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Rafter calls it a day

January 10, 2003 17:05 IST

Former world number one Pat Rafter formally announced his retirement on Friday, more than a year after he played his last competitive match.

Patrick RafterThe Australian released a statement saying he had thought about making a comeback after his year's sabbatical but no longer has the motivation to start all over again.

"I know it's been a while coming, but I am announcing my official retirement from professional tennis," Rafter said.

"After taking several months for my arm to recover from stress fracture injuries I sustained in late 2001, I wanted to make sure that besides gaining physical fitness, I still had the motivation to compete.

"If I couldn't commit to giving 100 per cent to the game, then there would be no point in returning. By the end of 2002, the motivation just wasn't there and my decision was made."

Although he never ruled out making a comeback, Rafter said last year it was unlikely to make a full-time return after he and his girlfriend Lara Feltham became parents of a baby boy, Joshua.

One of the few genuine serve-and-volleyers to succeed in the modern game, Rafter won the 1997 and 1998 U.S. Open titles and briefly reached the top of the world rankings in July 1999.

But the popular Australian from rural Queensland never won the two major titles he craved the most -- Wimbledon and the Davis Cup.

He finished runner-up at Wimbledon in 2000 and 2001 and played in two losing Davis Cup finals, but missed Australia's victory over France in 1999 through injury.

PULLED OUT

His last competitive match was at the 2001 Davis Cup final in Melbourne where Australia lost 3-2. Rafter pulled out of the deciding singles match with an injury and never played again.

"I will have regrets that the Wimbledon and Davis Cup trophies are not in my cupboard, but that's sport, you win some and you lose some," he said.

"However, I feel I can leave the game, satisfied with my achievements, knowing that I gave it my all."

One of Australia's most admired sportsmen, Rafter has been showered with awards and tributes in the past year. He was named as Australian of the Year for 2002.

Australia's current world number one Lleyton Hewitt said Rafter, more than anyone else, had inspired him to become a professional player.

As a young boy, Hewitt was invited to watch and train with Rafter in the lead-up to the 1997 first-round Davis Cup tie with France.

Rafter's career was in a downward spiral at the time but in what later proved to be the turning point, he recovered from two sets down to beat Cedric Pioline in five sets and never looked back.

The pair became team mates in later years and Hewitt said he was sad to see him give it away.

"I was trying to convince him as much as anyone to come back and play Davis Cup again. I thought this year would be fantastic, even if he just came back and played doubles," Hewitt said.

ANOTHER DIRECTION

"But he's had an incredible career. I think deep down, he knows that his life has moved on. With the kid and getting engaged to Laura and everything, he just wants to go in another direction.

"I think he was probably one of the nicest guys to ever pick up a racket. I think a lot of people are going to remember him because of that more than anything."

Australia's Davis Cup captain John Fitzgerald said Rafter should be remembered as one of the great players.

"He never left anything in the locker room and most of the time it was good enough to win on the big occasion and he proved it. He was a great champion," Fitzgerald said.

"Any player that's good enough to win a championship in the Open era deserves to go down as a great player. There's not a lot of Aussie players who have won grand slams in the Open era.

"Like every other Aussie and tennis fan, I'm sad to see him go, but he has to move on."

Julian Linden
Source:
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