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Czeching Out: Barbora Strycova bows out of tennis with epic exit interview
The former doubles No. 1 and Olympic medalist treated TENNIS.com to one last barnburner chat after playing the final match of a two-decade career at the 2023 US Open.
Published Dec 17, 2023
The Barbora Strycova farewell tour endured an abrupt end at the 2023 US Open, but the conversation kept going long after she played her final match: a mixed doubles quarterfinal alongside junior colleague Santiago Gonzalez.
A former doubles No. 1, Strycova more than made good on her promise to give tennis a proper goodbye after leaving to give birth to son Vincent in 2021, winning a second Wimbledon title with Hsieh Su-wei and stunning top-ranked team Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in Flushing Meadows. Though an injury to partner Marketa Vondrousova halted their women’s doubles campaign, the result nonetheless sent Strycova into a satisfying retirement, ending a career that featured 32 titles in doubles, a Top 20 ranking in singles, and enough Wimbledon fairytales to last a lifetime.
The fan favorite graced TENNIS.com with one last chat and worthy of a queen bee, as she looked back on career pitfalls and overcoming mental health struggles while previewing a next chapter that could see her stay part of the tennis world.
The following interview was edited for length and clarity, and took place before the announcement that Strycova is expecting her second child.
DAVID KANE: This has been an admittedly abrupt end to what has otherwise been a fairytale finish to your career, having to withdraw from the women’s doubles and now losing the mixed. What have the last 24 hours been like for you?
BARBORA STRYCOVA: Oh yeah, it wasn’t nice yesterday, but for both of us. For me, Marketa, it was tough. It was tough. Right after the match, she cried in, in gym and I came there, I was crying too. And it was kind of like she won a match and she's in quarters and crying because she feels so bad not to play because she was in pain. I totally understand her decision. But on the other hand, also I felt like, ‘Oh my God, I wanted to play because we were playing so well.’ You know, I was not pissed at all, but it was just a little bit sad, to be honest. But then we talked about it and maybe it's better that way. She wouldn't be 100%, and to go there and play third round of doubles on a Grand Slam, you have to be 100%. I didn’t want her to get worse, so it was the right decision, but it was just a little bit sad.
KANE: Is there a part of you that wishes maybe you picked a double specialist for your last tournament?
STRYCOVA: No, I want it to be this way because she won the singles in Wimbledon. I won the doubles and I wanted to have a story. I knew that we were playing very well together and we've become so close. So, it was not an option to play with somebody else. So even though we didn't play yesterday, I am so happy that we did it.
For me, coming back for seven tournaments, winning a Grand slam, I won a couple of matches in singles and also beating the No. 1s in the world. I couldn’t ask for more, so it’s great and when you think about it, I didn’t lose a match! (laughs) I had to take it this way.
I am who I am and what I did brought me to No. 1 in the world, I won Grand Slams and was No. 16 in singles. In the end, I am so grateful for what I did in tennis. Barbora Strycova
KANE: And now, in the aftermath of playing the final match of your career, what are the emotions now? You seem fine!
STRTCOVA: I was fine and I am fine. I mean, I had so many emotions already before, and today, in the morning, I was kind of like grumpy and feeling a little bit like, ‘Here's my last one.’ But on the on the court and during the match, I was completely fine. To be honest, I felt most of the emotions in Prague. I kind of put like put everything out there. I think it would maybe have been a little bit different if I had been out there with Marketa or playing singles, but today was fine.
KANE: In terms of looking back on your career, you've had a lot of opportunities to do that. Did you feel like you did it more when you were on maternity leave, when you were trying to come back in the last couple of months?
STRYCOVA: I have not done it yet because I think because I'm still on the move, and like, either I was still playing or still planning to go to the tournaments. I had a moment after Wimbledon when I was home and alone for little bit. I was thinking about all the things I accomplished, which was great.
I think it will it will hit me when I come back home, and I will know that I'm not going anywhere anymore. So, I will realize it in a couple of months. But I had a great career. I am so grateful for it. I achieved so many things, what I dreamed of. At the same time I would have also maybe some changes with my mental coach. I would have started that work much earlier. On the other hand, I am who I am and what I did brought me to No. 1 in the world, I won Grand Slams and was No. 16 in singles. In the end, I am so grateful for what I did in tennis.
KANE: How were you able to compartmentalize not thinking about the future while raising a child and thinking of coming back?
STRYCOVA: Between being a mom and being like a tennis player, you kind of want to do everything 100%. But you cannot. I was like trying to have it where I was playing tennis three times a week and then the rest of the time I was with my son. I was like juggling between the practices, my mom and his other grandma. Maybe it was a good because I had no time to think about how am I going to play that, how blah, blah, blah, blah. It was mainly about the day in front of me, and then planning for the next. I loved it, but it was challenging!
KANE: I don't think you've even given birth to Vincent yet when we first spoke about a comeback, and you were thinking of maybe just one tournament to say goodbye. I’m curious how that decision evolved.
STRYCOVA: I started thinking how, like coming back for one tournament. you still have to train and give some effort. So, I thought, ‘Okay, then I will come back for more.’ I was in my head, planning where to start, how to start, what would be best for my body. Initially I thought to come back on grass, but I thought, ‘That’s too long to only be practicing,’ so I started instead in Madrid. I knew I would not come back for 12 tournaments, and that it would be more like six or seven. It will be like six, seven. In the end, it was a good plan and I think I also prepared myself very, very well.
KANE: Even if you felt like you left most of your emotions in Prague, there still had to be a different feeling about the US Open being your last tournament.
STRYCOVA: I had emotions during my singles. I cried a lot on the court there because they even though there were not so many people, the ones that were made such a great atmosphere for us. Marketa even came, which surprised me. When I was playing the last match point, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy.’ And I was I was thinking about what I had done here and what I done in the Grand Slams. I had a lot of emotions, I have to say.
KANE: You've become such a fan favorite over the years. What was their reaction when you were off when you announced you were coming back?
STRYCOVA: Oh, they were the best, and they were such supporters. Even when I was losing in singles, they were always there. I got so many messages from mothers who said I'm an inspiration for them, that maybe they were struggling to go for a run and now that they’ve watched me, they’re going out to exercise. It's motivating me to do more, not in tennis, but to keep doing things to show them everything is possible. It's challenging, it's tough, but it's possible.
KANE: It seems like you have so many post-tennis career options in front of you, whether it’s in coaching, your interest in fashion. You were podcasting for a while. Do you have a sense of what will come next?
STRYCOVA: First, I will settle down a little bit at home. I have some little injuries, so I want to heal them and then I'll maybe try to run a marathon. I would like to try a triathlon, as well. That looks hard, but I would like that.
But I want to stay in tennis. I want to learn how to coach Being a player versus being a coach, it’s so different. But I would love that. I'm not sure if I would be a good coach, but I’d certainly like to try.
KANE: It seems like you really enjoyed the physical aspect of training for this comeback, and now you’re thinking of marathons. Does it feel like you enjoyed the work more now than when you were playing in your first career?
STRYCOVA: Oh, yeah. Because I know that I do more now with quality than the quantity. I do enjoy it much more because I know that I don't have the whole day for it. I just have a particular time where I can arrange my mom to babysit and it has become my time to myself.
KANE: Do you feel like you're in the best shape of your life?
STRYCOVA: Definitely, I am. I think a big reason why is that I’m watching more what I eat. Otherwise, I mean, I’m not sleeping all that much because of Vincent and I’m spending time with him. So, in that way, I don’t have the same recovery time. I’m always running, on the move. I’m not able to lay in front of the TV for four hours at a time, which, I’d love to do, but I can’t!
KANE: When do you have time, are you watching American TV? Shows from Czech?
STRYCOVA: I watch Netflix most of the time. I enjoyed The Bear. I loved The Bear. Things like that.
KANE: What about *Break Point*?
STRYCOVA: To be honest, I watched just the first episode of the first series and I didn't like it. But maybe I didn't like it because I know how it really is behind the scenes.
I want to be remembered like, She was crazy, but on the other hand, she was also very grateful, humble and had respect for others. I want to be remembered as a player who was fun to watch, but who gave everything at all time: who gave fans everything and who was really grateful for the people who are paying the tickets and watching us play because we earned money thanks to them. Finally, that I am a good person, that's all. Not just as a good tennis player but more as a good person. Barbora Strycova
KANE: As you do begin the process of looking back on your career, what immediately jumps out for you?
STRYCOVA: The successes, of course! I mean, Wimbledon, 2019, Wimbledon, now 2023. My Olympic medal in Rio. I think about the first two tournaments I won in singles.
There are a lot of moments like that but there were tough times, as well. For example, in 2011, I lost something like 11 straight matches and I wasn’t sure if I could keep playing because I was so down, mentally. Looking back, I would say I was suffering from a kind of depression. But I went to play in Québec thinking I would definitely lose in the first round, but I won the tournament. That goes to show things can turn like so quickly.
For all the tough moments, though, there was never a time where I completely gave up. Okay, maybe I had two or three days where I close the door, dark, everything. But then I tried and I fought, which is, I think the key to having a career as long as mine.
KANE: Talking about mental health, we’re at a time where the tours are now starting to address that. What do you make of their progress?
STRYCOVA. Oh, I don't know if they're moving in the right direction. I do think it's important when you are a woman playing tennis, you need to have a good people around you. The members of your team, they’re typically not your family and they are the ones with whom you’re going to spend most of your time. They have to be good people. They have to be humble. They have to be grateful. They have to be the kinds of people who are understanding, even when you’re not performing at your best.
KANE: Do you feel like there were times when you were with the wrong people?
STRYCOVA: No. I have to say I always picked good ones, and people who were true to me. Sometimes it was hard, but I was happy at the end because when I look back, they always did the right thing for me. They were tough, but they were true and good people. They know who they are.
KANE: How do you feel like how do you feel like you'll be remembered and how do you want to be remembered?
STRYCOVA: I want to be remembered as the player who was fighting every match. I never gave up. I want to be remembered like, She was crazy, but on the other hand, she was also very grateful, humble and had respect for others.
I want to be remembered as a player who was fun to watch, but who gave everything at all time: who gave fans everything and who was really grateful for the people who are paying the tickets and watching us play because we earned money thanks to them. Finally, that I am a good person, that's all. Not just as a good tennis player but more as a good person.
KANE: Is yours also the story of not judging someone based off a first impression? Because I think there was a time when fans saw you as this villain before they realized there was more to you than what they saw on court.
STRYCOVA: Sometimes I can also be like this. I can judge too quickly. And it’s true, I am someone who, maybe people will judge like, ‘She's crazy, she's emotional, she doesn't know how to behave.’ I felt that a lot when I was 15 or 16. I don’t think it was until I was something like 34 years old where I felt there was a change in people’s perception of me. But it also came from me being tired of how I was acting and wanting to change. In the end, it all comes from me!