The only regret Lucie Safarova can have about her tennis career is that it’s ending too soon.
And it’s definitely not the way she would have wanted to go out.
But at 31 (32 in February), Safarova has struggled for the last three years to fully return from a viral illness that completely knocked her back. And so, the Czech lefty has announced the end.
In Prague as her Czech Fed Cup teammates take on the U.S. in the Fed Cup final this weekend, Safarova said she would play one more tournament to say goodbye.
So she will take that final bow at the Australian Open in January.
After finishing the 2015 season at No. 9, Safarova was hospitalized at the end of the year with a bacterial infection. By the end of 2016, she was down to No. 62.
Towards the end of that year, it even seemed as though she might either just turn into a doubles specialist, or retire completely. In addition to the effects of the illness, there also was a case of reactive arthritis and an ongoing wrist injury.
Illness, injury one after the other
But she turned the corner in 2017, starting with a ranking of No. 64 and ending it ranked No. 30. There were solid results, but the season ended early. Safarova didn’t play after Quebec City in mid-September because of the wrist.
A month before that, she reached No. 1 in doubles for the first time. Safarova won both the Australian Open and the French Open with her American bestie Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
The 2018 season brought more struggles. Safarova didn’t play from Dubai in February until the week before the French Open. She caught a virus in Dubai and what she thought would be a short absence stretched into over three months.
Safarova played just five more tournaments after Strasbourg – again ending the season in Quebec City.
She had family with her for the last bit. Somehow it felt like a final go-round.
And indeed it was.
One more, and Safarova is done
Safarova won’t play any other tournaments before that Melbourne finale. So four months will have elapsed since she last played a match. There would few expectations about going out with a big high in singles.
Currently at No. 106, she would have to play the qualifying.
In doubles, though, where she and Mattek-Sands have won twice in Melbourne – 2015 and 2017 – anything’s possible. Especially with the urgency and adrenaline of finality.
Those two are so good that there was absolutely no reason they couldn’t continue to thrive on the WTA Tour for years. So it may well be that even just the doubles would be too much for her body to handle.
She’ll be remembered for a career during which she reached a French Open final, and a Wimbledon semifinal in singles. She also has won five majors in doubles. Safarova reached her career high singles ranking of No. 5 after the 2015 US Open.
The Czech was ranked No. 1 in doubles for five weeks in Sept. 2017 – and in the top 10 for umpteen weeks.
But even more importantly than that, she will be remembered for what she brought to the table as a human being. There wasn’t a single person she would ever run into, whether she knew them or not, that she didn’t have a smile for. And you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t love her.
On the WTA Tour, that’s called a big win.
The next move is to be determined, as Safarova said during a press conference this weekend that she was looking forward to a break. She said she had already been approached to work as an agent.