Flop 10: failed comebacks

Apr 2, 2015, 3:47:31 PM

Flop 10: failed comebacks
If Marion Bartoli seems tempted by a comeback in tennis, she would do well to read this flop 10 before embarking on this hypothetical return to the front line.

Mardy Fish on the men's tour, Nicole Vaidisova and Martina Hingis amongst the ladies... Away from the courts for different reasons some players attempt a comeback after months or years without touching a racquet. If Marion Bartoli also seems tempted, she maybe should read this flop 10 before trying this hypothetical return to the front line.


Björn Borg, a bad joke


Precocity phenomenon, the Swede won 64 titles on the tour, including 11 majors, before officially announcing his retirement in April 1983, shortly before his 27th birthday. Pushed back to fame and money, Borg will attempt an improbable comeback in 1991 at the Monte Carlo Open, where he would be defeated in the first round. Nothing to discourage him, his pathetic ordeal would last more than two years to finally end in Moscow in November 1993. Results: 12 invitations for 12 defeats suffered by a player from another era who was still playing with wooden racquet... Awkward.


John McEnroe, one invitation too many


In 1992, the ATP Tour found some peace and serenity with the retirement of John McEnroe. A distance from the courts that wasn't apparently very enjoyable for him so when Rotterdam tournament organizers called him in February 1994, he accepted the wild card. Not such a great idea: the man with seven victories in Grand Slam tournaments was defeated right away by Magnus Gustafsson and vexed, decided not to proceed with the experiment. He still occasionally returned for doubles matches in 1999 and 2006. This past year, he even won a tournament with Jonas Björkman, allowing him to become the only player in history to have won on the doubles tour over four different decades. A good way to finally heal his exit.


Thomas Muster, human after all…


The first comeback of the Austrian was a great success: in 1990, he recovered from a severe injury occurred a year earlier just before playing the final in Key Biscayne, which earned him the nickname "Musterminator". The second was not as successful: in 2010, at 42, he announced his return and was granted some invitations on the Challenger tour, only rarely managing to pass the first round. The quiet Austrian lumberjack would perhaps have done better to abstain rather than to see his superman reputation somewhat tarnished by this preventable failure...


Ilie Nastase, mid-life crisis at forty


While his thirties had already been quite painful for the fanciful Romanian, whose results seriously started to decline from the 70s and until his official retirement, announced very late in 1985, when he turned 39. Nearly three years later, in June 1988, he was almost 42 when he accepted the invitation of the Challenger tournament in Dijon. The South African Kevin Moir easily eliminated the ageing player, whose last victory on the ATP Tour dated back to a decade. A final match to finally admit that his place was now in the stands handing out smiles.


Tracy Austin, painful retirement


She was America's sweetheart when she arrived at 14 years old at Wimbledon in 1977 and passed two rounds. The beginning of a beautiful and youthful ascension after which she became, three years later, the youngest World No. 1 in the history of tennis. In 1984, back problems forced Tracy Austin to leave the tour, before a first brief comeback in 1988. Brief, because the following year, she broke her leg in a car accident. Unable to really mourn her sports career, she tried another comeback at 30, in 1993, without ever managing to exist. In 1994, after yet another passage through the French Open, she decided to stop the waste. Definitely this time.


Stan Smith, two years in pain


In 1983, it was a declining Stan Smith that decided to hang the racquets, while he had not been able to win a singles title in three years. Then finally, he changed his mind and tried an improbable comeback that would last two long years, only twelve matches played by invitation... and a single victory. At least the famous pair of white and green eponymous shoes made a successful comeback in stores last year.


Justine Henin, the same… only a lot less good


A Grand Slam final in Australia and two singles titles: there are worst comebacks than the one of Justine Henin in 2010 and 2011. But comparing to her impressive results before her first retirement in 2008, this comeback is still to see as a kind of failure. On the 26th January 2011, exhausted by physical problems and unhappy with her premature elimination at the Australian Open, she finally announced that she wanted to move on, which this time was much less surprising that when she took that first decision nearly three years before. As for other Belgian comebacks, Justine Henin couldn’t as good as her compatriot Kim Clijsters, who won three Grand Slam tournaments after a break of almost two years.


Martina Navratilova, defying time


Again, it may appear to be unfair to consider that Martina Navratilova has failed her comeback, since she still managed to beat a nice record: that of the older player to ever win a match on the WTA Tour. It was at Wimbledon in 2004, a first round played at the age of 47 years and 8 months. But the few episodic return of the "granny" after her official retirement in 1994 were more a way to succeed a few hits without tomorrow than a real opportunity to return to the competition for real.


Lindsay Davenport, mother and professional player, not so easy


If players such as Margaret Court and Kim Clijsters managed to return to top level after pregnancy, it wasn't the case of Lindsay Davenport. Forced to stop a first time in 2006, the American returned to competition less than a year later, but her motherhood desire took over again in 2009, with a second pregnancy. She tried another comeback the following year, essentially in doubles, before retiring for good in 2011... after a third pregnancy!


Mariano Puerta, the failed comeback of the outcast


Big surprise in 2005, the Parisian public of the French Open final saw a beautiful outsider, Mariano Puerta, defeated by a certain Rafael Nadal, who was then at the very beginning of his hegemony. This was the climax of the Argentine career, found guilty of doping with a cardiac stimulant during this match on Roland Garros clay courts. This was in addition a recidivist, already suspended in 2003 after a first positive control. Originally sentenced to eight years of suspension, his sentence was reduced to two years and the banned player attempted a return in 2007. It will eventually last more than two years, mostly on the Challenger tour, anonymously and without anyone really regretting him...


By Régis Delanoë