Monday, February 21, 2011

Goodbye to Super Mario

Mario Ancic is living proof that not every tennis player's story is a fairy tale.

He was a world #1 junior. He made the boys' finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2000, losing to Andy Roddick and the marvellous Nicolas Mahut respectively. He was Croatia's heir to Goran Ivanisevic, and like Ivanisevic, it seemed that he had a destiny.

He beat Roger Federer at Wimbledon in his first ever Grand Slam match, and I bet there's a few guys out there that will tell you that that is something which is a bit hard to do. He won a Challenger in Hamburg in 2003, which seems like a little thing... until you realise that the other finalist was some dude called Rafael Nadal. He made the Wimbledon semis in 2004. He won a bronze medal in doubles with Ivan Ljubicic at the Athens Olympics.

And that's not even his career years yet. His career high ranking was #7, and he deserved it. Mario Ancic was a fantastic player. He won titles at St Petersburg and s'Hertogenbosch (twice). He was so, so close to making the Masters Cup a couple of times. He was basically made of pure awesome and the train did not seem like it was about to stop.

But then came the monster that every tennis player fears. Injury. Illness.

Glandular fever. Broken bones. An ongoing back complaint. The mind was willing but the flesh was weak. Though weak is not the right word for it - Ancic forced his way back up to about #24 in the rankings for a while there. But he was never the same again.

Yesterday, Mario Ancic announced his retirement from professional tennis. At the age of 26, he is walking away from the sport. His body can no longer take it. The monsters won in this fairy tale. In terms of tennis, there is no happy ending here.

This does not mean that a) Ancic cannot be proud of his achievements, because he did really, really well in his time on tour, and b) that there are not bright things ahead for Ancic. From 2002-2008, Ancic was studying law as well as playing tennis, and he submitted his thesis on the legal underpinnings of the tour in 2008. He's probably one of the foremost experts in the world now on tennis and law, and I think that there is definitely a very, very excellent future for Ancic there. He might be done with playing the sport, but tennis and Ancic will continued to be linked for some time yet.

It's still really sad, though. It makes you realise that injury and illness can happen to any player out there - even the bright young things who seem to have all their career still ahead of them. We might not have seen much of him for the last few years, but we're still going to miss Mario Ancic. He was a big player with a big game and a big heart, and people like him will always, always be missed.

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