BEST OF 2013
Player Farewells In 2013 - Part Two
by Josh Meiseles|
There were a number of players who retired from professional tennis in 2013. In Part Two, we continue to look back on their career highlights, listed below according to their career-high position in the Emirates ATP Rankings.
No. 4 – James Blake (Retired: 29 August)
When James Blake retired from professional tennis during the US Open, one of the more genuine and affable human beings, both on and off the court, called it a career. Employing a forehand as big as his heart and determination to succeed, the American was a 24-time finalist over a span of 13 years on the ATP World Tour. Bolstered by a strong baseline game, Blake took home 10 trophies, finished in the year-end Top 10 twicine and amassed a 366-256 record.
Two seasons removed from suffering a broken neck while practising in Rome and losing his father to gastric cancer, Blake enjoyed a magical career year in 2006. The Yonkers native reached eight finals, including his first at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level, in Indian Wells, as well as at the Tennis Masters Cup, in what would be his lone appearance at the year-end championships. He would ascend to a career-high No. 4 in the world and could have risen even higher had it not been for one of his biggest rivals, Roger Federer. In what would simply go down as a bad run of fate, Blake encountered Federer in both finals at Indian Wells and the season finale in Shanghai as well as in the US Open quarter-finals. A year later, Blake would advance to his second Masters 1000 final, in Cincinnati, where he would fall to Federer once again. “He was the only guy who I felt like I have played well against - and still lost,” Blake said of Federer.
As the Pete Sampras/Andre Agassi era of American tennis came to a close, Blake helped carry the torch for the U.S. alongside friend Andy Roddick and proved to be an instrumental member of the 2007 Davis Cup clinching squad. A seven-time doubles champion as well, he reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2009, with countryman Mardy Fish.
Amid a rather tumultuous career, Blake’s pulsating energy and passion for the game never wavered and his philanthropic endeavors have showed no bounds. To date, the James Blake Foundation has raised over $3 million for cancer research.
“You know, despite the tears, I'm actually really happy about this,” Blake said in his retirement press conference. “I can do it on my own terms. Always wanted to do that. I thought about it a tonne this year. The competition is something I will miss. I will miss pressure packed moments, break points, set points, match points, crowd getting into it. But I'm so fortunate to have a life after this that I'm looking forward to with my wife, with my family.”
Watch Blake Tribute
No. 18 – Igor Andreev (Retired: 18 September)
Very few players have boasted a victory over Rafael Nadal on clay, especially on the Spaniard’s home soil. One of those men was Igor Andreev, who hung up his racquet after just 11 years on the ATP World Tour, accumulating 237 match wins and three titles in that span. The 30-year-old Russian collected his win over Nadal in Valencia in 2005, when the current indoor hard court tournament was held on clay. The 7-5, 6-2 quarter-final victory was followed by a three-set win over David Ferrer in the final, giving Andreev his first of three ATP World Tour titles (Palermo, Moscow) in an impressive 2005 campaign. He became the last player to beat Nadal on the surface before the Mallorca native embarked on his notorious 81-match win streak that spanned three seasons.
Possessing one of the more potent forehands on the ATP World Tour in his prime, Andreev’s stroke was so powerful that it elicited this reaction from Marcos Baghdatis at Roland Garros in 2007: “It’s even more powerful than Nadal’s.” It was at that tournament that the Russian made his deepest Grand Slam run, toppling three former Top 10 talents, including third-seed Andy Roddick in the first round and Baghdatis in the Round of 16, to advance to his lone major quarter-final.
Andreev’s career faced a downward trend, however, since vaulting to a career high World No. 18 a year later. Hampered by a multitude of injuries, including knee and shoulder troubles, he would push Roger Federer to five sets in the fourth round of the 2008 US Open, but struggled to maintain a consistent presence on the ATP World Tour since. The 2007 ATP Comeback Player of the Year made the announcement of his retirement in September, having competed in just one tour-level match this year. “This is my last year due to various factors and circumstances,” Andreev told Russian TV. “During the last few years there have been a lot of injuries, which played a decisive role. But life goes on and I want to stay in the sport.”
No. 35 – Igor Kunitsyn (Retired: 22 August)
A month before Andreev bade farewell, compatriot Igor Kunitsyn took his final bow during US Open qualifying. Kunitsyn is perhaps best known for his upset of former World No. 1 and countryman Marat Safin in the final of the 2008 Kremlin Cup. Ranked No. 71 in the world at the time, the 7-6(6), 6-7(4), 6-3 victory gave him his lone title on the ATP World Tour. A doubles semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2008, the 32 year old was also an eight-time champion on the ATP Challenger Tour. Kunitsyn is an active member of the Russian tennis community and desires to continue working closely with the Federation in the near future.
No. 67 – Ivan Navarro (Retired: 3 April)
A relentless serve-and-volley artist on the court, Ivan Navarro peaked at No. 67 in the world in 2009. A five-time champion on the ATP Challenger Tour, Navarro broke into the Top 100 at the age of 25 after winning his first Grand Slam match, at Roland Garros in 2007. His most memorable match came on an electric Grandstand court at the 2009 US Open, when, after upsetting No. 27 seed Ivo Karlovic in the first round, the Spaniard pushed wild card Taylor Dent to a fifth set tie-break, falling 11-9.
Doubles No. 10 – Dick Norman (Retired: 17 June)
No one epitomised perseverance and longevity quite like Dick Norman. A career that spanned a remarkable 22 years, the Belgian supplanted Andre Agassi as the oldest player on the ATP World Tour when the American retired in 2006. In 2009, at the age of 38, Norman became the oldest player to reach a Roland Garros final in the Open Era when he contested the doubles title match alongside Wesley Moodie. At the time, he was just the fifth player over 37 to compete in a men’s doubles Grand Slam final. A year later he would rise to a career-high Emirates ATP Doubles Ranking of 10, qualifying for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals with Moodie.
Norman enjoyed considerable success on the singles court as well, posting a 13-11 record in ATP Challenger Tour finals and winning more than 260 matches on the circuit. The 42 year old ascended to No. 85 in the world in 2006, a decade after reaching the Wimbledon fourth round as a lucky loser. Norman dropped just one set en route to the Round of 16, collecting upsets of former champions Pat Cash and Stefan Edberg, as well as doubles legend Todd Woodbridge, before falling to third-seed Boris Becker.
“My career was divided into three parts,” Norman reflected after falling in his last match, in the doubles first round of the Topshelf Open. “In 1998 I retired for a couple of years and came back in 2000. When I came back I played well in singles and then in my third career, during the past few years, I focused on doubles and enjoyed that a lot too.
“I won’t give up tennis because it’s my passion and I want to share it with people. I’m organising tennis holidays and doubles clinics for people who want to improve their doubles game.”