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Barbora Strycova looks at life after tennis, Aussie Open anniversary
The former WTA doubles No. 1 is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic to give herself a shot at a farewell season, and has an eye on a making one last Olympic team.
February 02, 2021
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There was a time when Barbora Strycova saw 2020 as a coda to a career that finally felt complete.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about quitting, leaving tennis behind me, and stepping back to focus on different things,” she told TENNIS.com while in strict quarantine in her Melbourne hotel.
The indomitable Czech veteran had spent 18 months ticking off career milestones in rapid succession: qualifying for her first WTA Finals, winning her first Grand Slam title and ascending to world No. 1. Though all of those highs came on the doubles court, she also found time to break through in singles, roaring into her first major semifinal at Wimbledon in 2019 and with the Tokyo Olympics initially scheduled for the following year, the rare opportunity to bow out on top looked there for the taking.
Strycova and Hsieh won titles in Brisbane, Doha and Dubai before the pandemic forced a tour-wide lockdown (Getty Images)
“When I think about stopping my career, I would stop everything: doubles and singles. Of course, it’s a hard decision, because it’s something that has been with me all my life. Tennis has been one of the most important things, and I will absolutely miss it.”
A strong start with partner Hsieh Su-Wei was ultimately stunted by the looming pandemic, and though the 34-year-old ended an interrupted year with a fourth title in Rome, her 2020 vision had been indelibly blurred.
“I didn’t want to finish my career because of the pandemic,” the doubles world No. 2 says. “I wanted to finish it in a way where I could step on the court and feel the crowd again. I didn’t like the thought of finishing my career any other way, so I took it as a sign that I should try to continue, and wait until we can get the sport back under normal circumstances, with the crowd and everything we had before.
“I’m not sure if it’s going to happen this year, but I just wanted to give it a try, and we’ll see how it goes. I have to say that the Olympics is a big motivation for me to perform over there.”
Strycova and Lucie Safarova (left) won an all-Czech bronze medal match to round out the podium in Rio (Getty Images)
A bronze medalist in Rio de Janeiro four years ago with good friend Lucie Safarova, Strycova—never one to stifle an emotion—audibly winced at the rumors of a second Olympic cancelation.
“I’m hoping it’s just fake news,” she says.
While the Olympics forces many top doubles stars to forge different partnerships, Strycova is spoiled for choice among the Czech contingent, looking at Fed Cup teammate Karolina Pliskova or fellow Australian Open doubles semifinalist Marketa Vondrousova among many credible options.
“I haven’t given too deep of a thought about it, though. The most important thing is that it happens, and then I can start thinking about who I might play with.”
The future indeed holds seemingly endless possibilities both on and off the court for Strycova, who dreams of a next chapter that includes family, fashion and a growing media empire that already includes her eponymous U Baru podcast.
Days after reaching her first singles semifinal, Strycova paired Hsieh to win her first major at Wimbledon (Getty Images)
“I see myself traveling between Czech and the United States because my sister lives in Florida. I don’t see her that much because of tennis, so I would like to be with her much more when I retire. She has two kids already, and I want to be able to see them grow up and experience life with my sister. It’s like we’ve spent our whole relationship on the phone for the last 10 years, just calling twice a day on FaceTime!
“I also don’t want to leave tennis. I want to stay in it and give back, especially to kids,” she adds. “When I was hosting a camp last summer, I loved all of the smiles and seeing how happy the kids were to be on the court. I was with them for three days, from 8-6 p.m. We all had so much fun, and I would even help them out when they’d say things like, ‘I can’t tie my shoe!’ I definitely want to be involved in some capacity.”
Strycova’s first big success came in Melbourne, where won the junior title over Maria Sharapova in 2002 (Getty Images)
With plans to play through the spring before re-evaluating her schedule, Strycova aims to enjoy her favorite city in the meantime, and a major tournament she first played back in 2002, when she won the first of back-to-back junior titles.
“Oh my god, I could have never imagined 19 Australian Opens after my first one! Some of my earliest memories are coming here at the start of the season to play the Gold Coast tournament. I remember Su-Wei being there with her father. What’s funny is how much the tournament site has changed in two decades. It feels like there’s 50,000 new buildings, new physio rooms.
“I can still see my pictures hanging on the wall from when I won my titles here, and how chubby I was! So much has happened in 19 years, but it helps me realize just how good my life and career has been. For a second, I’m proud and happy.”