One of the University of Florida's greatest players, which is high praise indeed given the stature of that program, announced her retirement from professional tennis today. Lauren Embree, who led the Gators to two NCAA titles and delivered one of the program's most memorable moments, will be leaving the pro tour. The 25-year-old from Marco Island, Florida reached a career-high of 232 in the WTA rankings last summer, but injuries have been her constant companion. (For more details on that struggle, here's my interview with her for the Tennis Recruiting Network a little over a year ago.) Undefeated in SEC play during her career and the only woman to be named SEC player of the year three times, Embree was also MVP of the NCAA team tournament in 2011 and 2012.
In my years covering the NCAA team championships, I've seen a handful of unforgettable finishes, but at the top of the list (along with the 2013 men's final) is Embree's comeback from 4-0 down in the final set against Mallory Burdette to give Florida the 2011 team title, a 4-3 win over defending champion Stanford that ended the Cardinal's 184-match winning streak at home.
Embree, who I've covered for a decade as she went from junior to college to pro tennis, describes her own personality better than I ever could in her retirement statement, which she posted on Facebook today, and I am including in its entirety, below:
“If you are brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello.”
20 years of my life have been solely dedicated to this sport that has shaped me into the person I am and is literally a part of my identity as a human being. I fell in love with tennis, and it has given me experiences, friendships, wins, losses, NCAA championships, irreplaceable teammates, being a Florida Gator, independence, facing adversity, taught me commitment, dedication, hardwork, along with heartache, tears, sweat, and joy that will never be able to be taken away from me for as long as I live. With that being said, and with a ton of thought, I have made the decision to stop playing professional tennis and move on to the next chapter of my life.
This has been the most difficult, uneasy, painful, scary, but in my mind most courageous, brave, and sure decision I think I have made so far in my life. To be able to come to terms with this and understand that this chapter is over is something I am proud of myself for facing. I don’t think people understand how surreal it really is until it actually happens to you. You don’t just wake up and are automatically happier, or automatically have your life figured out…. not how it works. You in a sense have to start all over. There has been a lot of questions, tears, judgment, other people’s opinions thrown at me, and a lot of other emotions that all come with it that can’t be put into words. For 20 years, I have stepped on every practice court, competed in every match, entered every gym, showed up at any track, listened to every coach, with the intention to learn, work, be a good example, be unselfish, be a team player, do the right thing, come in with a good attitude, and always give 110%. Sometimes I think I tried too hard, cared too much, wanted it too badly, maybe a little too stubborn (some would say Roland Thornqvist & Julie Steven), but I can honestly say I fought, competed, and worked to the best of my ability day in and day out. By no means was I perfect or anywhere close to it (& I think my coaches can attest to what a nightmare I was at times) but they knew my drive and passion for this sport was something that couldn’t be taught.
Every coach I have ever had, MOST IMPORTANTLY starting with my pops has instilled a work ethic and mindset in me to carry on in life in order to even have a chance to be successful, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the mentors and amazing humans I have had to look up to to become the person I am today. No words can express how thankful I am or will ever be for the time and love you have invested in me, and these individuals know exactly who they are.
Throughout this entire journey from junior to pro tennis, I hope I can be remembered as an average tennis player but someone who fought no matter the score, competed for every point, had the biggest heart of anyone, ran down every ball, was annoying as hell to play against, feisty I guess you could say, on (and off) the court, and attempted to do it all with class and character. I definitely had my moments of sub par attitude, talking back, making refs feel terrible about themselves, and my fair share of cuss words, mental breakdowns, and broken rackets along the way….but really who doesn’t love a little girl drama??? If you took it personal, then I guess now I can say I am sorry =)
Lastly, my family. All I can really say is I love you guys. Without your sacrifice, support, confidence, and belief in me, none of these 20 plus years would be even close to as successful as they have been.. I am not sure how I got so lucky to have my dad as my coach and an older brother to beat me to the ground every day growing up,(Keith Embree) but something clicked and whatever you did worked, and I owe you guys the world for that.
So if you made it through all that, yes I am putting tennis to rest. It has been one hell of a ride, with memories and moments I will take to my grave. I cannot be more excited for the next phase of my life and the beginning of a new chapter. I have worked my very best and invested my entire life to this sport, and now I am excited to bring that same work ethic, passion, and love to something else and enjoy the next phase of my career.
Thank you again to every single human being that has been part of this journey with me. It has been an unforgettable, amazing life people can only dream of and I am forever grateful for the opportunities that have come my way because of this sport. Time to look for a new love….and Go Gators <3
Knowing Embree as I do, I have no doubt she'll find that new love and continue to inspire others as she always did, with her grit and determination, on the tennis court. And for another look at her mindset, check out this Athletic DNA ad, always one of my favorites, which perfectly captured her approach to the sport.
After saying goodbye to a great college tennis player, it seems appropriate to include the hellos that have been extended with the latest spring signings.
Duke announced that blue chip Meible Chi has signed and will be joining the Blue Devils this fall.
Texas A&M is welcoming two transfers for the fall, Tina Bokhua and Macarena Olivares.
Miami has signed Dominika Paterova and Estela Perez-Somarriba, with Sara Culbertson joining the team as a walk-on.
In men's signings, Tennessee has posted the details of their two new players, Scott Jones and Luca Wiedenmann, after announcing their signings on twitter last week.
San Diego has signed Joel Gamerov and Nico Borter, while announcing Garrett Kurtz will join the team as a walk-on.
And, although he will not be joining Ohio State until 2017, JJ Wolf talks about his commitment to the Buckeyes in today's article on the Tennis Recruiting Network.