Days after announcing her retirement from professional tennis, Argentina’s Gisela Dulko took some time out to talk to Madrid-Open.com about her long career in which she won a grand slam in doubles and climbed to the top of the doubles rankings alongside Flavia Pennetta.
Some days ago Argentina’s Gisela Dulko (Buenos Aires, 30 January 1985) announced her decision to hank up her racket after after dedicating 20 years to tennis. After an incredible season shared with her doubles partner, Flavia Pennetta, the South American spent some time occupying the no. 1 spot in the doubles rankings. Now she talks exclusively with the Mutua Madrid Open about her plans for the future.
Gisela, you announced your decision to call an end to your long career two days ago. Why have you retired at just 27 years of age?
I made it official two days ago. I haven’t played for a good few months and it is something I had been thinking about since the start of the year. I made the decision because my priorities were elsewhere, I wasn’t 100% focused on tennis anymore. To be a professional sportswoman your sport has to be your number one priority. Tennis was my focus for 15 years, but that is not the case now and I have decided to put an end to it now instead of playing without the same drive as before.
What will be your longstanding memory after 20 years dedicated to tennis?
I will be taking a lot of fond memories with me. Things have gone better for me than I thought they would. Matches, results, tournaments, all the people I have met during all these years on the road…I have so many fond memories.
What will your life be like now without tennis? How do you want to spend your time?
Now I want to be with my family. That’s something that I have wanted to do for a while now. In the past two or three months I have only been travelling to Argentina to visit my family. Apart from that I have been with my husband enjoying time in Valencia, whereas before I wouldn’t have been able to do that with all the touring I had to do. Bit by bit I am getting used to my new life. At the moment I don’t have a work schedule, I am free to do what I want, which is what I was looking for. In the future I’ll definitely do something else as I’m a restless person, but for now I’m just looking to enjoy myself.
The biggest successes of your career have come in doubles alongside your longstanding friend and partner, Flavia Pennetta, with whom you have lifted seven titles. What is Flavia like on and off court?
Flavia had a big impact on my career without a doubt, but the best thing I will take from my time with her is our friendship. We are friends off the court, and to have won so many things together has been incredible for us. We have enjoyed it even more because we are such close friends. In 2010 we decided to play together and that turned out to be better than we ever could have imagined. That was incredible year in which we won more than seven tournaments, including a Masters and then soon after the Australian Open. It was incredible. Reaching number one in the ranking alongside my best friend was unforgettable.
In the middle of an incredible hot streak of victories you reached the final of the 2010 Mutua Madrid Open, but in the end you were beaten by the Williams sisters. What are your outstanding memories of that tournament?
I have great memories of that tournament. I remember the amazing form myself and Falvia were enjoying. We had won in Miami, Stuttgart and Rome, and were coming to Madrid full of confidence. We had a tough match in the first round against Peschke and Srebotnik, who we had beaten in the Stuttgart final. We played really well and made the final, the first time we met the Williams sisters. It was strange because we came into the match having studied them in depth but still lost the opening set in no time. We reacted well and even managed a set ball in the second set but they won out anyway, and I think it was deserved in the end. We left Madrid really happy with ourselves though because it is such a huge tournament and making the final is no easy feat.
You have had plenty of partners in your doubles career: Conchita Martínez Granados, Maria Kirilenko, Patricia Tarabini, Shahar Peer… Is it hard work to find someone you can play alongside on the court?
It is tough, but to be honest I have always felt comfortable with all the people I have played with during my career. I enjoyed some good results as a junior and the three junior grand slams I won were with different partners. With Flavia I found someone who I really clicked with. Together we decided to spend a season playing side-by-side. That was the first time that I had a doubles partner, and it was incredible. If only we had started beforehand!
When you began playing tennis did you ever think that one day you would be part of the world no. 1 pair?
No, never. I decided that I wanted to be a professional tennis player when I was seven years old. All I wanted to do was enjoy myself. I dreamed of playing in the best stadiums in the world against the best players, but I never thought things would go so well.
A few months ago you paired up with fellow Argentine Paola Suarez, one of the best doubles players of all time, to compete in the Olympic Games together. What was that experience like for you?
Paola and I decided to prepare for the Olympics. Unfortunately the results didn’t go our way as we went out in the first round. All the same, it was a fantastic experience. I gave it my best and it was an absolute pleasure to play with Paola.
With you leaving the sport, female tennis in Argentina is now left with some big boots to fill, while the men’s game continues to flourish with 15 players in the world top 200. Why do you think there are less female players emerging from Argentina in the last few years?
Women’s tennis in Argentina is going through a difficult period. At the moment no one knows what is going to happen. A 20 year old by the name of Paula Ormaechea is playing really well at the moment, but apart from her things look a bit uncertain. I hope things work out but lately there haven’t been many players emerging from the woodwork. Now that I am not playing I am going to do what I can to help that trend change.
We have just witnessed a fantastic season on the WTA circuit with Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova all on great form. What are your opinions on the state of female tennis at the moment?
Above all else it’s competitive. Those three have all had an incredible season. They are probably the best in the world at the minute, but there are plenty of talented players out there and I think next year will be even more competitive. However, when Azarenka, Serena Williams and Sharapova are on their game, I still think they are a step above everyone else.
Who did you think of when you were retiring?
Of my father. I lost him when I was 11 but he was with me throughout my career. When I was young he would always come to watch me play. He would always come to watch me train, he would watch me from outside because he didn’t like to be on the court. He was really shy. I have always said that my career was for him. I dedicated it to him and he was the person I thought of when I decided to retire.
What will you miss most about playing?
I will miss the competition in a big way, because tennis is my passion. I will miss my friends, all the people I have gotten to know over the years and who I won’t see as much of now. But I have to look forward. I am starting a new life now though. I am really happy and know I have made the right decision. I am going to miss the sport though, because after 15 years involved with tennis it would be very strange not to.