Steffi Graf: Is It Goodbye or Auf Wiedersehen?

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For the great ones, it can be unbearable to be just plain good. Steffi Graf, who ruled women’s tennis for more than a decade but has been plagued by injuries in recent years, abruptly announced Friday that she was retiring from the game. After a 17-year career that began at age 13, Graf’s legacy is colossal -- 22 Grand Slam wins (including seven Wimbledons), 107 WTA titles, and a record stretch of 377 weeks at the No. 1 ranking. TIME senior editor Bill Saporito thinks it was frustration and pride, not fatigue or injuries, that forced her out. "Clearly, she’s been one of the dominant players in the women’s game, and for people like that, not to be physically at the top of their game drives them nuts," he says. As Graf herself said, holding back tears, "The weeks following Wimbledon," in which she was bothered by a thigh injury, "weren't easy for me. I'm not having fun anymore."

But Graf also made it clear how she felt about the potential successors to her throne. "It was almost too easy to catch up to the top players again," said Graf, clearly relishing her recent French Open victory over an insufferably bratty Martina Hingis. "I have nothing left to prove." Graf claims to be looking forward to a long vacation, and plans to devote herself to her marketing company and to developing young German talent. But Saporito speculates that while Graf ambles through a planned farewell tour of exhibition matches later this year, she’ll likely have one eye on her medical charts and another on the competition. "She’s only 30, and in six months or a year she may have rested up and gotten healthy," he says. "Young players like Hingis and the Williams sisters are still on the rise -– she may sit back and wait to see if someone worthy of her comes along." For the great ones, it’s always hard to resist a challenge.