Klahn Calls It A Career: 'Incredibly Fortunate & Grateful'
Bradley Klahn’s career is a raw story of persevering in spite of obstacles to achieve a childhood dream.
Turning 33 on Sunday, the American retired from pro tennis this week at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Stanford, California. Klahn hangs up his racquets after soaking in every minute of his 11 years on Tour.
“It never felt like a job to me to have to go and hit tennis balls and try to improve,” Klahn told ATPTour.com. “I've been very lucky for 11 years to play professionally. Not many people get to take their childhood passion and turn it into a professional thing. I am fortunate that I can say I did it.”
An eight-time ATP Challenger Tour champion, Klahn climbed to a career-high No. 63 in 2014. Some of the lefty’s fond memories include playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2018 and the adrenaline rush he felt when a home crowd was chanting, ‘U-S-A!’ as he won a five-setter to secure his first major main-draw victory at the 2012 US Open.
A light-hearted moment that Klahn will never forget is the time he hitched a ride with an airport mechanic — following a cancelled flight in Binghamton, New York — to catch a flight in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With the clock ticking and Klahn heading to Florida for training after a quarter-final run at the Binghamton Challenger, it was an introduction to the whirlwind of pro tennis for the California native.
“11 years seems like a long time and it also seems like it went by in the blink of an eye. I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish,” Klahn said. “I’m incredibly fortunate and grateful that I've surrounded myself with family and friends who pushed me to get the most out of myself and they have been there every step of the way with me.”
Klahn turned professional in 2012, after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics at Stanford University, where he won the 2010 NCAA singles title.
Things began to change for Klahn when he was a senior at Stanford. A recurring back injury forced him to have three surgeries throughout his career, the first coming in 2011.
Bradley Klahn is crowned champion at the 2019 Winnetka Challenger.
The end looked near for Klahn in 2020, when he retired from a match for the first and only time in his career at the Split Challenger. Klahn was physically unable to serve. The back injury resurfaced, requiring a third surgery and 20 months away from competition.
“It’s consumed me, unfortunately so much of my energy has been spent trying to figure out what the root cause is and trying different treatments, workout programs,” Klahn said. “At the end of the day, it's still allowed me to do some pretty amazing things.
“Despite it all, I was able to reach the Top 100 multiple times and live some of these experiences that I could never have dreamed of when I was an 11 year old starting to play tennis and watching it on TV. So you have to count your blessings and understand that there are ups and downs, but it's been an amazing career.”
Klahn’s retirement was a multi-year process of debating when the right time was to say goodbye. One thing was for sure, he did not want his career to end while lying on a hospital bed. When he returned to action in 2022, retirement seemed inevitable, but he felt relatively healthy to keep going.
It was only fitting that Klahn concluded his career Monday at the Stanford Challenger.
“I still get emotional thinking about it. That place is special to me,” Klahn said. “The feelings I get when I step foot on campus, no other place can recreate it, as much for me personally as tennis. Stanford shaped me in more ways than one. It's the place where it really solidified in my mind that I want to play professional tennis and see how good I can get and leave it all out there.”
A special and emotional moment — ATP Challenger Tour (@ATPChallenger) August 16, 2023
Former World No. 63 Bradley Klahn reflects on a career that saw him step foot on Centre Court at Wimbledon, fight back from multiple injuries, and live out his childhood dream as a professional tennis player 👏#ATPChallenger • @usta pic.twitter.com/JMdzAxRShS
Klahn first began playing tennis at age 11 and it quickly took off. He recalled a ‘terrible’ first-tournament experience, catching his opponent’s serve mid-air because it was sailing long, before Klahn was told that is illegal, “I didn’t know the score or anything, it’s pretty funny to see how far I’ve come,” he said, while cracking a laugh.
Though tennis is deemed as an individual sport, the 32-year-old credits his army of people who have supported him since day one, most notably his parents, Dennis and Nancy, who would often wake up at 4:30 a.m. on weekends to take Klahn to tournaments.
“I had to make sacrifices, but a lot of other people had to make sacrifices because they believed in me and my dream,” Klahn said. “You realise how much your family sacrifices just for you and it feels a little selfish at times. But it means a lot to look over and know that they are there and now it's nice to have an opportunity to give back to them and be that supportive figure for them that they were for me for so many years.”
While Klahn may not be competing on court anymore, he will not be far from the game. He is looking forward to more commentating opportunities for Tennis Channel. Klahn also wants to help young athletes understand the business side of professional sports. He wants to leave a lasting impression that is more than just wins and losses.
“I think that further than any on-court result, I want to be known as Bradley the person more so than Bradley the tennis player,” Klahn said. “Being a guy that people enjoyed having around and who was well respected.”