Former three-time Grand Slam finalist Dinara Safina reveals anxiety and eating disorder played a big part in her very early retirement from tennis.
Safina, who is now 37 years old, played her last match in pro tennis in 2011 May at the Madrid Open. Although Safina's last match came in 2011, she didn't officially announce her retirement until 2014.
After 2011 Madrid and Safina not competing in any tournaments in the next couple of months, Marat Safin - the brother of Safina - announced in late 2011 that his sister decided to retire due to a chronic back injury. The following year, it looked like Safina was on the verge of coming back when she requested wildcards for Stanford, Montreal, Cincinnati, and the US Open. In the end, nothing happened as Safina withdrew those requests.
Considering how much success Safina had early in her career, many were stunned by her early retirement - the Russian was a back-to-back French Open finalist in 2008 and 2009, as well as an Australian Open finalist in 2009. Also, Safina was a semifinalist at Wimbledon and the US Open. In 2009, Safina also became the world No. 1 for the first time in her career.
Now, Safina has publicly revealed for the first time what really forced her into an early retirement.
“What ultimately kept me from coming back was that physically, I struggled with body weight. I was fighting anxiety and a binge eating disorder. I was consistently overweight, and I couldn’t lose it even though I fought so much to do so,” Safina told tennis.com.
“I would try different diets and nothing worked and to play with an extra 30 kilos, it’s not easy. For me, this was one of the main reasons why I never tried to come back, and these were tough moments for me, because I was physically not like I was, and people were saying that I had gotten fat and the blah-blah-blah.
“It’s not a secret, but at the same time, I don’t want it to be a story where people read it like I feel so bad and I’m crying over this. I want people to understand that this can happen to anyone.
“Everyone has their own problems, their own fears, and it’s normal, when facing them, to feel like you are alone in this world and no one else understands. Many people have gone through the same things. There is always light at the end, and it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.”
While Safina is not anymore in pro tennis, she does some tennis coaching. Also when addressing her current state, Safina revealed that she has overcome her eating disorder and that she is living a happy life.
Safina praises Aryna Sabalenka
During the same interview, Safina also spoke very highly of who Sabalenka is as a player and as a person.
Just two years ago, Sabalenka was in a very negative place tennis-wise as she was mightily struggling with her serve and at times she even looked lost on the court. While it was a very difficult and challenging period, Sabalenka was keen on finding solutions and she ultimately succeeded in her goal.
After a very difficult period in 2022, 25-year-old Sabalenka won two Grand Slam titles in 12 months and also reached the world No. 1 for the first time in her career. At this past Australian Open, Sabalenka was absolutely impressive as she didn't lose a single set on her way to defending her title at Melbourne Park.
Reflecting on Sabalenka's big success over the last year, Safina thinks Sabalenka making peace with herself in certain things has played a big part in the Belarusian's success. Also, Safina finds it impressive how Sabalenka treats those around her.
“The way she handled herself speaks to her strength of character, how loyal she is to her team. If something has gone wrong, she takes the responsibility. She doesn’t blame others and I think the way she treats people shows that she has a very big heart,” Safina said of Sabalenka.
“I think she changed as a person. She has found a balance where she is happy inside and isn’t struggling emotionally. Even if she loses a match, she’s still smiling and not taking it personal. She’s able to understand that she can have a bad day and still give 100% the next match. It’s not killing her from the inside."
After accomplishing her goal of becoming a Grand Slam champion at the 2023 Australian Open, Sabalenka revealed that her coach Anton Dubrov accepted the blame and responsibility for her struggles in 2022 and offered his resignation. But he didn't leave her team after Sabalenka told him that he wasn't the problem. Instead, the two continued working together and Sabalenka now has two Grand Slam titles in her collection.