Then it ends… there is no more.
Sporting retirement brings down the curtain on a glorious life you worked so hard to achieve and will never have again.
The consequences of the ‘R’ word are rarely comprehended by athletes until the moment it hits them and more often than not, the impact is devastating.
Retirement for those who have achieved most in their chosen field is even more traumatic than it might be for the majority who failed to reach the pinnacle of their sports, but the emotions collapse that rushes towards athletes on the day that final ball is kicked, the final serve is delivered or last jump is made is as terrifying as it is dangerous.
The walls that have taken a lifetime to build are pulled down overnight when a short statement is released to the public, with the shattered dream left behind impossible to replace.
The tennis bubble is especially hard to escape from, as the travelling global tour is a lifestyle and a profession rolled into one and for those who enjoy an extended career and for tennis legend Andre Agassi, the end of his career was a challenge he needed to overcome.
Here, Agassi looks back at his emotions as his tennis journey ended with a record that saw him win all four of the Grand Slam titles, reach No.1 in the world and carve out a unique place in the annuls of tennis history:
“The scoreboard says I lost today but what it doesn’t say is what it is I have found.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 3, 2019
When you retire, your entire way of life comes to an end. It’s a kind of death, but you wake up the next day and you have to work out how to live again.
Everything you have had all your life has gone and at that moment, you ask yourself; what happens now.
You just have to go through it and figure it out.
I had a love-hate relationship with tennis. When I said in my autobiography that I hated the sport, that was true at times in my career, but then I loved it as well. It was like a thing you couldn’t live with and then couldn’t bare to be without. That’s how I saw the sport.
Retirement was interesting. Yeah, I guess that’s a word for it.
In many ways I felt relief because I was playing with pain and the joy had gone long before and maybe I should have gone earlier, but it is hard to walk away.
I feel a lot better about tennis now than I did back when I said in my book I hated the sport. My career was an evolution to get my own way and see tennis for what it was. It came at a huge cost until I was able to have some context and I feel like I have that.
Right now, I’d say I’d grateful for what tennis gave me. It allowed me to meet my amazing wife (Steffi Graf), have an incredible family and it has given us a platform to start our school programme in America.
I feel like I am a little older than my body because of the wear and tear. I’m limited to what I can do at times and my back is probably my biggest problem.
Two legends over two days 👏
In 2004, world No. 1 @rogerfederer met two-time US Open champion Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals. The result? Epic.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) May 10, 2020
The way I see it, you give up one-third of your life to prepare for the final two thirds and now I am trying to make the most of this period. This sport gave me a lot and it took a lot from me as well and I can look back on it now with a little more clarity than I could do when my career was ongoing.
Tennis brought so many emotions for me. I see what it meant to me, what it gives others, the opportunities he creates for young kids to make a great life for themselves, but I also realise what I put myself through on and off the court.
Could I sit in the stands, look around and take it all in as a positive? Of course I could. Then I might also look around the Centre Court at Wimbledon and think, wow, I’m so glad I never have to put myself through this again.
What I put myself though is one thing, but the rewards it has brought my children and those who benefit from the work my foundation does is more important than the eight Grand Slam wins, the Olympic medals or anything else.
I look back now and feel grateful for so many things. Tennis took things from me, but it also gave me so much and it is still giving me a chance to do that now through my foundation.
Extracts of this interview first appeared on Tennis365.com.