If one ever needed any proof that tennis is a game mainly played between the
ears, such evidence was provided by Shahar Pe’er in recent weeks.
fortitude had always been the key component behind Pe’er’s success, but in the
past two years it became the primary source of her downfall.
a four-year title drought in Suzhou, China, over the weekend, the 26-year-old
revealed how difficult the tennis life had become for her, admitting that she
considered retiring several times in recent months.
“I was in a very low
place as recently as a couple of weeks ago,” said Pe’er. “I felt like I couldn’t
deal with the tennis life anymore. I told myself that I had a great career, but
I’ve had enough and I’ve got more important things to do. I couldn’t see how I
could live a happy life while playing tennis. It took a lot of psychological
work to overcome this.”
Coming under scrutiny on a weekly basis took its
toll on Pe’er, especially as the defeats began to pile-up and her slide down the
rankings gathered pace.
From a career-high of No. 11 in the world in
April 2011, Pe’er plummeted all the way down to No. 179 in late June of this
It wasn’t just that Pe’er was losing.
It was also the
players she was losing to.
Throughout her career Pe’er has remained a
model of consistency, but while in the past that was a testament of her
excellence, in the last couple of years it was proof of how severe her struggles
After only twice progressing past a second round in her final
11 tournaments of 2011, Pe’er went a career-worse 15-23 in 2012, winning
consecutive matches in only two of 23 events.
She ended last year at No.
74 in the WTA rankings, which seemed bad at the time, but was soon made to look
Her renewed partnership with coach Pablo Giacopelli,
who had helped Pe’er play some of the best tennis of her life in 2010, gave real
reason for optimism ahead of 2013.
Giacopelli preached for patience,
saying at the time that “I hope nobody expects miracles because this is going to
be a long journey.”
He couldn’t have been more correct, but he surely
didn’t expect that he too would pay the price along the way.
Only once in
her first 17 tournaments of the year did Pe’er manage to advance past a main
draw second round, losing 12 times to players ranked 100 or lower.
only natural that such a string of defeats would result in her dropping out of
the top 100 for the first time since she made her initial breakthrough in 2005,
while also losing her status as the Israel No. 1 for the first time since 2006,
being leapfrogged by Julia Glushko.
Pe’er and Giacopelli went their
separate ways once more after she failed to qualify for Wimbledon in late June,
missing her first major since the 2009 French Open, which she sat out due to
The split-up with Giacopelli didn’t bode well for the future, but
it was preceisely when she was forced to play without anyone in support that
Pe’er finally found her way.
First she reached the quarterfinals in
Budapest before advancing to her first tour final since July 2011, ultimately
losing to Elina Svitolina in the title match in Baku,
However, in her next tournament Pe’er would lift her first
piece of silverware since winning the title in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in September
2009, beating Zheng Saisai of China, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 in the final in Suzhou on
As a result, Shahar jumped 30 places to No. 83 in the world on
Monday, her highest ranking since January.
She will still have to qualify
for the US Open later this month as she was not ranked high enough at the
cut-off date last month.
But all of the sudden the future is looking
Pe’er may have beaten only two top-100 players during her recent
run, but considering her previous form, nothing can be taken for
She may have come close, but Pe’er didn’t despair when there
seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel before ultimately reaping the
Following her failure at Wimbledon, Shahar’s agent Amit Naor
told her that she could quit if she wanted to, but that she should do so on her
terms and not because of frustrating results.
Pe’er never stopped loving
the game, but she has finally come to understand that “tennis is my job, but it
isn’t what I’m about.”
Far tougher tests await Pe’er and it remains to be
seen if she can overcome them.
With no ranking points to defend until the
end of the season after finishing last year prematurely following five straight
first-round exits, the last of which came at the US Open, Pe’er is ideally
placed to continue her climb up the rankings.
Any notion that Pe’er no
longer had the heart required to succeed at the top level was dispelled in the
final in Suzhou, with the Israeli battling Saisai for over two-and-a-half hours
in 40-degree heat and high humidity, conditions Shahar described as the toughest
she had ever played in.
There’s no telling where Pe’er’s career goes from
here. However, now that she has finally attained peace of mind and has come to
understand the place of tennis in her life, she has all she needs to achieve
Some things are even more important than
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