Affection for Wimbledon unlike anything else
There's a time in everyone's life when tennis is no longer a viable option. But it's the intimate bond with Wimbledon that makes the farewell such an emotional experience.
"Dear Tennis Friend,'' it began. "I've been reflecting on my professional career and I have decided that this will be my last Wimbledon.''Bjorkman thanked supporters for helping him achieve several milestones, including a Davis Cup title, a stint in the top 10 and nine Grand Slam doubles championships. "I have been blessed with a long and successful career and I look forward to another great experience here at Wimbledon, for my last time as a competitor,'' he continued. And finally: "It is with great joy that I look forward to the next phase of my life, including packing my children's school bags rather than my own tennis bags.''
Bjorkman has his priorities straight -- namely, his wife, Petra, his 5-year-old son Max and baby daughter Bianca, born last January. Max has gotten increasingly antsy during his father's road trips. The couple set up a webcam to help communication, but it only made things harder. Recently, Max began singing a song of his own composition. "I love my Dad so much I could die,'' the lyrics went, and Bjorkman's mild blue eyes get a little glassy when he repeats them.There's also a tennis magazine venture, and some as yet undefined role in trying to boost the sport in Sweden. Bjorkman won't be distant from the game. So he isn't ambivalent about this passage even though he -- like most elite athletes -- still harbors the belief he can win on the right day. After all, he reached the semifinals here just two years ago. Smart guy that he is, Bjorkman sought advice from two contemporaries, Todd Martin and Tim Henman. "You just know,'' they told him when he asked how they made the decision to bow out. The feeling inhabited him this spring during the clay-court season. Bjorkman knows he's old for a tennis player, but more importantly, he's old-school, and announcing his departure here felt exactly right. There are museums and reference books and Web sites where you can scan a list of Wimbledon champions. When Bjorkman packed his gear after his last singles match, signed a few autographs and walked off Court 11 without fanfare, he added his name to a much longer but invisible roster of players who felt honored to be there, and made a gesture to return the favor.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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