EINDHOVEN, The Netherlands (AFP) — Former world number one Yevgeny Kafelnikov was once the fittest man in world tennis, stacking up a whopping 25 million dollars in his career.
Unfortunately, the Russian then piled on the pounds in his retirement.
"I put two photos together, one when I was playing and a recent one, and it was like looking at two different people," said the 34-year-old who retired in 2003 and then spent the next five years playing poker, golf and caring for his now 10-year-old daughter, Alesja.
He also tipped the scales at 120kg (264lbs) - 36kg (79lbs) more than in his prime.
"I said to myself: 'You can't do that to your body, it's not going to last long if you do'. Sometimes you need those moments in your life when you draw the line and see what it's like to be at your best - at your highest level, and also at your lowest level.
"Fortunately, my lows were not too deep so I got out of it and I want to say 'thanks' so much to everyone for giving me the opportunity to come back and play."
Kafelnikov, who counted a French Open and Australian Open title amongst his 26 singles and 27 doubles trophies, has now returned to the courts, making his seniors debut on the Tour of Champions here.
Known for his work ethic, Kafelnikov played 915 singles matches and 571 doubles matches in an 11-year career on the circuit and also claimed Olympic gold in 2000.
Then, after a 6-2, 6-2 loss to compatriot Mikhail Youzhny in St Petersburg in 2003, he was not seen on a court again.
"Basically I burned out," he told the Tour of Champions website. "I started to lose to players who would hardly win a game against me when I was at my best. I just said look, I can't take it anymore' and that was when I really decided to quit."
Kafelnikov admitted that after retiring, he soon began to miss the tour.
"As you get older and wiser you see life from a different angle and your perspective changes," he said.
"When I was playing on the tour I had quite an ego. I was there to win and it comes with the territory.
"That's why I'm here - people want to see me because I was once the number one in the world and won Grand Slam titles. People want to see the guys who they idolised."
It wasn't a successful return for the blond Russian. He lost all three of his round-robin matches against Michael Chang, Paul Haarhuis and Goran Ivanisevic.
But he has already lost 15 kilos over the past six months.
"Slowly, I am getting into better shape and hopefully if I get more opportunities to play next year, I will perform better," he said.
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