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Ash Barty, Bjorn Borg, Mark Spitz - Top Sportspersons Who Retired at an Early Age Shocking the World

Bjorn Borg (L), Mark Spitz (C) and Justin Henin (R)

Bjorn Borg (L), Mark Spitz (C) and Justin Henin (R)

As the tennis world comes to terms with the shocking news of Ash Barty’s retirement from the sport of tennis aged 25, we at News18 Sport take a look at other such shocking retirements by sportspersons who were at the peak of their powers, yet decide to walk away from the sports.

As the tennis world comes to terms with the shocking news of Ash Barty’s retirement from the sport of tennis aged 25, we at News18 Sport take a look at other such shocking retirements by sportspersons who were at the peak of their powers, yet decide to walk away from the sports.

Bjorn Borg – retired at 26

Bjorn Borg shocked the world when he announced his retirement at the age 26 in 1983, and even though he tried making a comeback through 1991 to 1993, the Swede could not get back to his imperious form. Known as the iceman for his frosty temperament on the court, Borg’s retired at the peak of his powers having won 11 major championships – an Open Era record at the time, including six French Open titles, four of them consecutively (1978-81), five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1981. He still holds the record for the highest win percentage in match matches with 89.8 and has an astounding 92.7 winning percentage at the All England (51-4 from 1973-81) – a record unlikely to be matched or surpassed ever, and similarly, his run of 41 wins achieved from 1976-81. He has a win percentage of 96 at the French Open as well.

Bjorn Borg
Sweden’s tennis player Bjorn Borg (left) receives the Winner’s Trophy from former tennis “musketeers” Jean Borotra (center) and Henri Cochet (right) here 09 june 1979 after defeating Italian Victor Pecci during the Men’s French Open Finals at Roland Garros stadium. (Photo by AFP)

After the epic Wimbledon final of 1981 against his greatest rival John McEnroe, Borg lost 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 and talking about the defeat, he, later on, said, “When you lose you should get disappointed because it’s not good to say to yourself, ‘I don’t really care, what’s the big deal, I lost in this final, but that’s what exactly what happened to me. I lost in the big final and didn’t really care that I lost, and that’s not me. After that, I realized what’s happening to me.” After the final, Borg took time off from tennis, playing sporadically, before announcing that he was done with the game for good.

Mark Spitz – retired at 22

Mark Spitz enjoyed one of the greatest stretches in Olympic history at the Munich 1972 Olympic Games, winning seven gold medals in eight days, setting a world record in each of the four individual and three relay races that he entered. It was a memorable time, especially considering that four years prior – the Mexico City 1968 Olympic Games – Spitz had predicted he might win as many as six gold medals. He came home with two relay golds, a silver and a bronze – still a significant haul but hardly what Mark the Shark had hoped for. His second Olympic run proved much more fruitful. At age 22, Spitz retired from competition after the Munich 1972 Olympic Games. As Today.com writes, “he became one of the first American athletes to capitalize on his Olympic fame by earning millions of dollars in endorsements. His successful post-Olympic transition set the tone for future success as a businessman and a motivational speaker.”

Justine Henin – First retirement at 25

On May 14th, 2008, Justine Henin, then the world No 1, shocked the tennis world with the sudden announcement that she was to retire, aged only 25. She made the announcement three weeks prior to the start of the French Open where three was a three-time defending champion. Overall she had won four French Open title between 2003 and 2007 and collected two US Open titles (2003, 2007) and the Australian Open crown in 2004. She was also a two-time Wimbledon finalist at the time of her retirement. She also held the world No.1 ranking for 117 weeks starting October 2003. Henin later made comeback in 2010, reaching the final of the US Open, losing to Serena Williams. She later that explained the decision was motivated by seeing Roger Federer win the elusive Roland Garros title and she has the intention to win Wimbledon. Unfortunately, she suffered an elbow injury at the Wimbledon against Kim Clijsters forcing an early end to 2010. She eventually hung up her boots for good in 2011.

Michael Jordan – First retirement in 1993

Jordan’s first retirement came in 1993 and this was due to him losing the appetite to play basketball. He had won three titles with the Chicago Bulls prior to his and his father’s death had also played a part in him taking the decision. His father was killed in a carjacking incident the same year. There were rumours that this retirement was a ploy as the NBA wanted to suspend the star for his gambling addiction, however, those stories were rebuffed by all parties.

Ian Thorpe – first retirement at 24

Thorpedo as he was popularly known as, Ian Thorpe, became a global sensation winning three gold medals and a silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The following year, at the world swimming championships, he won six gold medals and set world records in the 200-metre freestyle, the 400-metre freestyle, and the 800-metre freestyle and continued his winning ways right up to the 2004 Olympic Games at Athens winning two golds, a silver and a bronze medal. Thrope though took some time off and came back to prepare for the 2006 Commonwealth Games but withdrew due to an illness and shortly afterwards shocked the world, retiring from the sport at 24. He did try to make a comeback for the 2012 Olympic Games in London but failed to qualify.

Gabriela Sabatini – retired aged 26

Gabriela Sabatini ended her career at the age of 26 at a time when she was one of the biggest stars in women’s tennis. Sabatini turned professional in 1985 and was among the top 10 women players for nearly a decade and the winner of 27 tournaments. Sabatini had missed several months of the season preceding her retirement due to a pulled stomach muscle injury. Sabatini spent 508 consecutive weeks within the world’s top 10. This remains the fourth-longest top-10 streak among any player in WTA-tour history. She amassed 41 titles and achieved a career-high ranking of 3 in both singles and doubles. In singles, Sabatini won the 1990 US Open, the WTA Finals in 1988 and 1994, and was runner-up at Wimbledon 1991, the 1988 US Open and the silver medalist at the 1988 Olympics. In doubles, she won Wimbledon in 1988 with Steffi Graf and reached three French Open finals.

Nico Rosberg – retired at 31

Days after winning his first World Championship, Formula 1 racer Nico Rosberg decided to walk away from the sport aged 31. Rosberg beat Lewis Hamilton to the title after an intense year-long battle with his Mercedes teammate. As the son of 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg, there was always going to be pressure on Nico to emulate his father’s F1 success from the moment he stepped foot in a race car. Aside from his many achievements and how he bowed out of motor racing at his peak, Rosberg’s F1 career will perhaps be defined as much by his defeats as his successes – especially when compared to Hamilton. “I have climbed my mountain, I am on the peak, so this feels right,” he said during the announcement. “For 25 years in racing, it has been my dream, my ‘one thing’, to become Formula 1 world champion. Through the hard work, the pain, the sacrifices, this has been my target… and now I’ve made it.”

Elena Dementieva – retired at 29

Olympic champion Elena Dementieva stunned the tennis world by announcing her retirement in 2010, at the age of 29. The former World No.3 is widely regarded the most talented tennis player in women’s circuit to not have won a Grand Slam title. She won the Olympic gold in Beijing 2008 and collected 16 WTA singles titles. At the time of announcing her retirement, Dementieva said starting a family was one of the main reasons for her decision to quit the sport.

Eric Cantona – retired at 30

Eric Cantona’s retirement from football in 1997 came as a complete shock to all associated with Manchester United. The talismanic Frenchman had just celebrated a fourth Premier League title in five years with the Reds, lifting the trophy as captain at Old Trafford after the final game of the season against West Ham United. Aged 30 and just a year on from inspiring a young United side to a historic second Double, it appeared Eric was still close to his imperious peak, with many more magical moments to come in Manchester. But, just days after the season’s conclusion, ‘The King’ announced that he was hanging up his boots.

Lorena Ochoa – retired aged 28

Lorena Ochoa retired in 2010 aged 28 when she was the No.1 golf player in the world. She No. 1-ranked female golfer in the world for a consecutive 157 weeks and in less than eight full seasons on the LPGA, she won 27 titles—17 coming in the immediate 24 months before retirement. She was a two-time major champion and the dominant presence on tour since the retirement of Annika Sorenstam in 2008. “First, I wanted to retire as No. 1,” she said. “Second, I always dreamed of saying goodbye in Mexico. Now, I want to leave and enjoy everyday life. I want to give back to my family the times I haven’t been able to give them the last eight years. I am very satisfied with my achievements,” Ochoa had said during her retirement presser.

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first published:March 23, 2022, 13:39 IST