Berrer Retires at 36, Ready For Next Chapter
For more than a decade, Michael Berrer has called the ATP World Tour his home, traversing the globe while performing his dream job at the highest level. After 620 matches in more than 100 cities, the German hung up his racquet for the final time, announcing his retirement at the age of 36.
The gregarious left-hander has always had a burgeoning affinity for the game, ever since he first picked up a racquet as a young boy in Stuttgart. A genuine and charismatic personality, Berrer was a dogged competitor between the lines, exuding passion and energy that made him an instant fan favourite. For those fortunate to compete on the ATP World Tour and call it their profession, it is privilege, a sentiment echoed by Berrer as he looks back on his time between the lines.
“It's a new situation for me now, but I feel pretty good about it,” Berrer told ATPWorldTour.com. “For me, being on tour was something I always enjoyed. I liked to spend time with the ATP employees and the players. It was always a good time and never a stressful one. Even when you are traveling, you meet so many people and interact with so many characters. From the check-in and security at the airport and the tournament personnel, I loved it.
“There are many moments I will never forget. My victory over Rafael Nadal (in Doha) was special and playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2008 too. Those were moments that I always enjoyed. Playing in the United States too, especially reaching the third round in Indian Wells. The crowd gives you a great reception there and they really appreciate athletes.”
While Berrer has certainly left his mark on the court, ascending to a career-high World No. 42 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, reaching consecutive finals on the indoor hard courts of Zagreb in 2010 and 2011, as well as posting a 235-152 record on the ATP Challenger Tour, including 11 titles, it is his achievements off the court that have prepared him for a fruitful career outside the lines.
Berrer took part in the ATP’s scholarship program, which gives players the opportunity to further pursue their intellectual interests via online college courses at the University of Phoenix. While competing full-time and raising his now four-year-old daughter Mia-Marie with wife Nadine, Berrer worked towards a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from 2011-15 and is in the process of completing his Master’s thesis in sports psychology. His focus? An issue that he believes plagues many professional athletes: Fear of success.
“It's a common thing that many players have,” said Berrer. “There are many limiting factors that players display. That's why I chose this topic. It's very interesting, but it’s not a weakness. Even the best players in the world have that, but they have a way of overcoming these feelings and that's why they are the best. You need to have coping strategies. It's not a secret. If you watch it from the outside perspective, obviously it's difficult to understand, but everyone is human.
“The biggest strength is that you are resilient. I first came to the Top 100 when I was 27. Most people are younger. Even if you are older, you can always improve. This must be your driving engine to always want to improve. If you don't want to improve and get better, then you should try to find a different occupation. And you need to surround yourself with people that encourage this desire to grow.
“I needed the help of a sports psychologist myself. It's hard to use all these theoretical frameworks on yourself because it doesn't really work so much. You have some mechanisms, but it's not easy to self-analyse. I've worked with really good people and it gives you a lot of positive energy.”
MICHAEL'S FIVE BIGGEST LESSONS LEARNED
(1) Work hard every single day.
(2) Put yourself in an environment that allows you to become the best.
(3) Surround yourself with those that understand the sacrifices needed to succeed.
(4) Enjoy every day as a tennis player. It's the best life.
(5) Don't take it too seriously. You have to smile, even though it can be tough out there.
A wealth of knowledge from countless hours on court and behind the scenes at tournaments provided a distinct opportunity in Berrer’s studies. With such a unique perspective, as the only player with his pedigree to pursue such a degree, he greatly drew upon his experiences. Exclusive access to players and coaches, in particular, enhanced this angle and yielded more comprehensive research in constructing his thesis.
“I was doing questionnaires with a lot of coaches,” said Berrer, who also served on the ATP Player Council from 2008-09. “I approached coaches more, but I used my personal experience with players. If I can’t use my personal experience as a player, I don't know who can. There isn't one person doing a psychology thesis that's better than me in tennis, so I'm pretty hopeful that it will be accepted.
“The ATP and University of Phoenix provided the perfect program and it was really challenging to do. Instead of going out, I was studying and working hard. You have to be online every other day and submit substantial posts that are evaluated by the instructor. There are a lot of written assignments. Writing skills are very important, so you also become even more fluent in English. Getting my certificate is just a piece of paper but it's an important one. It's good to have it. There aren't a lot of former athletes who can say they have a degree right after finishing their career.”
Berrer played his last match at the inaugural European Open in Antwerp in late October, nearly two years after initially deciding to announce his retirement. The German had entered the Qatar ExxonMobil Open at the start of the 2015 season, having decided to call it a career by year’s end, but his campaign got off to quite the auspicious start. He would notch the biggest win of his career in the Doha first round, storming back to stun World No. 3 Rafael Nadal 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. His first win over a Top 5 opponent in 14 tries drove Berrer to one of his best seasons on tour and he would delay retirement for one more year.
A run to the third round at the BNP Paribas Open and first ATP World Tour semi-final in more than three years, in Bogota, would ensue, and he began climbing the Emirates ATP Rankings once again. As the calendar flipped to 2016, the 36-year-old would become the oldest Challenger winner this year, when he battled to the title in Leon, Mexico.
“I was still able to do some damage on tour and end it on my terms.”
With his playing career in the books and his studies wrapping up, Berrer has created a strong foundation to tackle his many prospective endeavors. He is already looking forward to a position with the German Tennis Federation in marketing and sponsorship, while also developing a plan with a consultant to go into motivational speaking.
“I'm feeling pretty happy actually. During the year I was nervous about what is coming up after my career and was under some pressure. But I have so many opportunities now and I decided to test a few things to see what will fit my personality the most. I will also get the chance to spend some time with good players in my regional federation to see how coaching works out for me. It's some amazing things that I'm trying to develop. I'm really feeling good about it.”