He earned five and a half million dollars in his chosen profession, garnered numerous accolades and arena’s full of applause. He was well known throughout his country and represented it with professionalism and integrity the world over. By any reasonable standard, Sergiy Stakhovsky was a sporting success. He achieved what no other sportsman in his homeland had ever managed before. Stakhovsky, one of the two greatest men’s professional tennis players in Ukrainian history, gave hope to those in his homeland who might dream that one day they too could play at the highest levels of international tennis. In a nation where oligarchy and corruption had been rampant for far too long, where who you knew was often the ticket to riches, Stakhovsky carved out a career path in the ultimate meritocracy. No one lasts long in the cutthroat world of men’s professional tennis unless they are supremely talented and blessed with an incredible work ethic. Stakhovsky was up to the challenge. He managed to thrive in that world for 19 years. Then at the age of 38, ancient by the standards of men’s professional tennis, Stakhovsky decided to call it a career and move on to the next phase of his life.
Career move – Sergiy Stakhovsky being honored at the 2022 ATP finals in London
The Journeyman – To the Ends of the Earth
Retirement from professional tennis meant that Stakhovsky would finally be able to enjoy a respite from the jet set lifestyle of the touring pro. A way of life that looks glamorous to outsiders, is anything but to those who must endure it. Stakhovsky knew the reality of that lonely life. Years spent on an exhausting odyssey of travel to the ends of the earth in search of coveted ranking points, prize money, and sponsorships. Much of Stakhovsky’s tennis career was spent far from the maddening crowds that circle center courts at Grand Slam events. To keep his career afloat, Stakhovsky became a journeyman pro. He had no choice but to ply his tennis trade in locales that only the most fervent fans of the sport have ever heard of. Those places were now just memories in the rearview mirror of his tennis career. There would be no more tepid applause and half empty bleachers, nor would there be the thrill of striding onto center court at Wimbledon.
Stakhovsky said thanks for the memories, but it was now time to start living a normal life. He was going to settle down to a life of leisure and relaxation, no more sprints at the break of dawn, strict dietary requirements, or endless hours on the court pounding serves. No more missed flights, sleeping in airports, and late check-ins to hotels multiple time zones away from home. Stakhovsky would now be able to enjoy a second career that had already begun. He was the proud owner of a winery in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains not far from the Ukraine-Hungary border. The property was but a four-hour drive from Budapest, where he lived with his wife and kids. Finally, he would be in his chosen home and near enough to visit the winery anytime he pleased. 2022 would be a new beginning. And so it was, but not in the way Sergey Stakhovsky had imagined. On February 24th, everything changed for Stakhovsky when Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Stakhovsky could have stayed safely abroad, he had a family to help raise and the means to live a comfortable lifestyle. Instead, he chose to fight for his nation.
Lucky loser – Sergiy Stakhovsky holding court
A Far Cry – Tour of Duty
The first time I heard of Sergiy Stakhovsky was in March 2008, when he rose to prominence as what is known in professional tennis parlance a “lucky loser.” At the time, Stakhovsky was ranked #209 in the world and trying to fight his way up through the rankings to get into events on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) World Tour. To that end, Stakhovsky tried to qualify for the Zagreb Indoors in Croatia, but he lost in the final round of qualifying. Fortune was on Stakhovsky’s side when a player withdrew from the main draw. This allowed Stakhovsky a place in the main draw. He went on to win the event, one of only nine players to ever win an ATP tour event as a lucky loser. Two years later, Stakhovsky peaked at #31 in the world rankings. Besides winning four ATP tour level titles, the highlight of Stakhovsky’s career came at Wimbledon in 2013. That was where he defeated one of the greatest players of all time, Roger Federer in the second round. This would be the greatest victory of Stakhovsky’s tennis career. That glory is a far cry from where he has been for most of this year.
Only a week after the Russian invasion of his homeland began, Stakhovsky volunteered for the Ukrainian Army. He was sent to eastern Ukraine to help patrol and secure cities that have been recently recaptured. Last week, Stakhovsky managed to get away from the front and travel to the ATP Finals in London where he was honored as one of the pros who retired from the tour this year. Stakhovsky’s last match was at the Australian Open in January. The burning heat and cheering crowds in Melbourne are a far cry from the life-threatening dangers that Stakhovsky and his fellow Ukrainian soldiers endure every day. Stakhovsky’s sense of duty to his country is admirable, but not out of the ordinary as an overwhelming majority of Ukrainian men have answered the call to fight for their country’s independence.
Another struggle – Sergiy Stakhovsky in Ukrainian Army fatigues
Speaking Up – The Right Side of History
Stakhovsky is in a unique situation because of his previous career as one of the top tennis players in the world. He has won doubles titles with Russian partners, his wife is Russian, and Stakhovsky won a tour level event at St. Petersburg in 2010. Nevertheless, Stakhovsky is a Ukrainian patriot through and through. He has little time for Russian players who do not speak out against the war. He recently said that history will be the judge of their silence. As for Stakhovsky, history will have a very different verdict on his service to Ukraine. He answered the call when his nation needed it most. By doing so, Stakhovsky has put himself on the right side of history.