Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Lucie Safarova retires, and tennis will be a little less delightful for it

Lucie Safarova--former stalwart of the mighty Czech Fed Cup team, former French Open finalist, and elite doubles competitor--was supposed to retire from professional tennis after the Australian Open. Unfortunately, tendonitis in her wrist forced the Czech veteran to withdraw from the season's first major, and so she wrapped up her career by playing in one last Fed Cup tie, then competing in Prague, where she was given a lovely send-off.

She still wasn’t quite finished, though, but neither was her bad luck. Safarova entered the 2019 French Open in doubles, but her long-time doubles partner, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, had to withdraw. Safarova teamed with Dominika Cibulkova, and they lost in the first round, ending the Czech’s celebrated career.

Safarova, whose laidback “Coffee with Lucie” persona made her a fan favorite, was at her best when she took her lefty game to the clay courts. She reached her first major semifinal, however, at Wimbledon in 2014. She was defeated in that match by eventual champion and countrywoman Petra Kvitova.

The next year, Safarova reached the final of the French Open. On her way, she took out notable clay player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, two-time French Open champion Maria Sharapova, Garbine Muguruza (who would win the event in 2016), and 2008 French Open champion Ana Ivanovic. Safarova then lost to Serena Williams in the three-set final.

Also in 2015, the Czech star entered the singles top 5 for the first time in her career. Unfortunately—just as her singles career was peaking—Safarova contracted a serious bacterial infection which kept her off the court for a long time. Even more unfortunate, Safarova developed reactive arthritis as a result of having the infection. Her illness and its complications kept her out of the 2016 Australian season.

As notable a singles player as Safarova was, she was a superstar in doubles. During a period between 2015 and 2017, she and Bethanie Mattek-Sands won five majors—two Australian Opens, two French Opens and one U.S. Open.

Safarova won seven singles titles and 15 doubles titles. She was a stand-out member of the six-time champion Czech Fed Cup team for a total of 13 years, and she was on the Czech Olympic team in 2008, 2012 and 2016. In 2016, she and Barbora Strycova won an Olympic bronze medal in doubles.

Safarova’s 17-year career would probably have gone on were it not for health and injury concerns. It was, nevertheless, a long and very fruitful career. Both Safarova and her friend and doubles partner, Mattek-Sands, have struggled mightily with physical setbacks, yet they still managed to win five majors and six other titles.

Safarova made her mark not only as a dangerous lefty and an elite doubles champion, but also as a personable and good-humored sportswoman. The chemistry between her and Mattek-Sands made them an especially dynamic team, and fans will miss them. I imagine just about everyone will miss Lucie, who leaves behind a legacy of hard work, impressive results, and graceful strength.

1 comment:

colt13 said...

Agreed. A shining light that will be missed.