Back in Florida,
Andy sat me down and said, not for the first time, "Look, you don't owe
anybody anything. I see what you're going through. You're not happy. You've
been a winner all your life. Don't put yourself through this. You don't need
tennis anymore." He was right. If anybody has convinced me that it's O.K.
to stop playing, it's been Andy.
I have wondered
since I was 25: How will I know when to retire? I thought nobody would tell me;
I'd just feel it. I do, and I'm glad. It's tough for some other people around
me to accept my decision because they aren't prepared. Especially my dad, who
has been my coach and my inspiration over all these years. He has always
encouraged me to play more than anyone. Sometimes I've felt like asking him,
"Dad, what's the deal? Do you want me to play till I'm 50?" This summer
even he recognized the signs, and now it seems O.K. with him for me to stop. I
will remember many things about my career, the most important being my parents
and their support.
Let me say it
isn't just the pedestal that Graf has reached that seems so far away. It's
Monica and Arantxa Sanchez, who's all of 17, and all these other young girls as
well. Each time I watch them I remember how it felt to be young and fresh and
keen. The fact is, I'm not going to get any better, and they are. Fairly wise
thinking, huh? Real Einstein stuff, right? But you know what? I watched the
French Open on TV—a tournament I've won seven times—and I didn't even miss it.
It seemed like tough work. I thought, Gosh, I'm glad I'm in Florida and they're
in Paris. All of a sudden, a Grand Slam tournament didn't look like fun.
The thought of
relaxing and being free is very appealing. Remember, I started in big-time
tennis when I was 15 years old. In fact, my very favorite match still is the
one in Charlotte, N.C., in 1970, when I was 15 and beat Margaret Court, who had
won the Grand Slam. Ever since then, I've been on a mission.
I think that's the
difference between Martina and me. She didn't really get engulfed by tennis
until much later, when she was 23 or 24. I've got a lot of years on her as far
as putting up with the pressure and tension and mind games. Last year I saw the
first glimpses of burnout in Martina, and I thought this year she would be
about at the stage I am. There was even a lot of press talk about us retiring
together. She skipped the French, too, remember. Before Wimbledon, Billie Jean
[King] got Martina in such a terrific frame of mind and so psyched up, that it
turned the game around for her and she was eager again.
I'm a great
believer in niches, and someone whose situation is more parallel to mine is
Jimmy Connors. We both came up about the same time and won our first Wimbledons
in 1974. We were engaged for 10 months, of course, and saw each other for
another three years. Thank god we both realized it would never work out. I
honestly believe that Jimmy might be leaving the game now, too, if he had a
niche. If Jimmy had gotten that gig as Pat Sajak's replacement on Wheel of
Fortune, who knows? But I don't think Jimmy has found his niche outside tennis.
Bjorn Borg's been away from the game how many years? And he hasn't found a
with me is I think I have found my niche. Tennis has been my world since I was
six. Tennis molded my personality, defined who I was. Every day I woke up, my
moods were subject to tennis: Did I win or lose? I had a high esteem for myself
following victory, the opposite after a loss. It's so difficult to cut yourself
away from that, but even while I've struggled on the court these last few
years, boy, have I advanced in other areas.
I never had a
permanent home to go to as an adult before Andy and I settled in Aspen. I've
grown to love my weeks away from the tour. It's no secret I've been in seventh
heaven ever since I met him at a New Year's Eve party at the Hotel Jerome in
Aspen three years ago. I can't explain how great it is that my happiness is no
longer based on winning a tennis match.
I've found my
niche as Mrs. Andy Mill, as a full-time wife. We've bought a 6,000-square-foot
house in Starwood in the valley outside Aspen. I'm going to have a ball
decorating it. We'll keep our main residence at the Polo Club in Boca Raton,
which I represent as the touring pro. I can't imagine ever leaving Florida for
good, since most of my family is there or other places in the South.
What will I do
with myself? What won't I do? I'll go biking and hiking with Andy. I'll even go
fly-fishing with him. I'm going to shop for groceries, peel vegetables and
cook! I'm going to sit on a couch and read a magazine without feeling I've got
to train or practice or eat a meal or be anywhere on time. I'm going to be on
the telephone nurturing friendships the way normal people do. I'll be
fulfilling my endorsement contracts. I'm starting a pro-celebrity tournament in
Boca Raton to help combat drug abuse. And I'll work for NBC at next year's
French Open and Wimbledon.