The history of tennis is filled with players who look back and realize they left the game too soon. More wins? Perhaps. More chances to compete? Certainly. As former top tenner and longstanding coach Jose Higueras once said, “Squeeze every possible drop from your tennis.”
Higueras’ fellow Spaniard Conchita Martinez might well have had that concept in mind on this day in 2006. By this stage of her life, one day prior to turning 34, more than half Martinez’s life had been spent playing professional tennis—a staggering total of 1,036 singles and 646 doubles matches, highlighted by 33 singles titles and 13 in doubles and a career high ranking of No. 2 in the world.
So after indeed squeezing many, many drops over the course of her 18-year pro career, Martinez decided it was time to make an announcement.
“I have been away from the courts for quite some time now due to a serious injury to my Achilles tendon,” Martinez said. “I have had a lot of time to think and have decided the best thing for me is to retire from singles competition.”
Though Martinez conducted herself methodically during matches, her progress was swift. At the age of 16, in only her third professional tournament, Martinez reached the fourth round at Roland Garros. A year later, Martinez won three WTA singles titles. At 21, she earned an Olympic silver medal in doubles, partnered with compatriot Arantxa Sanchez Vicario at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.
The two won a bronze medal together at the 1996 Summer Games, and Martinez won another silver medal alongside Virginia Ruano Pascual in 2004. Martinez also starred on five championship Billie Jean Cup (formerly Fed Cup) teams.
Martinez excelled on clay. Extremely adept at mixing topspin and underspin, she constantly confounded opponents with variety and consistency. Beginning in 1993, she won the Italian Open four straight times. In 2000, Martinez was runner-up at Roland Garros, falling only to a sizzling Mary Pierce.
Formidable as Martinez was on clay, it was incredible that that her finest moment came on grass. Wimbledon’s low and seemingly random bounces initially frustrated her. But in time, as champions are prone to do, she adjusted. In 1993, Martinez became the first Spanish woman in 65 years to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. A year later came Grand Slam glory.
Going all the way to the finals, Martinez took on the one and only Martina Navratilova, winner of a record nine singles titles—and, at the age of 37, a heavy crowd favorite. But on this day, Martinez was red-hot, most notably striking many sharp crosscourt backhand passing shots, to earn a three-set win.
Martinez continues to remain active in tennis, including work as a broadcaster, tournament director, Fed Cup and Davis Cup captain, and, most recently, coach for Garbiñe Muguruza.
It was a Hall of Fame career, Martinez’s induction into Newport announced in 2020. She’ll be formally inducted this July.