It is a question every Israeli sports fan has come to ponder with increased regularity over recent years.
Is this the end for Shahar Pe’er? Has the career of one of the greatest ambassadors local sports has ever seen reached its inevitable finish? Only Pe’er will decide when it is time to bring her career to a close and that decision could come any day now.
It is clearer with every passing year that any lingering hope of Pe’er regaining her once elite status in the women’s game is fool headed. It wasn’t that long ago that she was within a single win of a place in the world’s top 10. But those days are gone never to return.
She didn’t even spend a single day in the top 100 this year, ending her season this week ranked at No.174, her lowest end of year ranking since making her breakthrough in 2005.
Pe’er turned 28 this year – a stage in a women’s tennis player’s career at which age becomes an increasing obstacle – and she has been on tour for over a decade. It remains to be seen how long she will continue to soldier on playing obscure events on dusty courts in front of empty stands on the ITF Circuit, the way she did for much of this year, after spending so many years playing in front of thousands in the world’s most famous stadiums.
Pe’er had just a single win in the main draw of a WTA Tour event this season.
That’s right, she won one lonely match.
It came in Bucharest, Romania in July against Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko, who was ranked at No.
120 at the time.
Shahar recorded only one victory against a player ranked in the top 100 this year, and that to only came after Elena Vesnina, who was ranked at No. 69, retired during the second set of their first-round qualifier in Doha in February.
Just a reminder for anyone not familiar with Pe’er’s career, in 2010 she went 47-21 on the WTA Tour, recording five victories over top-10 opponents. Even in what was considered a bitterly disappointing year in 2014, Pe’er recorded a 20-28 record on the WTA Tour.
In 2007, she reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals. This year she failed to even make the main draw of any of tennis’ showcase events, something which hadn’t happened since 2004.
Pe’er ended this year with $129,395 in prize money compared to almost a million dollars earned in 2010.
Time and again over recent years it had seemed like Pe’er had finally hit rock bottom, only for her fans to soon discover that it could get worse. That is due in large part to the level of excellence she spoiled everyone with at the start of her career.
Nevertheless, this year has been an exceedingly humbling experience for Pe’er.
She even managed to lose to a player ranked No. 1,045 in the world named Amy Zhu in the second round of a $25,000 event in Rock Hill, South Carolina, last month. That is $25,000 total prize money in the tournament. The loser in the first round of this year’s US Open made $39,500.
Pe’er’s decision to play on the ITF Circuit in order to pick up some much needed confidence and ranking points seemed to pay off in April when she claimed her first title since 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Pe’er beat Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic in the final of the $50,000 event, reeling off five consecutive wins in Istanbul to clinch her first title since lifting the trophy in the August 2013 WTA event in Suzhou, China. Pe’er’s previous ITF title came back in 2004 in Ra’anana at the start of her career.
Following her triumph in Turkey, Pe’er admitted that her career may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
“I decided to give myself another chance, maybe a last chance,” she said. “Either I’m successful or not. I think I’m a good player, but the time has come to make decisions and take responsibility. If things aren’t going well and I no longer have the passion and love for tennis then it is time to say goodbye.”
Pe’er’s life is no longer just about tennis.
“I’ve played tennis for enough years,” she added at the time. “I have an entire life ahead of me. I shouldn’t be fearing that. I will make my decision according to where my heart leads me. When I feel like I no longer want to play anymore, that I’ve given everything, and that I have no chance, then I’ll make that decision.”
Pe’er went on to say that she will not make her decision based on rankings, but rather on if she feels her game is improving. If her recent results are any indication, that is clearly not the case.
Pe’er doesn’t have to look far for inspiration if she still believes she can succeed into her 30’s. She just has to call good friend and Israel’s new Fed Cup captain Tzipi Obziler, who didn’t realize her potential until her mid- 30’s. Obziler quit the game at the age of 26, but came out of retirement after a couple of years and entered the top 100 for the first time in her career in 2007 at the age of 34.
Whatever she decides, Pe’er will need to make a call soon. One way or another, she has more than earned the right to hang up her racket when she deems fit.