This week two exceptional champions announced their retirements — a circumstance that provoked commentator Bill Littlefield to think about what it must be like to quit while you are way ahead, and then have to figure out what to do next.
To be able to go out on top, you have to have gotten to the top.
This week, two women who have achieved that status announced their intentions to leave their games.
Justine Henin is the number one female tennis player in the world, or she was until she retired, effective immediately, on Wednesday.
Since February, Henin has not advanced past the quarter finals in any tournament, but in 2007 she won two grand slams, eight other titles, and more than five million dollars.
Henin’s announcement took some of the air out of the Tuesday press conference during which Annika Sorenstam revealed that she will retire after the 2008 golf season. Sorenstam is the only woman ever to shoot fifty nine in an LPGA tournament. She’s won ten majors and a total of 72 tournaments on the LPGA tour, most recently last weekend, when she won the Michelob Ultra Open by seven strokes.
Of Sorenstam’s decision to retire, Tiger Woods remarked "It’s sad to see the greatest female golfer of all time step away from the game."
That sounds like the top to me.
Justine Henin said she no longer has the will to play professional tennis.
Unlike lots of athletes – even lots of exceptionally successful and wealthy athletes – Annika Sorenstam seems to have prepared for retirement. She plans to marry and start a family. She has already designed golf courses in China and South Africa as well as in the U.S., and she will apparently continue to do so. She has opened a golf academy in Florida.
Slowed by injuries in 2007, Sorenstam began 2008 by winning the season’s first tournament. Then she won a tournament in Florida three weeks ago. Last weekend she lapped the field in Williamsburg, Virgina, finishing twelve spots ahead of Lorena Ochoa.
Mentioning Ochoa’s finish is not gratuitous. In 2006 and 2007, she was LPGA Player of the Year. For the previous five seasons, Sorenstam had claimed that distinction. All told, Sorenstam has been player of the year a record eight times, but the point here is that last weekend, she beat the best, and she may very well do that again this summer several times.
Justine Henin, the number one female tennis player, is "simply burned out and has no more juice to go on," according to her agent.
Annika Sorenstam has said this week "I feel great about what I’m doing." It’s just that there are a lot of other things she feels even greater about doing, and she feels it’s time to begin doing them.
In retirement, may Justine Henin, 25, discover the enthusiasm for life after a pro career that Annika Sorenstam, 37, already seems to have found.