OSAKA, Japan - Just two weeks after one of Japan's best players called it a career another one has done the same, as Akiko Morigami, winner of one singles title and one doubles title on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour and many times a tough test for the world's best, announced her retirement.
Citing an ongoing knee problem that has kept her from practicing and playing at her full potential, the 29-year-old - who was born in Osaka but lives in Tokyo - played her last Tour event at the HP Open this week in her birthtown.
"I have fluid that has built up in my knee and I am no longer able to train the way I want to," Morigami said earlier in the week. "If I can't return to the stage of playing I once had I really don't see any reason to continue."
Morigami won her first match against Anastasia Rodionova but was outdone in the second round by Samantha Stosur. She was given flowers by the tournament and many of her friends came to watch, including Sayako Hirano, one of Japan's top table tennis players, who had never seen live tennis.
"When I was down 5-1 in the second set I already had some tears - it was kind of weird," said Morigami, who lost, 61 62. I'm glad this was my last tournament though as I am from Osaka and lots of people came to watch. It's sad I lost but Sam is a great player and is at another level. I have no regrets."
Morigami will play the Japanese National Championships in November to finish her tennis career: "I've never won a national title. I'm really determined to win."
Morigami, who played with two hands on both sides, won her lone singles title on the Tour at Prague in the spring of 2007, defeating another two-handed player, Marion Bartoli, in the final. Apart from that she enjoyed almost all of her success on hardcourts, including her other two finals, both in Cincinnati (in 2005 and 2007). She finished in the Top 100 five straight years (2003 to 2007).
Although she only made it as high as No.41 herself, Morigami was always a rough customer for the top players, with seven Top 20 wins in her career. Again, while most of those moments came on fast surfaces, the biggest win - her only Top 10 win - came on clay, more specifically the terre battue of Roland Garros in 2006, where she beat then-No.3 Nadia Petrova - who was riding a 15-match win streak - in a stunning upset, 62 62, in the first round.
Perhaps her most famous match ended in defeat, as she built a 5-3 third set lead against Venus Williams in the third round of Wimbledon in 2007 before succumbing, 62 36 75. Williams went on to win the tournament.
"One of my greatest memories was winning in Prague. Also, I was one game away from beating Venus at Wimbledon - if I did win it might have changed my life, but it didn't happen. I remember playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon against Capriati about five or six years ago, too. Wimbledon is every tennis player's dream and to play on Centre Court made mine come true."
Morigami won her lone doubles title on the Tour at Memphis in 2003 with fellow Japanese Saori Obata. She also played Fed Cup for Japan seven straight years (2002 to 2008) and was on the Olympic team in 2004.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do next but definitely something in tennis. It has given me so much over the years and I want to give something back."
Two weeks ago in Tokyo it was Ai Sugiyama who played her last event. Japan's two remaining Top 100 players are 19-year-old Ayumi Morita, who is likely headed for her first Top 100 finish, and 39-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm, who came out of 11 years of retirement in 2008 and hit her stride this fall, taking the first Tour title of her return a few weeks ago at Seoul. Date Krumm has indicated she wants to play several more years before calling it a career.