prevailing thought being, How do I become a better tennis player today? While eating, practicing, training or even resting, my underlying goal was always to get better, and that constant focus wore on me.
That being said, I am very thankful for everything tennis enabled me to do and experience. I am acutely aware of how fortunate I was to make a good living doing something I love. I have seen firsthand how most people have to choose between a vocational passion and practical profession. I've been able to travel the world hitting a fuzzy, yellow ball around. And while there has been plenty of blood, sweat, and tears lost along the way, I would choose to do it all again in a second.
There's no doubt that I leave the game in good shape. But there are a few categories where I might be missed. Without me around any longer, tennis fans will need to find replacements for some of the least relevant categories on which I had a stronghold. My suggestions are as follows:
Skinniest Legs: No one in the history of sport spent more time in the gym on their legs with less visible improvement than me. Now the talented Belgian Kristof Vliegen will have to enjoy life on tour with the skinniest legs.
Maccabiah Games Favorite: Being one of the best Jewish tennis players in the world for the better part of a decade is kind of like being one of the most personable Russians: It doesn't take much. That being said, Dudi Sela has emerged this year. He led the Israelis to a huge upset over Chile in the Davis Cup, advancing them to the World Group, and he also climbed into the rankings of the top 100 players in the world. Mazel tov!
Court Jester: There is nobody on Tour against whom I would have preferred to play my last match at the U.S. Open than Andy Roddick. He handles himself as well as anyone could with the type of access and opportunity he has had at a young age. I was a train wreck when I came on tour and I had 1/1000th the success he has had.
Roddick rightfully takes over my throne as most quotable player on tour. I was rarely requested for post-match interviews but usually one of the first contacted for a quote. I always tried to give the media relevant insights in an entertaining way. Andy is witty, intelligent and quick on his feet and with his tongue. He will rarely give you the standard athletic rhetoric, and the game is better off for it.
White Man Can't Jump: I'm slow and I can't jump -- a rare combination in a professional athlete. With the depth of great athletes in the game today, I'm not sure you'll ever see anyone of comparable deficiencies. However, if I had to choose one player to take over for me, it would have to be fellow American Mardy Fish. Luckily for him, he has a serve and a backhand as pure as the undriven winter snow.
Boris Becker Wanna-be: I didn't do many things well, but I was a heck of a diver. True, many weren't needed and most were a result of poor balance. Nonetheless, I hit some good ones. Little-known Serbian Dusan Vemic is an amazing athlete and can really lay out on the court. Hopefully he'll make it to a show court some day -- if so, the crowd will be in for a show.
Most in Need of a Haircut and Brush: You would think with access to free haircuts almost every week on tour, I would've taken advantage of a few more. Andy Murray rightfully takes over this distinction with me hanging it up. He benefits from the constant use of a hat on court, but trust me, it's not a pretty picture in the players' lounge!
Most Polific Sweater: There has to be a glitch in my endochronolgical system; I sweat when I brush my teeth in the morning. I inherited the title after Patrick Rafter and Alex O'Brien retired. I now gladly pass it on to Roddick. We were practicing last week in New York and, besides him kicking my butt on the court, he might have been even more disgustingly saturated after a few practices than I was. That's saying a lot!
So that's it from me, tennis fans. I'll still be writing every other week for SI.com, but this is the last time you'll see this particular description of me in the sign-off at the end of my columns:
Twelve-year ATP Tour veteran Justin Gimelstob writes for SI.com on alternate Fridays.