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The Open Interview: Liezel Huber

2011 US Open;Women's Doubles Final;Trophy Ceremony;Liezel Huber;Lisa Raymond

Two-time US Open doubles champion Liezel Huber (pictured above, left) retired after her run in Flushing Meadows this year.

Throughout her career, Huber amassed 53 doubles titles, including seven Grand Slam championships (five in women's doubles and two in mixed doubles). She captured her first US Open title in 2008 in women’s doubles with longtime partner Cara Black, and again in 2011, this time with Lisa Raymond. Huber finished at No. 1 in the world doubles rankings four years (2007-2009, 2011) and was as high as No. 131 in singles.

Born in South Africa, the naturalized American citizen has represented the U.S. on the Fed Cup team and was a three-time Olympian, making it to the quarterfinals with Lindsay Davenport in Beijing in 2008 and to the semifinals with Raymond in 2012.

Besides her many successes on court, off the court Huber has served as a role model for fellow players, winning two WTA Humanitarian of the Year awards (2005, 2007) and two WTA Player Service awards (2008-09).  

Huber may no longer be a tennis player, but she’s still present on the tennis court. In June, she began a new role as the Director of Tennis and Development at the NYJTL Cary Leeds Center in the Bronx, N.Y. Huber also is currently serving on the USTA's board of directors for the 2017-18 term. 

Huber recently took time to talk to USOpen.org to talk tennis, retirement and her new role.

USOpen.org: You played your last professional tennis match this summer at the US Open. What was that experience like?

Liezel Huber: I think it was very special because I’m now a New York resident, and I’m also on the USTA board. So for me, I had different eyes. I didn’t just have the eyes of a player but I had eyes of a fan, a spectator, but also somebody that has involvement in the game, that wants to grow the game and wants to continue the vision of the strong board that we have.

I came in admiring all the players, and all the hard work they put in every day, and when you’re not in that role you kind of forget how much it takes. So for me, it was extremely special. I got to play with a youngster [American Danny Thomas]. It was his first US Open and his first mixed doubles ever, so more special. I wouldn’t have wanted to play with anyone else. I thought it was very special playing with this young man, so it was a great experience.

USOpen.org: What is your greatest US Open memory?

Huber: I think it was definitely playing the [women’s doubles] final on 9/11 (in 2011, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11). It was a tough day, a tough day for the country, and here we were playing in New York. And we were supposed to be very excited to play, and I was very excited, but I was moreso thinking of what I wanted to say to the crowd after the match, win or lose. “9/11” was written on the court. We won, for me was the toughest day, but was the best day in my career as an American tennis player.

USOpen.org: What do you think you’ll miss the most about playing on the circuit?

Huber: I won’t miss living out of a suitcase, that’s for sure, or seeing airports or tennis courts and hotels. What I think I’ll miss is that competitiveness, really wanting, striving to be the best. And when you are the best, to be even better. I think that schedule and that routine, although you’re living out of a suitcase, I try and adapt everything from my professional life on the tennis court back to my other life, my regular life and my job. Try to stay in that schedule, try to still be that competitive. I think that’s kind of bred into you over the years. I think that’s what I’ll miss the most.

USOpen.org: You’ve been recognized for your service work off the court, including winning WTA’s Humanitarian of Year award twice. What has been your motivation to give back, and what project have you been most proud to be a part of?

Huber: That kind of brings me full circle to where I am now. I am now executive director at Cary Leeds for the NYJTL, which is a nonprofit, and our mission is to make lives better for the young people, to provide them education with the tennis component. So for me, I probably wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have that passion. Tennis has really given me this great platform to stand on to make a difference.

I realize that many years after I became a pro, it wasn’t that professional tennis part that I was seeking, but it was that I could make a difference with this platform. So, sometimes people think, "Oh, you’re No.1” and your No.1 defines you, but for me, I kind of trick people. They want to meet a tennis player and hear about their Grand Slam victories, and then I cannot talk about the things that I’m passionate about enough. It’s reaching those kids that are in shelters in our neighborhood, putting racquets in kids hands that would never have that opportunity, and now I actually get to do it with something I’m familiar with: tennis.

How my humanitarian work started was really out of need. It was when we had the hurricanes, Katrina and Rita, close to home (Huber lived in Houston at the time), so that was easy enough because that’s where I live. But now I get to work, on the nonprofit side, and I get to combine it with tennis, which couldn’t be more perfect.

USOpen.org: What have you enjoyed most so far about your new role at Cary Leeds?

Huber: If you told me that I would have a boss one day, or if you told me I would work 18-hour days, I would tell you no way. But the days do not seem long, and there’s always plenty to do. Nothing is perfect; we would like more grants, we would like more funding and we would like people to see the work we do on a daily basis. But for me, the fun part is truly when you know you make that difference in a person’s life. Truly, if they weren’t on the tennis court, where would they be, who would be the role models they have?

For me, I can touch someone every single day. And it’s not about the image you project; you’re really giving the message of this is what you can do when you work hard. I’m not the most talented, but I let them know, we can show you the skill, and then you can achieve your dreams also. It doesn’t have to be on the tennis court, but just give them the confidence to succeed in life.

This new role that I have – it’s fantastic. I work in a wonderful organization where I have great support from the CEO. NYJTL has been around for a long time, and I believe I’ve come on the right time, and it’s very exciting. Also where the world is today, the more people need to pay it forward. Why wouldn’t you do that as a job? I’m so lucky.