After a short holiday, Shahar Pe’er returned to the practice courts this week.
That may well sound like a given.
After all, she has been following the same routine since turning professional 10 years ago.
But the fact Pe’er is once more preparing for a new tennis season can no longer be taken for granted.
She may have only celebrated her 27th birthday earlier this year, but any way you look at it, she is well past her peak.
With every year that passes, more and more question marks are being raised regarding her future. The biggest one of them all is: Has perhaps the time come for Shahar to retire from professional tennis? She has had such a wonderful career, the sentiment goes, so why bother stretching it out and ending it on a sour note that will overshadow all that preceded it? For the first time since making her breakthrough in 2005, Pe’er will end a year ranked outside the world’s top 100.
She is currently placed at No. 118 in the WTA rankings after a season of many lows and scarcely few highs.
Pe’er recorded a 20-28 record on the WTA Tour in 2014, only marginally better than the career-worse 15-23 she registered in 2012.
Up until two years ago, Pe’er had never ended a year with a losing record.
She reached three quarterfinals in small WTA Tour tournaments – in Katowice, Marrakesh and Baku – but had just six wins over players ranked in the world’s top 100 throughout the entire year, losing 22 of 28 such meetings.
Her only victory against a player ranked in the top 50 came versus Tsvetana Pironkova in the second round in Katowice, with the Bulgarian ranked at No. 41 at the time.
And to think there was a time when victories over top-10 players used to be the measuring stick for Pe’er.
Shahar did claim her first win in a Grand Slam tournament in almost two years at the US Open, but was then stopped in the second round.
She hasn’t been past the second round of a major since the Australian Open in 2011.
From a career-high of No. 11 in the world in April 2011, Pe’er plummeted all the way down to No. 179 in June of last year.
A run to the final in Baku followed by her first title in four years in Suzhou, China, ensured she ended the year at No. 77.
Following her triumph in Suzhou, Pe’er revealed how difficult life as a player had become for her, admitting that she considered retiring several times.
“I was in a very low place as recently as a couple of weeks ago,” Pe’er said at the time. “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.”
The optimism that accompanied her success in Suzhou was shortlived, though, with the past year seemingly extinguishing all hope of Pe’er returning to her former glory.
Approximately three-quarters of the players ranked in the top-100 are younger than her.
However, on the plus side for Pe’er, there are also players in their 30’s and even their 40’s (thanks to 44-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan) who continue to prove that female tennis players no longer peak as teenagers.
Pe’er doesn’t have to look as far as Japan for inspiration. She just has to call her good friend and fellow Israeli, 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.
It is hard to imagine Pe’er coming anywhere near to the top-10 again, not to mention within a single victory of breaking through, as she was in April 2011.
However, the fact of the matter is that Pe’er is not ready to retire.
She may no longer be earning what she used to, amassing prize money of $301,778 in 2014 compared to almost a million dollars in 2010.
She is also clearly not enjoying her time on tour the way she used to.
But, to be fair, how could she, considering she loses more than she wins and only seems to be making headlines for her defeats rather than victories? Nevertheless, she continues to soldier on.
Her life is no longer just about tennis, but that doesn’t mean she is ready to give up the sport.
She believes she can continue to compete at the highest level and she is the only one who should determine when to end her career.
It would have been easy for Pe’er to call it quits after yet another disappointing season. She will have to qualify for the Australian Open in January and a further drop down the rankings could well be forthcoming.
However, she has more than earned the right to hang up her racket when she deems fit. Her results over recent years may be frustrating for her fans, but it is her career after all.
The very least she deserves is to decide when it’s email@example.com