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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Nov 3, 2010

11/3/2010 1:00:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Archive |

I’m all over Twitter, and I’ve got a stupid comment about everything. But for a full day I was speechless.  Elena Dementieva had retired, and while everyone was wishing her the best, spouting off her achievements and joining hands in never-ending Kumbaya, all I could post was a single photo of Elena hugging her mother.  I felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I process this?  And then, awash in memories of Elena’s best moments and my own interactions with her, it hit me. This was a death.  Retiring to sad pathetic people like me whose lives not only revolve around tennis but are completely constructed out of it, a player saying good-bye to the court is saying good-bye to this earth.  If you don’t do it right (say, appearing on screen after a commercial break holding a stupid crystal trophy, saying a few words then hurling yourself out the double doors like a stuntwoman), it can scar fans for life.

And so, players, to avoid traumatizing us with your exit stage left, I offer you this handy TENNIS PLAYER’S GUIDE TO RETIRING.

A picture says a thousand words

Step 1: Decide to retire.

Before you can ruin us with your retirement, you yourself have to pull the trigger in your own mind.  It seems simple, but you’re terrified.  You’ve spent your life whacking the ball, and now you have to face waking up in the morning and…what?  Decoupaging? So you go back and forth about it, which is completely understandable.  Less understandable, some players’ insistence on dragging us along for the ride. Lindsay Davenport and Amelie Mauresmo spent what felt like years (strike that, it was in fact years) publicly waffling.  Having a beloved nana on life support seems like it could be a party – is she going to live or die today? Place your bets! – but it is in fact torture. Mercy.

Step 2: Announce a date.

Be veeerrrrrry careful. Picking a date too early and you risk seriously wearing out your welcome. Marat Safin’s Farewell Tour made even Cher say dayum, and by the end even Marat wanted to shoot himself in the face.  Announce it after the fact and you miss out on the love completely. Monica Seles snuck out into the darkness like a sketchy one night stand.  We (and she) deserved better.  Whatever you do, for God’s sake announce something.  Not that waiting on fan faves Mary Pierce, Tatiana Golovin and Jennifer Capriati isn’t a treat. Meanwhile, Amy Frazier? Anyone..?

Step 3: Pick a place.

Do you retire at the end of the year? At your home tournament? Or at an event you achieved your greatest success at? Like real estate or a good kick serve, it’s all about location location location. You want TEARS. You also want video. Fans need something to sob over again and again.

Step 4: Beat someone good.

For most players, your last match is going to be a loss.  We can’t all be Pete Sampras or Martina Navratilova. So try to win something cool before you check out. Whether it’s a nifty title like Mauresmo’s conquest of Paris or a scorcher of a match like Elena d. Stosur in Doha, reminding people why you’re so awesome leaves everyone with a lovely parting gift.

Step 5: Clean up unfinished business.

Now would be a great time to fight that positive cocaine test!

Step 6: Prepare a speech.

For the love of Bjorn, have some words prepared. No one says you need to hire speechwriters (if Andre’s US Open speech was off the cuff, I’m hiring him to do my eulogy), but some thoughtful words of emotion work brilliantly to score cheap points. Bonus points: mention how you couldn’t possibly imagine a life outside of tennis and so you’re going to either coach, commentate or run a tournament. These can be boldfaced lies, all we want to hear is that you’re not going far.

Step 7: Don’t give any media interviews.

This applies only to Christophe Rochus, who last week spewed accusations about rampant doping in tennis and the only name he gave was Justine Henin’s while speculating pointedly about her abrupt retirement in ’08. Thanks to Christophe for the equivalent of passing gas just before hopping out of the car and closing the door with us still inside.

Step 8: Retire.

Make sure other players are there to witness. Like any funeral, the better the guest list, the more impressive the exit. And if you can make the tough nuts crack (that’s right, Stosur, cry! Cry!), Game set, match and career, You.

Follow these simple steps and you can be the GOAT of retirers, leaving the game with class and style, and without guilt that you’ve permanently wrecked the lives of the people who love you.

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Okay who am I kidding. No matter how Elena retired, it was going to suck. I couldn’t say good-bye properly on the ole twitter, but I will now.  Elena, while people say they’ll remember you most for what a wonderful person you were day in and day out, that’s crap. That’s just code for “I can’t possibly remember you for that Grand Slam you won so I’ll throw you Miss Congeniality instead.” Of course you were a great girl throughout, but first and foremost you were a jock, and you rocked the religion out of that ball like few others. And, in the end, no matter win or lose, you shook your opponent’s hand with a smile. Unlike some players who pull the ripcord, I’ll take comfort in the 100% belief that you will have a wonderful life. Or at least I’ll try.


Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.