Friday 10 to 1: comebacks from retirement
The tennis world has been abuzz with news of Martina Hingis’s comeback to tennis; today, we take a look at the top 10 most notable comebacks following retirements.
The tennis world has been abuzz with the news of Martina Hingis’s comeback to tennis, with the Swiss Miss playing her first competitive match in six years in doubles at the WTA Southern California Open.
Hingis is not the first player to retire, only to miss the adrenaline of competition and return for a second stint. It’s been an increasingly regular phenomenon, particularly on the women’s side. Some of these comebacks have been outrageously successful. Some have been less so.
This Friday, we take a look at the top 10 most notable comebacks – from worst to best – following retirements.
After dominating tennis from the mid seventies up until 1980, Bjorn Borg’s motivation and confidence was shattered by arch-rival John McEnroe, who defeated him in the 1981 Wimbledon and US Open finals and took over his No.1 ranking. Winning just two more matches, Borg abruptly retired in early 1983 aged 26. Almost 10 years later, he was back. But it was not the same Swede who won 11 major titles among his 62 tournament victories – he went 0-13 throughout 1991-1993, barely winning a set.
The once “King of Clay” retired in May 1999 after losing in the first round of the French Open, having won there in 1995 – his only major title – and after reaching No.1 in 1996. He reportedly tipped the scales at almost 100kg in his time away before undergoing a punishing fitness regime in preparation for his return to tennis a staggering 11 years later aged 42. His age showed; in 27 matches throughout 2010 and 2011 – primarily on the Challenger circuit – he won just two, and never rose above No.847 in the rankings.
One of the sports’ first true teen prodigies, Tracy Austin won the US Open in 1979 and 1981 – the first of those coming when she was just 16 years old – and became world No.1 at 17 years of age. Yet suffering recurring back injuries, Austin was forced into an early retirement in February 1984. She made two comeback attempts; the first was in 1988, where she played a sparse schedule of singles and doubles before suffering a serious car accident in 1989. She returned again in 1993, and enjoyed only a small handful of victories before retiring for good just prior to 1994 Wimbledon.
Molik was cruelly felled just when she was hitting her straps; surging into the top 10 after a sizzling six months from 2004 to 2005, she developed a debilitating inner-ear infection that year that stalled her progress. In September 2008, she’d had enough, unable to regain her momentum once recovered and struggling increasingly with injury. Yet Molik returned, finally free of ailments, in August 2009, and climbed back into the top 100 shortly after reaching the fourth round at Indian Wells in 2010. She retired for good after playing Hobart (video) and the Australian Open in 2011.
The Japanese player peaked at world No.4 in 1995 before retiring in late 1996 aged just 26, apparently not enjoying the pressure and constant travel of life on tour. Yet 12 years later, she made an unexpected and astonishing comeback in 2008, starting on the ITF Tour. And there have been plenty of highlights since – she won the WTA title in Seoul in 2009, defeated No.9 seed Dinara Safina in the first round at Roland Garros in 2010 (the oldest woman ever to beat a top 10 player) and returned to the top 50 later that year. Almost 43, she’s still competing on the WTA Tour, and in 2013 reached the third round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon.
After an incredible season in 2007, Henin was burnt out and abruptly retired a few weeks out from the 2008 French Open, becoming the first player ever to walk away from the game ranked No.1. But after 19 months away, the competitive fire had returned. She experienced immediate success once back, reaching the 2010 Brisbane International and Australian Open finals – epics against rivals Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams – and winning titles in Stuttgart and s’Hertogenbosch. Yet she fell against Clijsters in the fourth round at Wimbledon, damaging her elbow and sitting out the rest of the season (finishing 2010 ranked No.12). She returned briefly in Australia in 2011, but after losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the third round at Melbourne Park, retired permanently.
The great Navratilova left the sport in 1996 – she’d retired from singles in 1994 – with some staggering statistics and records. But ever competitive and supremely fit, she returned to competition in 2000 aged 43 and enjoyed remarkable doubles success, winning the 2003 Australian and Wimbledon mixed titles with Leander Paes and reaching the 2003 US Open women’s doubles final with Kuznetsova. At Wimbledon 2004 she became the oldest woman in the Open era (at 47 years, eight months) to win a singles match, beating Catalina Castano in the first round. In a fitting finale, she captured the mixed doubles title at the 2006 US Open with Bob Bryan, just a month shy of turning 50.
The Swiss Miss was forced off tour in late 2002 due to ankle injuries, but a contributing factor was the rise of the power players and Hingis’ increasing struggle to hang with them. But with unfinished business, she made a full-time return to tennis in 2006; she reached the Australian and French Open quarterfinals, won the prestigious Rome title, was a finalist at big events in Tokyo and Montreal, notched five top 10 wins and peaked at world No.6, qualifying for the 2006 WTA Championships. A win in Tokyo in February 2007 added another big title to her CV, before a two-year suspension for a positive cocaine test forced her into a second retirement in late 2007. She ended that six years later by returning this week to play doubles with Daniela Hantuchova in Carlsbad; the pair won their first match on Wednesday.
The Australian legend was the great exponent of the successful comeback following retirement – she did so on four separate occasions. In 1966 she temporarily retired after Wimbledon and married Barry Court in 1967 before returning to tennis in 1968. By 1970, she’d captured a remarkable calendar year Grand Slam. She left tennis again after Wimbledon in 1971 – pregnant with her first child – yet by late 1972 she was back, and in 1973 she won every major title except Wimbledon. Another hiatus ensued when she was pregnant with her second child; she came back in 1975 and captured the US Open title later that year. She returned again in 1977 after the birth of her third child, yet retired permanently when she became pregnant with a fourth.
Keen on starting a family, Clijsters walked away from tennis in May 2007 while still ranked in the top 5 and aged just 23. But featuring in the Wimbledon Roof test exhibition event showed she could still play some decent tennis. A couple of months later – just three tournaments into her WTA comeback – she proved that in the most resounding way possible at the 2009 US Open. There, she beat both Venus and Serena Williams en route to the final, where she bested Caroline Wozniacki, becoming the first Grand Slam champion as a mother in almost 30 years. Clijsters would go on to win the US Open again in 2010 and Australian Open 2011, and rose to World No.1 in February 2011. It’s arguably the most stunning tennis comeback in history.
> view Clijsters v Wozniacki highlights