Kristie Ahn announces retirement from tennis
Former Stanford University star and WTA Top 100 player Kristie Ahn announced her retirement from professional tennis on Friday at age 29.
"It's probably one of the most polarizing feelings to announce that I'm stepping away from the court," Ahn began in a heartfelt post on Instagram. "This chapter turned volume of my life that has had the twists and turns reminiscent of a K-drama has finally [come] to an end."
From her US Open debut in 2008 as a 16-year-old amateur, to a self-desribed full-circle run to the second week as a wild card in 2019, it seemed fitting that the New Jerseysan also played her last career match at Flushing Meadows last summer—though contesting US Open qualifying behind closed doors wasn't the goodbye she'd scripted.
"I really wanted to qualify to have one last chance to say goodbye ... properly," she wrote, "but I've come to terms with the fact that not everybody gets an [Andre] Agassi farewell, and seeing others with infinitely more illustrious careers than mine step away graciously has given me the courage to follow suit."
After nearly beating then-world No. 1 Dinara Safina in Louis Armstrong Stadium at the 2008 US Open, Ahn went on to have a decorated career at Stanford University. Named the ITA Rookie of the Year as a freshman, Ahn was a three-time All-American who also delivered the clinching point to win the Cardinal its 2013 national championship.
After graduating in 2014, she made her transition to the professional tour with mixed successes as she worked through injuries that also hampered her college years: she reached eight finals on the ITF circuit from 2015-18, and played her first Grand Slam main draw in 10 years at the 2018 Australian Open. Her career season came a year later. She won the USTA Wild Card Challenge for the US Open, putting her into the main draw for the first time since 2008, and beat a pair for former major-winners, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Ostapenko, en route to the Round of 16. Ahn—the daughter of Korean immigrants to the U.S.—was the first Asian-American woman to get that far in New York in nearly 20 years, and peaked at a career-high ranking of world No. 87 later that fall.
"I'll spare you the corniness of all the life lessons that tennis has taught me—but I will share this: I've always dreamed of being able to make an impact in the Asian American community the same way that the greats have impacted me. I remember watching and cheering for Michael Chang and Michelle Kwan as they worked to dismantle [whether they knew it or not] the stereotype of Asian Americans only being good at school or music—that we didn't belong in sports," she wrote.
"Obviously, my accolades don't remotely match up to theirs, but I'd like to think that I've helped chip away at that barrier and add another dimension—finding that balancing act of security (going to college in my case) and pursuing one's passion. ... Representation really is everything."
In addition to what she achieved on-court, Ahn was equally respected for her work behind the scenes. In her career, she was both a member of the WTA Players' Council and a Player Board representative on the WTA Board of Directors, and twice won the tour's Peachy Kellmeyer Player Service Award. A winner as a part the WTA Players' Council in 2020 as a result of their work advocating for players during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ahn also won it in 2021 herself. Since 1977, the award has been player-voted and is given to the player who best serves her peers and the growth and interests of the WTA.
She also became a viral sensation on TikTok during the pandemic, offering humorous takes on the life of a professional tennis player in videos that accumulated nearly a half-million likes. She'll continue to work for online audiences in the future: Ahn says she's on track to start her professional career as a UX designer by June, but won't be too far from tennis in the meantime. She plans to attend the BNP Paribas Open and the Miami Open later this month.
"... Regardless if you started following me during my run in 2019, my TikTok vids during quarantine, my time at Stanford, or in 2008 ... where it all really began, I just want to say thanks—for your support, for your kind words and for your love," she wrote.
"One last thanks to my sponsors, coaches, friends and family for supporting me along the way and believing in me, even when I didn't believe in myself. As someone who has struggled with self-worth, it's taken me a while to accept that I'm worthy of my success, and that wouldn't have been possible without you by my side."
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