- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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For nearly a full year, 2007, Taylor Dent was largely confined to his bed; he wore a three-quarter body cast for seven months following spinal fusion surgery that was supposed to end his tennis career.
"I had mentally retired," Dent said Monday by phone from Kansas City. "I was told that if I had the back surgeries, my tennis career was over. There were times when it looked impossible, but I just wasn't willing to budge from coming back."
Dent played professional tennis for a dozen years before announcing his retirement on Monday at the age of 29. And although he won four ATP titles, was ranked as high as No. 21, played for the U.S. Davis Cup team and even for an Olympic bronze medal (Athens, 2004), his proudest accomplishment is returning from three back surgeries and vaulting more than 800 spots in the rankings, back into the top 100 in 2009.
The affable Californian went 12-15 in ATP matches that year, and this year he was 12-19 and ranked No. 85 -- still a serviceable professional. Although injuries may have been a factor in Elena Dementieva's recent retirement, Dent said he was perfectly healthy. Ironically, he was so healthy this summer that he had to take time off after the U.S. Open -- because his body wasn't used to playing so many matches.
Dent played his final match last week in a Challenger in Charlottesville, Va., losing in the second round to Rik De Voest, 6-4, 7-6 (6), and made the decision shortly thereafter.
Dent and his wife, Jennifer, a former WTA pro, had set aside the end of this year's tennis schedule as the time to discuss the future.
"Looking back, I achieved so much," Dent said. "To recover from these injuries and play against the best players in the world, well, that was my goal and I accomplished it. The tour is not an easy life, it's grueling. I just felt like 'Job well done.' I'm excited to pursue those things in the tennis field that playing on the tour didn't allow me to."
Which could include tennis commentary and, perhaps, coaching. Beyond that, Dent said, he had nothing specific lined up. He will also relish the thought of spending more time with Jennifer and their 10-month-old son, Declan.
Beyond his comeback, Dent's legacy will be his dashing serve-and-volley style. He was taken with the fast-forward approach watching his father, Phil, a successful Australian pro, and, later, Pete Sampras. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Dent was forever moving to net -- at a time when evolving racket technology allowed the elite pros to hit winners from the comfort of the baseline.
"It's my personality," said Dent, who sports tattoos of the American and Australian flags on his right shoulder. "I like to be aggressive, attack and force the action. I don't like to hang back. That was the way I was most effective."
When he won his first ATP title, in 2002 in Newport, he and Phil (his first coach on the ATP Tour) became the first father-son duo to capture an ATP tournament in the Open era.
"Anytime you can put your name in the record book, it's a cool feeling," Dent said. "I wish I could have extended our legacy in other ways, but some day I can tell Declan that we were the first ones to do that."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.