Cara ponders future

HARARE - Still fresh from adding another piece of silverware to her impressive trophy cabinet, Zimbabwean tennis icon Cara Black isn’t quite ready to decide her future, but reveals she might retire after January’s Australian Open.

The country’s only remaining world-class tennis player since the retirement of her brothers Byron and Wayne Black alongside Kevin Ullyett – Cara remains to this day one of Zimbabwe’s truly international-class sporting ambassadors – prospering as a doubles specialist for the better part of a 16-year-old career.

Cara, with over 50 WTA titles under her belt, rose to world number four on the doubles rankings after clinching the WTA Tour Finals doubles title with Indian partner Sania Mirza in Singapore last weekend.

And now aged 35, the Harare-born star admits she feels “old”, but is still caught in between extending her career and hanging the racket following years of globetrotting, glamour, joy, adrenalin and the heartbreaks of the circuit.

If she decides to retire in the near future, the swansong will likely be January’s Australian Open. This, Black says, will have sentimental value since Australia is the home country of her husband Brett Stephens, father of the couple’s two-year-old son Lachlan.

Black says a decision to walk away will “boil down to how I’m emotionally feeling in the next coming weeks.”

“I am definitely one of the oldest ones out there,” Black, who is back home in Harare on a short break, told the Daily News yesterday. 

“I haven’t really made a decision yet. I’m just enjoying this moment of having such a good year and reflecting back on it.

“It depends how I’m feeling mentally in the next couple of weeks. But even if I’m to stop now, I think it’s a great way to go out, having played one of my best matches of my career.

“But I still haven’t made a decision on what I wanna do. Ja, I obviously would want to have another child in the future. I’m also struggling a little bit with my body. I have got serious knee issues which have pulled me back this year. I have had to take a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers, which is not a lot of fun.

“It’s not good to live on those things. So I just have to weigh up a few things. I’m gonna make a decision in the next few weeks.

“I’m probably gonna play the Australian Open, but it depends on how I am feeling and where I am mentally. Because you know, travelling around with a two-and-half year-old is not easy.

“You have a lot of sleepless nights and then you have to come out and perform the next day. So we are just going to take it one week at a time.”

Age aside, the unassuming former world number one doubles player says fitness will be a major factor in her decision. 

“Ja, if you look at it, I’m definitely one of the oldest out there.  Above that, I am struggling with my knees. This is what I have to weigh. If I play another year, that means another operation.”

Last week, Black  and Mirza reeled off 12 straight games to stun defending champions Hsieh Su-wei and Peng Shuai by the record score of 6-1, 6-0 in the WTA Finals doubles final.

The Indian-Zimbabwean team, playing their last match together, lost the first game against the favourites but then put together the phenomenal streak to lift the Martina Navratilova trophy in Singapore.

It was the heaviest defeat ever witnessed in the end-of-season competition's doubles final which dates back 41 years to 1973, the year the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) was founded.

“Generally, the year on the whole has been really good,” said the three-time Zimbabwean Sportsperson of Year winner.

“I have ended number four in the world. It has been my highest ranking since coming back after having a baby.

“With Sania last year, we started winning those two big tournaments in Tokyo and Beijing. We have had a pretty consistent year. We won a title in Portugal and then we won Tokyo again. We just had really solid results.

“We did quarter finals at the French Open, we did semifinals with the US Open, which was great. It was best result in the slams. Then we did quarter finals of the Aussie.”

Black also paid tribute to her 13-month partnership with Mirza, affectionately known in her home country as the “First Lady of Indian tennis.”

“To end the year like that is satisfying,” Black says.

“Having those first two round of being match points down and then to come up and play a flawless final like we did with the number two team in the world was fantastic.

“We had been through enough already emotionally, so when we got to the final we didn’t think about anything. It was one of the best matches we have ever played together. And to bring it out in such a big tournament is fantastic.”

Black’s retirement will mark the end of top-class representation for Zimbabwe, at least for now, in both the men’s and women’s circuits, following the departure of her siblings Byron, Wayne and doubles specialist Ullyett.

Interestingly, while Cara could possibly exit the stage at the Aussie Open, the player considered the next big thing in Zimbabwean tennis, United States-based Takanyi Garanganga, is eyeing a maiden Gland Slam appearance at the same tournament.

The highly-rated 23-year-old from Mbare is the third highest ranked African on the ATP Tour after South African Kevin Anderson and Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat, but his personal ranking is still a lowly 321.

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