dedication

Anne Keothavong Calls it a Career

Anne Keothavong, who spent a sizable portion of her career as Great Britain’s No. 1 tennis player, announced her decision to retire from professional tennis on Wednesday. In a career that spanned 12 years, the 29-year-old Keothavong won 20 titles on the ITF circuit and reached seven WTA semifinals; in fact, she was the only British player to reach a WTA semifinal in the 20-year period from 1992 to 2012.

“I have given my decision a lot of thought and I believe this is the right time to move on to the next stage of my career,” she said. “I have had some magical moments along the way. I think I am leaving tennis in excellent shape with both Laura Robson and Heather Watson leading the way for Britain in the women’s game.”

In her most successful period, Keothavong made her top 100 debut in May 2008 and arrived in the top 50 in February 2009 at a career-high of No. 48; at that point, she was the first British woman to be ranked in the top 50 in 16 years. During that time, she reached the third round of the US Open in 2008 and recorded three of her career semifinals in 2009.

Unfortunately, numerous injuries halted the progress of her career, and the worst of these came as Keothavong was having that career year in 2009. At the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Keothavong ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her left knee during a doubles match. She had previously suffered a similar injury early in her career in 2004. Keothavong was unable to play another match that year, and her ranking slipped to the lower rung of the top 100.

Keothavong’s career was defined by her incredible tenacity and determination, both on the court and off it. Despite a litany of injuries including not one, but two knee surgeries, she bounced back each time. In her return to the main tour following her knee surgery in 2010, Keothavong reached the semifinals in Memphis by defeating Kristina Barrios, Michelle Larcher de Brito and Karolina Sprem in straight sets; she fell in three sets to eventual runner-up Sofia Arvidsson in the semifinals. Later that year, she reached her second semifinal in Luxembourg on the back of a protected ranking.

Backed by her big serve an forehand, Keothavong played in the main draw at Wimbledon for 13 consecutive years. Unbeknownst to spectators at the time, Keothavong’s last career match came at Wimbledon this year in a first round loss to Garbiñe Muguruza. Nonetheless, it seemed somewhat fitting that Great Britain’s most successful player of the past two decades got to close out her career at home on Centre Court.

Keothavong and Elena Baltacha, who flew the Union Jack on the WTA for the better part of a decade, have left an impression on British women’s tennis that far outshines their results. The pair help bridge the generational gap from Jo Durie and Sam Smith to Heather Watson and Laura Robson.While neither were praised as natural or fluid ball-strikers in the vein that Robson has been, the pair maximized their talents through hard work. In addition, both showed incredible dedication to playing for their country; Keothavong played 14 ties for Great Britain in Fed Cup, contesting 44 total matches.

In retirement, Keothavong will join the BT Sport broadcast team that will cover 21 WTA events, including the WTA Championships.

Love in Tennis

In life, ‘love’ envelopes all that is good and passionate. In tennis, ‘love’ is on the other side of the spectrum. It’s the equivalent of nothing, nada, rien, nichts. How is it then that an Indo-European word meant to show great belief and affection turns to anger and disgust in the world of tennis?

When we are down love-40 in a game of tennis, it conjures up thought that we are inadequate, and that perhaps we should find a new job, hobby, or general change in the path our life is heading. But what if being down love-40 is exactly what we need in order to breakthrough and perform our best? Every day there are unnecessary things in life that bring us down and draw energy out of us. It’s those times when our character is tested that we see exactly how strong we are. That we are indeed empowered, in control, and the serve is ours for the taking if only we believe.

The next time you are down love-40 in tennis or life, think of it as an advantage to prove your passion and dedication. To a tennis player and spectator, love can turn from anger and disgust into glory and triumph in a matter of seconds. There is no greater reward than to come back from the depths of despair and stand up victorious and joyful.

This column is dedicated to the ‘love’ of tennis: the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s called Romi’s Rants, Raves and Missives.

CORINA MORARIU: RESURRECTION OF THE BRAIN OF A CHICKEN

The following excerpt is taken from the book LIVING THROUGH THE RACKET: How I Survived Leukemia…and Rediscovered My Self by Corina Morariu. It is published by Hay House (February 2010) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com or click here to order it from Amazon.com.

I know my dad always had my best interests at heart. He was never too pushy or too pressuring like many obsessed tennis parents are, but he does have a very forceful, mercurial personality; and memories of my early tennis life are stressful.

On my desk, I have a photo of me as a six-year-old getting ready to play my first tennis tournament. I have the whole getup—skirt, headband, wristbands, racket bag—but when I look at that picture, I see a scared little girl about to throw up from fear. I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat breakfast. I didn’t know how to keep score, I was playing a girl a foot taller than I was, and my dad was breathing down my neck. Despite all that, I acquitted myself pretty well on the court. The more I played, the better I got . . . but for me, tennis was never purely fun.

My dad, of course, saw it from his perspective, not mine, and all the signs showed that I could be a very accomplished player. He wanted to pass on his own character strengths of dedication and discipline, which were obvious in his courageous act of coming to America alone and building a new life, and I certainly inherited those traits. If you ask him today what kind of pupil I was, he’d say, “She was very disciplined on the court, very articulate, and if you told her something she should do, she would do it. She was a kid who tried her best all the time. That’s why she was good.” As he later told me, “I just wanted you to be the best.”

My dad had also introduced my brother to the game, and Mircea excelled at playing in the Juniors and ended up playing at the college level at Brown University. However, by the time I was playing tennis regularly, Dad was more established as a physician and had even more time to dedicate to coaching. “I improved on the first generation,” is how he puts it. He also knew that fierce focus on an individual sport was a good way to keep us out of trouble and away from drugs. It worked. I’ve always stayed away from drugs (that is, if you don’t count chemotherapy).

My dad was intense, and extremely dedicated to my development. He analyzed every match in great detail. Like many parents, only perhaps more forcefully, he never got around to telling me what I did right. Only after I complained bitterly about this did he decide to make two checklists: what I did wrong and what I did right. Still, after all these years, what stuck with me were his pointed and impassioned criticisms, sometimes coming at high volume.

When I was ten—a story my brother and I recount in detail to this day—I was playing a tournament and lost a close, hard-fought match in the third and final set, 6-4. It was an agonizing match, and surely I made some stupid mistakes (I was ten, after all) that contributed to my defeat. As we drove home after the match, I was in the backseat, and my dad was driving. Needless to say, he was unhappy with my performance. He was absolutely livid, screaming at me and banging on the steering wheel at the same time. At the height of his rage, he yelled at me, “You know what? You have the brain of a chicken!”

Straight from this devastating remark, he took me to a local track and made me run until he decided that I could stop. I got home and immediately called my brother, who was then away at college in Rhode Island. I was completely crushed and cried out to Mircea, “Dad just said I have the brain of a chicken!” And my brother broke out laughing. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. I was shouting at him, “I can’t believe you’re laughing!”

“It’s funny!” he managed to say, and he was right. To this day, my brother will randomly text me: “You have the brain of a chicken.” As a matter of fact, he jokingly suggested that I call this book Resurrection of the Brain of a Chicken. The line gets a laugh every time.

My brother figured out by his midteens that he wasn’t going to let our father rule his life—although, ironically, he did in time follow Dad’s lead when it came to a career path. Not only did Mircea end up specializing in neurology like our father, but he also eventually went into practice with him. Still, at age 15, my brother announced that our dad could no longer be involved in his tennis, which really disappointed my father. So when I came along, Dad made up for it by getting completely, almost obsessively, involved in my game. I was the youngest, the baby girl, who was by nature a pleaser. I compulsively tried to become the perfect child. It seemed like the only thing I could control.

Excerpted from Living Through The Racket by Corina Morariu (Hay House, Inc.). Copyright © 2010 by Corina Morariu. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.