“It’s a very, very, very long story.”

It always is with Timea Bacsinszky, a former No. 9 and Olympic silver medalist determined to leave the sport the way she played it. An interview is just another opponent for the beloved Swiss star, who trades spin for self-reflection to effortlessly craft answers that cover all dimensions of a question. Regardless of arena, the effect is the same: her audience—in this case, one enrapt reporter—is left utterly spellbound.

She often begins her extended musings with an urgent “I must say,” likely an unconscious rebellion against the stifling she suffered as an overloaded junior prodigy. It now serves as a testament to her “limitless” life motto, a command to be heard from a woman who speaks seven languages and has both experienced and enjoyed all her sport can offer.

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“I’m very fortunate to say that I’m quitting professional tennis with no regrets,” she told me over the phone on Friday. “The other journalists I’ve spoken to in the last couple of days have asked me about my semifinals at Roland Garros, but I know I gave my best in those moments—not only with my racquet, but also with my soul and mindset, the commitment that I gave to this sport for so long.

“I came to a point where I decided it was time to move on. Touch wood, but this is only one-third of my life, and I committed it all to tennis. At the same time, there has to be life after that, too.”

Everybody can be limitless. When you really have something in your mind, you first of all have to have the courage, self-esteem, and confidence to face down people who will doubt you. For me...I considered my limits and decided I wouldn’t have any, that I would push myself as far as I could. Timea Bacsinszky

Bacsinszky’s story first began in Lausanne, the seat of the International Olympic Committee. Speaking as the Opening Ceremonies unfurled at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 32-year-old fondly recalled an unforgettable podium performance with partner Martina Hingis—an idol whom she once struggled to emulate.

“I was always the ‘new’ Martina Hingis,” she quotes sardonically. “I would say, ‘Guys, I’m me, myself, and I.’ Nobody can be the second of someone who already exists; everyone is unique. I’m a human being with my own way of thinking and physical abilities, strengths and weaknesses. I started saying this in press conferences, but I was finally able to have this conversation with Martina when she came back in 2015.”

Bacsinszky had herself taken an unorthodox sabbatical two years earlier, and was famously called back to the sport after a chance Roland Garros qualifying email broke through her new life in hotel management—leading to what would be the most fulfilling chapter of her career.

When it came to the Olympics, Hingis was less willing to leave things up to serendipity and instead put through five unanswered calls to her countrywoman, who was on vacation at the time.

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A young Bacsinszky became the first since Martina Hingis to win back-to-back titles at Les Petit As, a famed junior tournament (Timea Bacsinszky).

A young Bacsinszky became the first since Martina Hingis to win back-to-back titles at Les Petit As, a famed junior tournament (Timea Bacsinszky).

“I was with friends in Lutry that I’ve known since we were 10; when they saw my phone they were joking that Roger Federer would be calling me next! When I finally called her back, she told me that Belinda Bencic, her initial partner, was injured and that unless I played with her, she wouldn’t go to Rio. I told her it would be tough for Viktorija Golubic to hear this; she was my best friend on tour and I planned to play the Olympics with her.

“She goes, ‘All right, as you wish. I would like to play with you, but just tell me that if you do, will you give 100% or not?’ At this point, mon amour propre, my self-esteem, took over and I may have started saying a few bad words: ‘How could you ask me such a question?’ I said. ‘You’ve seen me on court so many years, being so committed through so much stuff, on Fed Cup teams, and then you ask me if I would give an effort if I were your doubles partner at the Olympics? You’d better stop right now.’

“All the people at the table were shocked, thinking there was going to be a war, but Martina laughed and replied, ‘Ok, I just wanted to hear you say that.’”

The full-circle partnership would test Bacsinszky’s renowned adaptability from the first practice, when Hingis refused to budge from her preferred backhand side.

Bacsinszky first came together with Hingis through a victorious BJK (née Fed) Cup tie against Poland (Timea Bacsinszky).

Bacsinszky first came together with Hingis through a victorious BJK (née Fed) Cup tie against Poland (Timea Bacsinszky).

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“Let’s not forget the fact that my best shot is the backhand and I had to play the entire Olympics on the forehand side!” she said with a laugh. “I argued with Martina about this but I finally agreed to take the bad job. That honestly makes me even prouder of what we achieved.”

Bacsinszky would ultimately prove herself equal to the illustrious former No. 1 in the semifinals, when the pair saved two match points to upset 2012 silver medalists Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka and assure themselves of a medal.

“It’s tough to stand on court next to a champion like Martina Hingis. I’m sure I wouldn’t have had the guts a few years earlier, but it was on that day that we developed a genuine bond. It was only us in our own little bubble and I was gutsy enough to tell her some things she probably rarely heard from a doubles partner. As her friend, she understood and respected what I had to say."

Taking that tenaciousness into a second Roland Garros semifinal in 2017, Bacsinszky was at last playing limitless tennis but quietly nursed what was later diagnosed as a debilitating cyst on her right hand.

With Hingis by her side, Bacsinszky captured a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics—and went on to reach a second major semifinal in Paris the following spring (Timea Bacsinszky).

With Hingis by her side, Bacsinszky captured a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics—and went on to reach a second major semifinal in Paris the following spring (Timea Bacsinszky).

“It was on my middle finger, of all places! I took painkillers but from my coach to some of the people on my medical team, everyone was telling me the pain was in my head. I, too, started to think it was just me, but it was really hurting and my hand was turning purple.

“I continued this way into Wimbledon, and it’s funny because Garbiñe Muguruza won that tournament but I practiced with her on the first day we were allowed on the All England Club courts. I’d struggled against her in the past, but that day, I won a practice set 6-2 and was just feeling so good about my game. When the tournament began I played like I was flying, and that’s exactly how I felt in my third round against Agnieszka Radwanska. I loved to play against her; her game suited me so well and I knew all the tactics I needed to employ.

“I was still on painkillers, probably more than any human should take, and all the sudden in the second set I felt something was off in my upper thigh. It wasn’t pain, but I couldn’t push off it anymore. I found out 10 days later that I had a three-centimeter tear in my left quadricep, but I had no idea because of all the painkillers I'd taken for my hand.”

A specialist in Milan was aghast at the damage—Bacsinszky described torn tendons that kept her from properly gripping her racquet for the next 18 months—and it wasn’t until early 2019 that the Swiss felt she had another comeback in her.

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Bacsinszky ultimately peaked at No. 9 on the WTA rankings and won a combined nine titles in singles and doubles (Timea Bacsinszky).

Bacsinszky ultimately peaked at No. 9 on the WTA rankings and won a combined nine titles in singles and doubles (Timea Bacsinszky).

“Without my dexterity, my ability to easily change grips from slice to spin to flat, to play harder or higher, it was tough. The surgery made a huge difference but I never felt the racquet the same way again.

"I know people will look at results, achievements, the difference between losses and wins. At the end, I’m able to say I made it back to the Top 100 from not even being able to hold my racquet. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to anybody, but to me it meant a lot. I proved to myself that, once again, when I want something, I can achieve it.”

Bacsinszky is back in Lausanne, watching good friend Golubic and Belinda Bencic replicate her Olympic success for Switzerland in Tokyo. A newly certified Entraîneur C within the Swiss Tennis Federation, she aims to work with young children and balance gender inequities within her country’s sport system—all the while imparting her inimitable philosophy on a new generation of athletes.

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“I don’t know if I’m going to raise professionals of my own, but I would like to encourage women across the world—starting here in Lausanne—to participate in sports, and I believe that the key to achieving that is to have more women working as coaches.

“Everybody can be limitless. When you really have something in your mind, you first of all have to have the courage, self-esteem, and confidence to face down people who will doubt you.

"For me, I decided it was in my hands, that it’s all on me, and that I can do it. I considered my limits and decided I wouldn’t have any, that I would push myself as far as I could. I never actually dreamed of anything specific, of being Top 10 or being an Olympic medalist, not even when I was growing up in the Olympic capital. It just happened because I had dreams and I followed them, and trusted the people around me. In life after tennis, if there’s something new that drives me, that makes me wake up every morning because I really want to do it, it is that limitlessness that makes me certain I’ll accomplish it.”

Bacsinszky’s confidence is complemented by a degree of superstition, one that leaves her eager to ward off whatever could come between her and the latest chapters of what she hopes amounts to a very, very, very long story.

“I'll touch wood again: I’ve hopefully lived one-third of my life, but who knows? I could be gone in 30 years. We’re only here for a short amount of time, so do what you want to do and believe in your dreams.”