“How can I leave the only life I ever knew? How can I leave the courts that you trained since you were a little girl? Leaving the game you love is the one that brought so many tears and so many A sport in which you found a family and fans, people who have supported you all these 28 years.
I’m new to this all, so please forgive me. Tennis, I say goodbye.
Before we get to the end, let me start from the beginning. The first time I saw a tennis court was when my father played there. It was in Sochi, I was four years old. I was so small that my tiny legs hung from the bench on which I was sitting. So small that the racket I tried to pick up was two times bigger than me.
When I was six years old, I flew across half the globe to get to Florida with my father. The whole world then seemed gigantic. A plane, an airport, the vast expanses of America: everything was incredibly great, as was the sacrifice my parents made.
When I first started playing, the girls on the other side of the net were always older, taller and stronger; the tennis stars that I saw on TV seemed untouchable and inaccessible. However, gradually, with every day of training, this almost mythical world became more and more real.
The first courts on which I spoke were uneven, with faded lines. Then it was time for the bright orange ground, and then there was the most beautiful and well-groomed grass that my feet had ever stepped on. However, I could not even imagine that once I could win titles on any of these coatings.
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Wimbledon seemed like a good start to the top. But I was a naive 17-year-old girl who was still collecting stamps and did not understand the scale of that victory until she got older. And how glad I am that I did not understand.
However, I never felt superior to other tennis players. All the time I felt that I was standing on the edge of a cliff and at any moment I could break. So I constantly returned to the court to understand how all the same it is possible to climb this mountain.
The US Open has shown me how to overcome distractions and expectations. If you couldn’t handle the noise of New York, then the airport was almost next door. Dosvidanya.
The Australian Open led me to where I had never been before. A place in which you feel absolute confidence in your abilities. You’re definitely at ease. It is difficult to explain this sensation, but it was very pleasant.
Clay on “Roland Garros exposed almost all of my weaknesses – for starters – the inability to slide on it – and made me overcome them. I managed it twice. It was cool.
All these tournaments, these stadiums revealed my true essence. For photoshoots and beautiful tennis dresses, they laid bare my flaws – every wrinkle, every drop of sweat. They tested my character, my will, my ability to channel emotions for good, not harm. Between the lines of these courts, my weak spots felt safe. How lucky I am that I managed to find a place where I felt so vulnerable, and at the same time was in a comfort zone?
One of the keys to my success was that I never looked back and never looked forward. I always believed that if I continued to work as hard as I could, I could achieve incredible success. But tennis cannot be conquered. You just have to listen to his requirements, while trying to drown out the thoughts in your head:
Have you done enough – and even more – to prepare for your next rival?
You took too many days off – your movements will not be so sharp.
Have you got an extra slice of pizza? It needs to be worked out in the morning training.
I always listened to this voice very carefully, anticipating his every appearance. So I received the last signals when they appeared.
One of them came to US Open last August. Behind closed doors, thirty minutes before going to court, I had a procedure that helped anesthetize my shoulder so that I could play. Shoulder injuries are not new to me – over time, my tendons have worn out like threads. I had several operations – one in 2008, another one – last season – and I spent a huge number of months doing physiotherapy. Going out on the court that day seemed the final victory, although, of course, this was only the first step towards victory. I am not sharing this in order to arouse pity, but to outline my new reality: my body has become a problem.
Throughout his career, the question “Is it worth it?” never stood, because the answer was always in the affirmative. A strong character has always been my main weapon. Even if my rivals were physically stronger, more confident, even simply better, I could beat them at the expense of patience and psychology.
I never felt the need to talk about the work, the difficulties and the efforts that I make – every athlete knows about the unspoken sacrifices that must be made in order to succeed. But at the beginning of the next chapter, I want anyone who dreams of excellence in everything to know that doubt and condemnation are inevitable. You will suffer hundreds of failures, and the whole world will watch you. Deal with it. Trust yourself. I promise that you will overcome everything and win.
I gave my life to tennis, but tennis gave me life. I will miss her every day. I’ll miss the training and daily routine: wake up at dawn, lace up the left sneaker in front of the right, close the gates of the court before delivering your first blow in a day. I will miss my team, the coaches. I will miss the moments when I sat next to my father on the bench after training. Handshakes – after victories or defeats – and the athletes who made me better, whether they know about it or not.
Looking back, I understand that tennis was my mountain. My path was filled with valleys and loops, but the view from its top was amazing. However, after 28 years and five Grand Slam titles, I am ready to climb to a new peak, compete in another territory.
But what about the relentless pursuit of victories? She’s not going anywhere. No matter what lies ahead, I will apply the experience, work ethic and all the lessons that I learned along the way.
At the same time, there are a few simple things that I really look forward to. Feelings of peace in my family. Slow gatherings for morning coffee. Sudden weekend trips. The workouts that I myself will choose (hello, dance lessons!).
Tennis showed me the world, showed me what I’m made of. So I tested myself and measured my height. And therefore, no matter what activity I choose, whatever goals I have set for me, I will continue to improve. I will climb the mountain. And I will still grow. “
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