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As he retires, Taylor Dent’s tennis game will be missed

Taylor Dent announced his retirement from tennis Monday.

It’s not a total shock. Dent is 29, and that he was playing for the last 18 months or so was a sweet bonus for a man who spent nearly two years fighting debilitating back injuries, underwent three back surgeries in 2006 and 2007 and wondered sometimes whether he would walk unaided and without pain.

But it is a loss for tennis.

For Dent is taking with him into retirement the kind of game we don’t see anymore.

Dent is an unabashed serve-and-volley player, always at the net. In fact, he has always been unwilling to stay at the baseline and pound ground strokes. It wasn’t how he was taught, by his father and former pro player Phil Dent, and it wasn’t how he wanted to play.

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“It wasn’t my nature,” Dent said. “I love to serve and volley.”

After his 12 years on the pro tour, where he was ranked as high as No. 21 in the world, and as he has watched the ascendance of big hitters of ground strokes such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Dent sounds almost wistful that this style of play is disappearing.

“In the past, tennis has been cyclical,” Dent said. “You’d have a wave of guys who stayed back, then a wave of guys who served and volleyed, then a wave of guys who stayed back.

“But lately the technology of tennis is taking the game in one direction. The balls are heavier, the courts are slower, the strings and rackets are enabling players to hit so much harder and with so much spin, it all works against the serve-and-volleyer.

“You might see somebody like a Pat Rafter or a Pete Sampras who have serves so good and so accurate they could negate the technology, but I don’t think you’ll see many.”

Dent, who has a 9-month-old son, said he and his wife, Jenny, sat down last week and talked about what’s next.

“It’s the deal we have had since my comeback,” Dent said, “that at the end of the year we sit down and have a scheduled talk about whether to go forward or retire. I’ve been playing for 12 years now and I met a lot of my goals, almost all my goals after coming back from the surgeries and the time seemed perfect.

“I’ve got a son and a strong desire to be a family man. Pro tennis is a grueling schedule and it gets pretty tough after a while. My body was able to hang in there, a testament to my surgeon, but at the end of the day it’s just a lot of little things.”

Dent, who grew up in Newport Beach and who has been based in Bradenton, Fla., for the last couple of years, said he would probably settle down in Kansas City, where his wife is from. He said he’s interested in exploring careers in coaching and in tennis commentating.

“We’ll see where the chips fall,” he said.

As for what he’ll remember most fondly about his career, Dent has a list.

“Any time I’ve won titles [four], those are big deals to me,” he said. “Not very many players win at the ATP level. I’ve had some big wins in my day, over James Blake and Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero. And if I look back on the broader picture, clawing my way back from surgery, it gave me a lot of pride because it wasn’t something easily done and it wasn’t only me but my whole supporting cast.

“There are things I’ll regret that didn’t turn out as I wished, the top prizes — being ranked No. 1 or winning a Grand Slam,” he said. “Those would have been incredibly special. But as I look back I think I always gave myself a chance to do my best. So I’m proud of that.”

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin


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