LONDON -- Yevgeny Kafelnikov is giving up tennis to become a
professional poker player.
"I have retired," the former No. 1 player said in Monday's
Independent newspaper. "But I have not officially announced it
yet. Some people still think I am just taking a break, but I
believe that my time in tennis has gone by. Even if I came back, I
would have no chance to play at the level I was."
The 30-year-old Russian hasn't played since losing in the second round of the St. Petersburg Open in October 2003.
"I began at 19, and now it is impossible to compete with guys
10 years younger," Kafelnikov said. "They are more hungry. I
played five or six matches indoors, at the end of 2003, and I
thought, 'I can't do this any more.' I was losing to guys who, a
couple of years before, I was able to beat with only my left hand.
That's when I realized my time was gone."
Kafelnikov won the 1996 French Open, the 1999 Australian Open, a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, the 2002 Davis Cup and 26 ATP titles. He held the top ranking during the 1999 season.
"The most important thing was not to disappoint my fans," he
said. "It is very hard to earn a good image in Russia. So when
people on the street in Moscow ask why I stopped playing, I say
'because I don't want to see you people crying when I lose.' They
Kafelnikov, known for his love of roulette while on the tennis circuit, is competing in a poker tournament in Maidstone, south of London.
"I find it very exciting," he said. "Because you win not with
the cards but with your skills. With body language you can win a
game, but also you can lose a game. You need guts in poker, as in
tennis. And if you don't believe in your ability, you don't win. In
tennis I believed in myself, that's why I had so much success."