The end for Mirnyi, Schnyder and Jovanovic

At this time of the year, players who toiled late into November are on the beach somewhere (usually, not exclusively, the Maldives).

But those who wrapped things up a bit earlier are already back into training for the 2019 season.

So for those in the twilight of their careers, it’s decision time about whether they can – want to – go through the grind one more time.

For longtime doubles star Max Mirnyi, 41, the answer was no.

It’s been a very tough choice to make considering that the game of tennis has been my life ever since I can remember myself. I am absolutely thrilled to have had a chance to enjoy this game for so long!” Mirnyi said in a statement.

“While competing for myself or representing my country I have always treated my profession with the highest honour and respect, worked at it as hard as I could and now, stepping away from the game, I have no regrets and feel nothing but joy. I have achieved far beyond what a little boy from Minsk, Belarus could dream about at the beginning of the road.”

Belarus’s statement is a document full of evidence about just how much of a village it takes to make a successful professional tennis player.

Solid singles to brilliant doubles

Before Mirnyi was a doubles specialist, he was a very good singles player, reaching the top 20 back in 2003 with one career title, in Rotterdam that year.

But it was in doubles that he found a lasting home. Even in 2018, which turned out to be his final season, he was more than competitive. With Philipp Oswald of Austria, he won two titles – on an indoor hard court at the New York Open, and on red clay in Houston in April.

They were titles No. 51 and No. 52 of his career. And among those Mirnyi thanks are the (exactly!) 100 doubles partners with whom he teamed up professionally through a 25-year career.

Oswald and Mirnyi also reached two finals: to open the season in Auckland, and to close out Mirnyi’s ATP Tour career in Moscow in October.

His final match was in Davis Cup, in late October against Slovakia.

Mirnyi won the French Open men’s doubles four times (twice with the just-retired Daniel Nestor, twice with Jonas Bjorkman) and the US Open men’s doubles twice (with Lleyton Hewitt and Mahesh Bhupathi).

He also won the 2007 US Open mixed doubles with a young Azarenka, and again in 2013 with Andrea Hlavackova. He won the mixed at Wimbledon in 1998 with Serena Williams, His mixed partners have included Williams, Martina Navratilova, Maria Sharapova (with whom he shares an agent), Anna Kournikova and Genie Bouchard.

A multi-faceted Mirnyi life

While he did this, Mirnyi also completed his law degree in 2008. As well, he married and had four children, now ranging in age between four and 13. Mirnyi also has been a UN AIDS ambassador, a Unicef goodwill ambassador, the vice-president of the Belarus federation, 

Mirnyi relocated to Bradenton, Fla. to train at the Bollettieri academy in 1992 – and never left.

He was the flagbearer for his country at the Olympics in London in 2012, and won gold in mixed doubles (breaking British hearts) with countrywoman Victoria Azarenka over Andy Murray and Laura Robson.

 

Comeback too tough for Jovanovski

After a long time out of the game with wrist and shoulder surgeries, 26-year-old Bojana Jovanovski (who added “Petrovic” during her injury break when she got married) came back to try it again in 2018.

It turns out her body just couldn’t withstand the training needed to get back to the level she was capable of. And so on Wednesday, she reluctantly announced her retirement.

“After a lot of thinking and numerous injuries and operations it was very hard for me to make a final decision, I am still very passionate about tennis and competing but my body can not follow. Since I can no longer train and play the way I used to, give my best and fulfill all professional goals I had no other option,” Jovanovski Petrovic wrote on Facebook.

“So far I dedicated all my life to tennis, training and competition, did my best as a player and achieved great results. Maybe I did not achieved the maximum of my potential but I’m not unhappy,” she added. “Tennis has given me a lot and enriched my life. I had a chance to travel the world, meet people and make friends for life. In the future tennis will remain a big part of my life. I’m not leaving for good and without a plan.”

The Serb’s first order of business is to finish her psychology degree, and then look to coaching. 

Return in 2018

Jovanovski Petrovic was ranked in the top 80 six consecutive seasons, with a peak at No. 32 in 2014, before the injuries hit.

After losing in the first round of the 2016 French Open to Agnieszka Radwanska, Jovanovski Petrovic didn’t play again until the first round of qualifying at the WTA Tour event in St. Petersburg in Feb. 2018.

She played sporadically after that (although she did play the full grass-court season). Her final match was a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Sabine Lisicki in the qualifying in Tianjin, China in September. Lisicki, a former Wimbledon finalist, has been dealing with her own injury issues and is out of the top 200.

Schnyder’s Part II also done

Mirnyi

Another player who was gone for a significant period of time and returned was Patty Schnyder.

MirnyiSchnyder, who turns 40 in a few weeks, retired after the 2011 French Open – and even got the big, awkward official ceremony at the end of that season at the WTA Tour Finals.

She reached No. 7 in singles, and also was a top-20 doubles player and a three-time Olympian.

The new mom returned in July, 2015 in small events in Europe. And in her fourth tournament back, she went from the qualifying to the title at a $10,000 ITF in Prague. Later that season, she went from the qualifying to the final at a $25,000 ITF in Bangkok, beating former top-30 player Kaia Kanepi in the final.

Back to the WTA Tour

In April, 2016, she made her first return appearance on the WTA Tour with a wild card in the Charleston qualifying. (Other than a pair of wild cards into her home-country WTA event in Gstaad, Schnyder effected this comeback largely on her own).

By Aug. 2017, her ranking back near the top 200, she returned to the Grand Slam level for the first time, losing in the second round of US Open qualifying.

The return of Zvonareva and Schnyder (photos)

Schnyder got as high as No. 139 this June. And at the US Open, she won three rounds in qualifying, and got to face old foe Maria Sharapova in the first round of the main draw.

Sharapova and Schnyder had met eight times before, going all the way back to 2004. But while Sharapova led the head-to-head 7-1, that was a deceiving stat. Six of the eight meetings went three sets – and even the two straight-sets Sharapova victories were 7-5, 7-5, and 7-5, 6-4.

Schnyder gave Sharapova all she could handle in the second set of a 6-2, 7-6 (6) defeat.

Ends it with a comeback victory

Her last Tour match was a loss to Varvara Lepchenko in Luxembourg in October.

But her final competitive match was a victory, as Schnyder won in the French Interclubs last Wednesday for Mihaela Buzarnescu’s team, St-Dié-des-Vosges.

It was, perfectly, an impressive comeback. Schnyder beat Spain’s Laura Pous-Tio 5-7, 7-6 (8), 6-2.

But with her ranking back down to No. 279, it was going to be another season of grinding down at the lower levels. As she turned 40, as she put it, it was time to try something new.

Agnieszka Radwanska retires at 29

It was not a surprise announcement, given recent comments by Agnieszka Radwanska concerning her inability to get healthy enough to compete.

But on Wednesday, it became official: the former world No. 2 retires, at age 29.

Here’s part of the text of her announcement, via Twitter.

My Dear Friends,

I’d like to share with you one of the most important decisions of my life. Today, after 13 years of playing tennis competitively, I have decided to end my career. This was not an easy decision.

Unfortunately, I am no longer able to train and play the way I used to, and recently my body can’t live up to my expectations. Taking into consideration my health and the heavy burdens of professional tennis, I have to concede that I’m not able to push my body to the limits required.

No. 2 in singles

Radwanska’s future in doubt

Radwanska reached a career high of No. 2 in singles after reaching the Wimbledon final in 2012.

It was her only Grand Slam final although she reached the semifinals there twice more in subsequent years, as well as two Australian Open semifinals.

Radwanska also reached No. 16 in doubles back in 2011.

Out of 28 career finals, and won 20 – a great ratio. Radwanska also won two doubles titles – one of them with her sister Urszula.

She also represented Poland in three Olympics.

Welcome to Aga Radwanska’s place

Ninja style

One reason Radwanska stood out, and was extremely popular with diehard tennis fans, was because her style was so unique.

Unable to keep up physically with the power hitters, she developed a style of her own. It was an improvisational, crafty style that offered up a rare contrast to the status quo and was highly entertaining to watch.

In recent years, though, she had significant challenges staying healthy.

Radwanska’s best result in 2017 was a final at the Sydney event, the week before the Australian Open. But she lost in the second round in Melbourne to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. 

Radwanska
Radwanska on Court Suzanne Lenglen during her 2nd-round win over Alison Van Uytvanck in 2007. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In 2018, she started decently. But after retiring in her first match at a small event in Istanbul to start the clay-court season, she skipped the entire European swing.

She returned at Eastbourne, the week before Wimbledon, and reached the semifinals. But she failed to win a match during the North American hard-court summer and called an end to the season in Seoul in mid-September.

It turns out, she also called an end to her career.

Sister Urszula still hanging in

Agnieszka Radwanska was the No. 1 junior in the world in late June, 2006.

Notably, she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the French Open junior final, and teamed up with Caroline Wozniacki to reach the junior doubles final. They were beaten by Pavlychenkova and Canadian Sharon Fichman.

She won the Wimbledon juniors in 2005, beating Tamira Paszek in the final.

He sister Urszula, 21 months younger, reached No. 1 in the juniors a little over a year later.

Urszula (Ula to Agnieszka’s Aga) won the junior singles and doubles at Wimbledon in 2006, She also won the US Open junior doubles and reached the singles final.

With sisters winning back-to-back Wimbledon junior titles, you’d think tennis was in for a family juggernaut for years to come.

But it didn’t work out that way.

Radwanska
The kinesio-tape twins take a break on the practice court at the Rogers Cup.

The younger Radwanska has suffered even more with injuries. She broke into the top 30 back in 2012. But shoulder surgery the following year set her back. She rallied well from that, but has been beset by other physical issues even though, on the surface, she was sturdier than her sister.

Urszula Radwanska was in the top 100 at some point during every season between 2009 and 2016. But an injury always seemed to come around and cost her a few months. She has played a reasonably full schedule since Aug. 2017, and has managed to raise her ranking some 400 spots from No. 722, where it stood after the 2017 US Open.

Still just 27, she’s currently at No. 329.

Safarova announces she’ll retire in Oz

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.

Safarova

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.

Team Bucie has won the Australian Open twice – in 2015 and 2017. Can they win it one final time in 2019>

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.

Hometown finale for Marco Chiudinelli

Marco Chiudinelli’s career never panned out the way most thought it would, the biggest reason being chronic knee issues.

And still, he persevered. He turned 36 last month.

On Monday night in Basel – a prime night-session match – Chiudinelli said goodbye after a 6-2, 7-6 loss to Robin Haase of the Netherlands.

In a way, it would have been something special had he drawn his lifelong friend Roger Federer in this final singles match.

But the draw gods weren’t kind enough on this night.

Federer was in the crowd with wife Mirka, and looked pretty emotional. The two are a month apart in age. Along with them was another Swiss player of their vintage, Michael Lammer, who retired two years ago at age 33 and was Chiudinelli’s doubles partner for most of his junior career.

Solid player, never a star

It’s always amazing to process how random tennis stardom is. To have two young players from the city of Basel, population (then and now) less than 170,000, make the big time on the ATP Tour is against all odds.

In Chiudinelli’s case, even longer odds.

He played just half a dozen junior events above a Grade 2, and never made the main draw of a junior Slam.

And yet, he reached a career high in singles of No. 52 in 2010. But it’s been a rough go, health-wise, since then. The wraps on his knees seem surgically glued on.

Chiudinelli won one title, in doubles, on the ATP Tour, in Gstaad with Lammer in 2009. And he got close to another with Federer. They reached the Halle final in 2014 – only to lose 12-10 in the match tiebreak. It was one of only three times they played doubles together in their careers, which is kind of surprising.

That Gstaad event was the Swiss class of 1981-82’s reunion back in 2009.

Chiudinelli

You would think Federer might have played doubles with him in his career finale in their town. But it wasn’t to be. Chiudinelli did get a wild card with another Swiss player, Luca Margeroli and will play his first round Wednesday.

Despite his fairly ordinary career, Chiudinelli has always been a popular player in Switzerland.

And you can only imagine how much patience he has had to have the last 15 years or so.

How many people sucked up to him because he was one of Federer’s nearest and dearest friends? How many people tried to get to Federer through him?

He seemed to handle it all with very good grace.

Canadian Philip Bester to retire

The arc of Canadian Philip Bester’s career is not an unusual one. 

But we don’t hear the stories of the players who don’t make it big nearly as often as we do those of the rare ones who do.

Bester, now 28, announced at the Granby Challenger Wednesday night that he is retiring from professional tennis. His last tournament will be the Odlum Brown Van Open in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada in a few weeks.

He lost in the first round of singles to No. 6 seed Yasatuka Uchiyama, 6-4, 6-4 Tuesday. But he’s still alive in the doubles with compatriot Peter Polansky. (Ed: Bester and Polansky gave their opponents a walkover in the quarterfinals Thursday)

As a three-time doubles champion in Granby, and a singles finalist in 2015, Bester wanted to say a few words to the crowd there. The Granby fans have always supported him, even though he’s an English-speaking Canadian from the other side of the country.

bester

“I am at peace with this decision and excited to move forward and pursue the next challenges and opportunities in my life. I would like to thank my family for all the sacrifices and support they have made and given me throughout my career,” he said. “A special thank you …to all the countless people who have stood by my side through thick and thin and believed in me not only as a player but also as a person with their support.”

Bester currently is at No. 456 in singles; his career best ranking was No. 225 two years ago. He has won nine ITF singles titles and played Davis Cup for Canada. 

Much early promise

But there was a time when so much more was expected of the stylish, all-around player with the sweet one-handed backhand.

He was a top-10 junior back in 2006, a kid who trained at the famed Nick Bollettieri Academy. He won a huge number of matches in doubles with countryman Peter Polansky.  

Bester reached the final of the French Open juniors that year, losing to Slovakian lefty Martin Klizan (a staple in the top-50 on the ATP Tour for many years).

Canadian tennis fans have been spoiled in recent years with the exploits of Denis Shapovalov, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Genie Bouchard and Filip Peliwo in the juniors. But Bester was the first to reach a Grand Slam junior final.

At 16, he reached the doubles final of this same Granby Challenger paired with fellow Canadian Frank Dancevic. At 17, he was already playing Davis Cup.

Bester was signed up by IMG. And he got a lot of perks from that, including some wild cards into their events – as many of the young players signed by that agency do. That included wild cards into the qualifying at the Miami Open when he was 17 and 18. He got wild cards into the main draw of the Rogers Cup three straight years.

But after those heady moments, came the reality. Out in the pros, everyone is good. And once you hit 22 or 23, suddenly the agencies and your national federation stop being as bullish on your prospects. It’s a fairly arbitrary cutoff; the peak age for male tennis players is now much later than that, and there are plenty of late-career feel-good stories out there. But it’s a tough business.

Without that backing, that funding, it’s hard to travel and complete. It’s hard to get better. It’s impossible to make a living. And then, for Bester, the injuries hit. 

Knee, Achilles tendinopathy, you name it. The hip surgery (a torn labrum) cost him more than a year. And so many years in the soul-crushing world of the Futures wear on your psyche.

But Bester kept fighting. There were times over the last few years when he was playing cash tournaments just to keep going. He even played the Ojai tournament this spring in California. 

In the end, he never won a main-draw match at the ATP Tour level during his career. And he only made it to the Grand Slam level – in the qualifying – on two occasions: in Australia in 2011, and at the US Open in 2015. His career high in doubles was No. 140.

Another tennis foot soldier

Bester is in good company in not being able to translate early promise into a long, successful career at the ATP Tour level. He’s in the majority there; the ones who get to the top are the exceptions.

It’s a little ironic that his longtime junior doubles partner Polansky, who was also a standout junior and has faced injury issues and struggles of his own, has never played better.

Polansky, four months older, is at a career-high No. 118 in the singles rankings this week. He’s not a better player; he just ended up on the good side of some of the breaks along the way.

None of this means that Bester hasn’t had a successful career. When you win titles – at any level – and represent your country, you’ve done a lot more than most people dream of.

And he, like many others, should get extra credit for hanging in there, and continuing to work hard and chase the dream, even as that dream got further and further away.

bester