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"Dreams come true": Barbora Strycova awaits final bow as career cap
Though the former WTA doubles No. 1 announced her retirement last week, Strycova still hopes for one last match after delivering her first child later this fall, one in front of the fans who helped her at last unlock her junior potential.
Published May 11, 2021
Calling in from the uncertainty of Melbourne quarantine, Barbora Strycova had a clear vision for her next phase of life.
“The first thing is that I want to start having a family,” she said back in January. “That’s the first thing.”
The former WTA doubles No. 1 would find out four days later that life was unfolding far sooner than she anticipated: that at 35, she was pregnant with her first child.
“Oh my god,” she laughed to start a catch-up call on Monday. “A lot of things have changed.”
Strycova emerged from hotel isolation eager to FaceTime the news to partner Petr Matejcek, Editor-in-Chief of Czech Esquire, but still had an Australian Open to play.
“A part of me was scared something bad would happen, even though I knew nothing would. I had plenty of doctors, both in Australia and over the phone telling me I could play.
“You’d think you would forget on the court, but it’s in your head the whole time. The doctors said that I could consider stopping if it gets too hot, but I was like, ‘I’m not going to go on court and say, “I’m pregnant and it’s too hot.”’ That’s no way to retire!”
Affable and wise, the still-reigning Wimbledon doubles champion first considered taking a final bow in 2020, only for the pandemic to ostensibly put that storybook ending on hold.
"I wanted to finish it in a way where I could step on the court and feel the crowd again," she said in Melbourne. "I didn’t like the thought of finishing my career any other way."
But six weeks after revealing her pregnancy to the world, Strycova held a formal press conference to officially retire, turning her farewell tour into what she hopes will be a final encore after her son is born.
“Saying it out loud to people, to the press, it’s a little bit different, and you start to feel scared," she said. "You think, ‘I’m leaving something, the thing I’ve loved and have done my whole life.’ It wasn’t easy but I have my baby in my belly and I know this is much more important than my tennis career.
"Still, I want to come back and play one more match in front of spectators. I want to feel their energy, from the crowd, from the club, all of that love. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a real match or an exhibition so long as it’s in front of a crowd.”
A virtual crowd has nonetheless formed around the Czech starlet, who has been deluged with congratulatory DMs on Instagram and Twitter.
“I’ve tried to reply to all of the, but it’s just not possible. I’m sorry guys, I’m trying! It was amazing. I cried for two days, not because I was sad, but because it was so emotional and to see how much people enjoy my tennis, my character, and fighting spirit. So many people sent me beautiful words, and I’ll forever appreciate just how many people who feel that way.
"They’re saying, ‘We’ll still cheer for you, even if it’s just for you being a mom!’ It’s great to hear that I had such great fans, and I hope they’ll stay with me, even when I’m not playing.”
Strycova has undeniably evolved from the sometimes-petulant youth she herself once described as “Crazy Bara,” and into the sporting stateswoman-fan favorite she is today.
“It was a journey. At the beginning, I was very young and wasn’t always behaving well, but this is me, my energy and emotions. It was something I had to work on my entire career, that balance with my emotions, and trying not to throw my racquets or say bad words. What I learned was how to receive energy from the fans. Some players don’t like it or don’t take it, but it helped me perform and be better. Even if you’re not playing well or you don’t end up winning, they stay with you and try to help and support you.
“I tried to channel as much of their energy as I could because it really helped me throughout my career, and that may be why I have so many fans. I feel like they see me as a friend because they can relate to me, someone who is trying to play tennis and do the best they can.”
A champion on the junior circuit, Strycova's smooth game matured with her mentality and allowed her to play her best tennis in the final five years of her career. Resilient in the face of adversity, she remained steadfast in the belief that she had something important to say on the tennis court.
“I had a bigger picture for my tennis where, I loved it, but I knew, at 33, things would soon be coming to an end. I still had things to achieve, and I had my dreams, as well.”
From a WTA Finals berth in doubles at the end of 2018, Strycova fulfilled her potential with warp speed, putting forth a cinematic performance at the following year’s Wimbledon Championships to win her first major title with Hsieh Su-Wei and reach a Grand Slam semifinal in singles.
“At the beginning of 2019 I had a talk with David Kotyza, my coach at the time. I was like, ‘I feel it, and now I want to achieve it,’ and he agreed that we should focus on this one tournament. It wasn’t in a desperate way where I felt like this is where I had to perform and be my best. It was more something that we allowed to happen organically.”
Life continues at this preternatural—and far less uncertain—pace for the former prodigy, who plans to travel and host a summer series of kids camps in the months leading up to giving birth.
“I’ve been to Rome 10 times or more and I still haven’t seen the Colosseum. That’s crazy, right?”
At a time when motherhood has become but a precursor to a second career, Strycova is hard-pressed to imagine a full-fledged comeback—even as Hsieh tempts her from the Foro Italico.
“She was posting some pictures from Rome with gelato and I’m telling her, ‘Oh my god, I miss that so much!’ She told me, ‘Let’s go, you can come back next year and we can eat gelato together!’”
For Strycova, nothing will be as sweet as her fabulous Wimbledon fortnight, but even as her family grows, she still yearns for one last moment at the All England Club, for an opportunity to thank the crowd that adopted her as their own.
“For those three weeks, I felt like someone who had worked on my mental game for seven years and it finally paid off. I felt like I belonged there, like I was completely at one with my energy. Sometimes you have doubts or feel scared before matches, and I had those there, but I was able to accept them as if they were my friends. I took them onto the court with me and said, ‘Ok, let’s play together today.’
"These are the things I dreamt of and it goes to show that dreams really do come true!”