Radek Stepanek turns 39 later this month.
He’s been out nearly the whole season with chronic back issues that go way back, and had his second surgery last spring specifically to try to extend his career.
But he said goodbye to his longtime fitness coach a couple of weeks ago.
So it likely was a matter of when, not if, the veteran Czech would retire.
And on Tuesday, during a press conference streamed live, the man they nicknamed “The Worm” announced that it indeed was the end.
Stepanek’s old school grips – especially on the forehand – and relatively unimposing physique may not have screamed “champion”.
But he had a long and extraordinarily fruitful career after turning pro all the way back in 1996. He reached the top 10 in both singles and doubles, which not many players have done over the last few generations.
Stepanek won five titles in singles, reaching a total of 12 finals. And in doubles, he won 18 titles. In a late surge with partner Leander Paes towards the end of his career, he put himself on the Grand Slam map with wins at the Australian Open in 2012, and the US Open in 2013.
Davis Cup hero
His greatest contribution might well have been in representing his country.
Stepanek played 26 Davis Cup ties between 2003 and 2016. He went 20-5 in doubles and 15-13 in singles. He, Tomas Berdych and the rest of the squad defeated Spain in the 2012 final, and defended the Cup with a win over Serbia in 2013.
He also won a bronze in mixed doubles at the Rio Olympics with Lucie Hradecka.
(For those of you fluent in Czech, here’s the stream of the retirement press conference).
“I’ve always said I wake up one day and I’ll know it’s over. That moment came. I looked at my life from a wider perspective and I want to keep my health in the next stages of life. I believe I can experience other great moments outside of tennis. I struggled to the last breath, but it’s time to go on,” he said (via irozhlas.cz, via Google Translate)
One last singles push
Stepanek probably could have played doubles for many more years, but the body clearly had other ideas. He was all set to play with 2014 Wimbledon champion Vasek Pospisil in 2017; the two reached the final in their debut in Doha.
But they lost in the first round of doubles at the Australian Open to an Aussie wild card team. That tournament, it turns out, was the last of Stepanek’s career.
Stepanek had been way down in the depths of the rankings after missing a significant chunk of time in 2014 and 2015. He could have just continued on as a doubles specialist. But he challenged himself to make a last run in singles.
The Czech hoisted himself back into the top 100, a solid effort considering that in July 2015, he was down to No. 369. And that he was heading towards his late 30s.
He began 2017 by qualifying in Doha and reaching the quarterfinals (losing to his friend Novak Djokovic). Then he qualified at the Australian Open and reached the second round, losing to David Goffin.
And that was it.
What’s next for the Worm?
Well, Tennis.Life witnessed first hand that he is quite the motivator, as he willed countrywomen Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova to victory against Canada at the Rio Olympics.
He also has a great rapport with Novak Djokovic, who is looking for a day-to-day coach to supplement the events at which mentor Andre Agassi is present.
No, we’re not suggesting that’s even a rumor.
But Stepanek (who has been engaged to Martina Hingis and dated Petra Kvitova, and is divorced from Nicole Vaidisova even if they have reportedly had a recent rapprochement), seems to be single with no dependants.
It’s easy to picture him right back on Tour as a coach, although he does have business interests. He was one of those guys who loved every bit of the Tour experience, his curious mind always looking for new experiences and learning new things wherever he travelled.
There are plenty of players looking for help at the moment. So we may well see him back before very long. He definitely has a lot of experience in the trenches to share.
Thank you for all the great memories and well done for your career Radek!!?? pic.twitter.com/sPsQZuyKiI
— Tomáš Berdych (@tomasberdych) November 14, 2017