Sunday, August 25, 2019

Smyczek, a consummate professional, to retire at 31

Diminutive Tim Smyczek, playing in the 2016 Fairfield (Calif.)
 Challenger, reached a career-high No. 68 in 2015. He is best
known for his sportsmanship during a five-set loss to Rafael
Nadal in the Australian Open that year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Tim Smyczek attained a career-high ranking of No. 68 in the world in 2015.
   That's nothing to scoff at, especially for someone 5-foot-9 (1.75 meters) and 160 pounds (73 kilograms).
   But in terms of class and professionalism, Smyczek was top-10 material.
   The 31-year-old Dallas resident plans to retire after playing doubles in the U.S. Open, which begins Monday.
   "I went into this year knowing it would be my last," Smyczek (pronounced SMEE-check), who starred in Northern California tournaments, said in a podcast on Aug. 15. " ... When I got married (to Ana Pier on Nov. 21, 2015), it became a little harder for me to travel. Then when we had a daughter (Valentina, on Aug. 16, 2018), it became exponentially harder for me to travel. My wife and daughter have traveled with me a little bit, but it's a tough life for both me and them.
   "I knew it was time, and I also know I want to have a career outside of tennis. I'm 31 years old, and at some point, you're just kind of delaying the inevitable. I figured this fall was as good a time as any."
   Sick of traveling and wanting to be "intellectually challenged," Smyczek said he will begin a two-year Master of Business Administration program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He has not attended college but said an undergraduate degree is not required.
   Smyczek, who missed almost three months in the spring with an injury, has plunged to No. 310. He earned $2,059,479 in career prize money and compiled victories over 6-foot-11 (2.11-meter) Ivo Karlovic, 6-foot-10 (2.08-meter) John Isner and 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Sam Querrey.
   Smyczek's earnings, though significant, are deceptively high because of traveling and coaching expenses. By comparison, the U.S. Open men's and women's singles champions each will pocket $3.85 million. Each runner-up will collect $1.9 million.
   Smyczek – who grew up in frigid Milwaukee, of all places – is best remembered for his sportsmanship late in a five-set loss to Rafael Nadal in the second round of the 2015 Australian Open.
   With Nadal, suffering from nausea and dizziness, serving at 6-5, 30-0, in the fifth set, a fan yelled as the Spaniard tossed the ball on his first delivery, distracting him. The serve sailed long, but Smyczek allowed Nadal to take another first serve.
   "I'll always remember that (match)," Smyczek said on the podcast. "A couple of months later in Miami, I was a huge nerd and got ahold of a photo of us shaking hands after the match, and I asked Rafa to sign it. I'll put that up in my office someday."
   Smyczek also reached the third round of the 2013 U.S. Open as the last remaining American man, the semifinals on grass in Newport, R.I., on the ATP World Tour in 2018 and three ATP quarterfinals. One of those quarterfinal appearances came in San Jose in 2011 as a qualifier.
   In Northern California Challengers, Smyczek won the Tiburon singles title in 2015 and was the runner-up twice in singles (2013 Sacramento and 2014 Napa) and twice in doubles (2013 and 2014 Napa). Overall, he won seven singles and two doubles titles on the Challenger tour, all in the United States.
   Because of his size, Smyczek had to train extra hard. He wasn't going to blow anyone off the court with his serve, so he had to be prepared to play long points.
    Smyczek, though, wasn't always so professional.
   "In 2008, I had been on the tour for two or three years," Smyczek recalled. "Craig Boynton, who's still out there coaching, has been a bit of a mentor to me and one of my dear friends. He sat me down at a Challenger somewhere and said, 'What are your goals for tennis?' I told him, and he looked at me and said, 'Do you really think you're doing enough to get there?'
   "I was taken aback a little bit. When I was a young pro, I wasn't the most professional. I was the first one to go out and have a few beers after I lost and do that until I played the next week.
   "I just had a little bit of an 'aha' moment with him and had to come to terms with the fact that if I wanted to reach my goals, the only way I was going to have a chance was to work harder than most. Ever since that point, I can rest easy that I worked as hard as possible. That's probably what made it possible for me to have a 12-, 13-year career."
   Following up on Smyczek's goals, podcast moderator and New York Times reporter Ben Rothenberg noted that juniors invariably aspire to win Grand Slam titles.
   "Very early in my professional career, I kind of forgot about winning Slams," Smyczek replied with a laugh. "Goals are supposed to be realistic. I always wanted to be top 30. I didn't quite get there, but there were a few times when I was actually quite close. Maybe not numerically, but around those times, I might have lost five or six times in a year where I either served for the match or had match points.
   "That was one (goal). I had some monetary goals as well. Those are kind of what get you up in the morning, right? If I set a goal and said I wanted to be top 100, and I reached it and didn't set a new one, I probably would have retired shortly thereafter."
   Smyczek was all business on the court – staying composed and rarely, if ever, arguing with officials –  and thoughtful off it. He was generous with his time with reporters and wrote thank-you notes to host families on personalized stationery.
   Smyczek expressed mixed feelings about having played professional tennis.
   "I don't want to insult people who love tennis and tennis is their life, (but) it hasn't been that way for me," Smyczek said. "I've always loved competing, just kind of suffering on court and embracing the battle of tennis. The actual tennis part has always seemed less important to me.
   "That's probably a function of me being not as talented as a lot of other guys. You can tell that Roger (Federer) just loves tennis, and I would, too, if I could do what he can. ... "
   Similarly, Smyczek conceded that retirement will be bittersweet.
   "I'm sure I will end up being sad at some point," he said. "I don't know whether that will be a few weeks from now or a few months from now. I know that's coming, but right now I'm really excited to get going with school, get off the road and be around every day with my wife and daughter. I couldn't be happier."

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