I was prepared for a mass exodus in 2012. Kim Clijsters. Andy Roddick. Juan Carlos Ferrero. All legends that bid the sport we love adieu in 2012. However, while I was expecting the most recent announcement, I still can’t say I was prepared for it.
I would like to share with you that I have come to an important life-decision. I am retiring from professional tennis. This was not an easy decision, despite the fact that it has been on my mind for quite some time…I gave tennis my total devotion. With all my energy and my love I achieved things I never believed possible. Along the long road, there were many great moments and some which were not so great. Today I am proud to say that I enjoyed my career so very much. All of my titles in singles and doubles will forever hold a very special place in my heart….
Dulko first made a name for herself amongst tennis fans in 2004, when she defeated the then-47-year-old Martina Navratilova in back-to-back Grand Slams. Navratilova was looking to become the oldest player to ever win a singles match at a Grand Slam at Roland Garros that year, but was soundly defeated by the then 19-year-old Dulko in the opening round, 6-1, 6-3. It was her first Grand Slam main draw win. Navratilova said after the match that she would love to play Dulko on grass. She got her wish a few weeks later, as the two faced off in the second round of Wimbledon. Dulko triumphed again, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
As for me, I got to know Gisela Dulko on an early Wednesday morning in June 2009. It was the third day of the 2009 Wimbledon Championships, and she was set to take on Maria Sharapova in the second round. Sharapova was the 24th seed in the Championships that year, having been bumped up by the Wimbledon seeding committee on her return from shoulder surgery.
While the tennis was not always pretty, I was struck by Dulko’s fight and her forehand. Over the years, Dulko’s extreme western-grip forehand became one of my favorite shots in tennis. Standing at 5’7″ (I still think that’s very generous) and a slight 123 pounds, Dulko’s ability the crack forehands with the best captivated me from that point on, for the better part of three seasons. She can show you better than I can tell you.
Dulko beat Sharapova on that June morning, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. I appreciated her tennis during the match and her personality following it. Below is an interview with Bill Macatee and Martina Navratilova for Tennis Channel.
(There are even some highlights from Gisela’s match with Navratilova at Wimbledon 2004!)
Underrated as a singles player, Dulko was well-known for these early upset wins over star players in slams; in fact, they became her specialty. In addition to the wins against Navratilova and Sharapova, Dulko recorded wins over Justine Henin, Lindsay Davenport, Mary Pierce, Svetlana Kuznetsova,Victoria Azarenka, Samantha Stosur and Ana Ivanovic. She reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam three times (2006 French Open, 2009 US Open, 2011 French Open) and reached the third round seven times. For a player whose career high ranking in singles was No. 26 back in 2005, she tended to outperform her singles ranking in big events.
Even in matches she lost, Dulko was consistently praised for her artistry. My personal favorite is this match against Serena Williams at the Australian Open in 2009. With such a huge backswing, her ability to hit as many forehand winners as she did here with relatively few errors speaks to her natural timing. There’s a reason why this highlights video is dominated by the second set; I’d call it one of the highest quality straight-sets matches I’ve witnessed.
While some would consider Dulko’s success in singles modest, it was her doubles prowess that made her a household name among tennis fans; Dulko finished her career with 17 doubles titles. And where there was a Dulko, a Flavia Pennetta was not far behind. In the cutthroat world of professional tennis, where players are pit against their peers week in and week out, it’s difficult to foster long lasting friendships. For the record, Dulko carried a 4-2 head-to-head advantage in singles against her best friend.
“A very special thanks to Flavia Pennetta. Together we became number one in the world in doubles, won a Grand Slam and a Championships title. The most beautiful memory I carry of Flavia, however, is our friendship.”
Together, they were the No. 1 doubles team in the world for a good portion of 2010 and 2011, and Dulko ended 2010 as the No. 1 doubles player in the world. 2010 was a career year for the pair, as they won seven titles, including the WTA Championships. Their doubles run was capped off with the Grand Slam title that had previously eluded them both. The top-seeded Dulko & Pennetta, affectionately referred to by their fans by the portmanteau Dulketta, defeated Maria Kirilenko and Victoria Azarenka, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 to win the 2011 Australian Open.
Dulko married professional football player and fellow Argentine Fernando Gago in July of 2011. A beloved player amongst her peers, Dulko’s retirement announcement elicited many responses from other WTA players on twitter.
As for me, well, all I can say is…thanks, Gise. You proved that power isn’t the only way to success in modern tennis — great timing, a little flair, a lot of creativity and a lot of heart go a long way. Thanks for everything.
Okay, except maybe *these* outfits.
(And yes, that’s Maria Sharapova. They played doubles in 2002.)