Most sportsmen, no matter how great, always tend to stretch their careers. Italian tennis ace Flavia Pennetta is an exception to that rule. At the age of 33, right after having won the US Open, her first Grand Slam, Pennetta shocked the world by announcing retirement.
Mumbai Tennis Masters’ Flavia Pennetta at a city hotel yesterday. Pic/Shadab Khan
In the city as part of the Mumbai Tennis Masters squad for the ongoing Champions Tennis League, the Italian spoke at length about her decision to call it a day at the height of her powers, current boyfriend Fabio Fognini and ex-lover Carlos Moya, who cheated on her, among other things Excerpts:
On her decision to retire:
When I started the 2015 season, I’d made up my mind that it was going to be my last season but my coach and team asked me not to think about it since that would restrict me from giving it everything on court. They asked me to focus on my tennis instead. It was tough for me to not think about it (impending retirement). I took the decision because I felt I don’t want to compete every week, I don’t want to be angry on court every week. And if you don’t do that, you’ve lost your edge. So, why do that? I cannot play one tournament and not play for two weeks.
On reconsidering the retirement call:
Not yet. Maybe it’s because the season is done. People ask me, ‘What do you do now?’ For me, it’s normal to be home, normal to have a holiday as it’s my time off. I always answer saying nothing’s changed for me. Maybe in January, when the season starts, it’ll be different. At the moment, nothing. (laughs)
On attracting attention after winning the US Open:
I didn’t spend a lot of time giving interviews to magazines when I was playing. These were things that weren’t too interesting to me. It’s not like I didn’t like them. I like to try different things, but in our job it’s not easy to find the time. For me, family, friends and my boyfriend are very important. If I have to choose between a photoshoot or family, I’d pick family. If I have two free days, I want to spend those days with people I want. Now that I have more time, I can try different things. Maybe you’ll see me more (in magazines).
On thinking about retirement during the US Open final:
Not really. I wasn’t thinking about that. On the day of the final, I told my coach, ‘whatever happens, win or lose, it’s going to be my last.’ I didn’t feel any pressure at the moment of the final.
On winning a Slam at the end of her career:
Every player wants to win a Grand Slam, but very few can. Winning a Grand Slam was my dream, but it was never something I thought could be a reality. It just came at a time I was not expecting it, and this was the key because when you expect something, it never comes. How did I win a Slam so late? I don’t know. (laughs) Maybe because I deserved it as I’ve been working so hard.
On professional vs personal issues:
I had a love problem (her three-year relationship with former World No 1 Moya ended after he allegedly cheated on her with a TV presenter/model). Everyone has had this problem, no? During this time tennis was really important for me as it was my way of not thinking about him (Moya). But after so many years, I have to say thanks to Carlos for everything because if all of this hadn’t happened, I would have never been where I am — a Grand Slam champion. Everything happens for a reason. Tennis was always the first thing in my life. After everything (split) happened, I told myself ‘I don’t have anything now. Focus on tennis and don’t think too much.’
On the ups and downs in her career:
It was not easy. Tennis is a sport where you play every week and the season is very long. So you cannot pretend to be always 100%. There will be moments where you’re going down for sure. But I always try to give everything on court, to be positive in the way I can. Sometimes I was depressed but you feel that way because you feel alone most of the time. It’s not just about tennis because if you win it’s easy. But when you’re losing, you go back to your room and your family is away, you feel alone. I was always with a good team. That’s important, they’re my coach and my physio, but they’re my friends also. So I was really lucky there. It’s strange in the women’s tour to have the same team for a long time, because women change (their teams) a lot. We try to find the solution to the problem in you. Sometimes the problem is just us. It’s not the racquet, not the ball, not the umpire, just you. Sometimes you have to admit that today I’m not 100%, I’m just at 4% and I have to play with this.
On times when she thought about quitting the sport:
There are so many times. The first time was when I had a typhus virus when I was 18. I realised that it was time to make a big step. I was working hard but I realised I needed more. And I gave myself one year, if I don’t make it to the top 100, I will quit. I did it (she was World No 95 when the season ended). Then in 2003, when I was still really young, I came back from my knee injury and I was not moving well on the court as my knee was still bad. I knew that I had to start again, so I felt that maybe I’ll quit. But somehow I motivated myself and got better and won my first tournament in Sopot (Poland) in 2004. Actually, that week I was supposed to be at the Athens Olympics, but I missed out for one point. I was crying while watching the Games’ Opening Ceremony on TV, but in the same week I won at Sopot.
Then in November 2006, I got operated on my left wrist. 2007 was the worst year as my injuries and love problems came together. I was thinking it was over. But I just found something inside me that I never thought I had. And I started again from nothing. Then in 2012 I thought I’ll quit — again due to injury as I was out for nine months. It was really tough to come back. At the start, I was really happy to be back, but after one month I thought it was much better when I was not playing because I was playing very bad on the court. I was playing with pain everyday — that was the worst part.
On boyfriend Fabio Fognini, a temperamental player:
He’s an unbelievably talented player and I think he’s much more comfortable this year in the way he plays and also mentally. It’s funny because you never know what’s going to happen. You cannot think he’s going to be perfect. He’s not going to be a player who’s not going to say anything on court. If you expect something like that, don’t come to see Fabio. But if you like to see extravagant things on court, then he’s amazing. But off court, he’s completely different. You cannot believe it. He’s quiet and relaxed. He likes to sleep.
On playing in CTL:
I took the decision in March or April. Some players who played last year told me it was fun, so I came. It’s different. Here, we are a group. Normally we’re alone on the court all the time. So to have five people in the chair (next to the court) talking and chatting every time you change over is nice.