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At the Net: Gonzo did Chile proud

A Chilean sports hero called it a career last week when Fernando Gonzalez bid farewell to the ATP World Tour.

"Gonzo" was a fixture on the circuit since 1999 and soared as high as No. 5 in the world back in 2007. He was best known for having one of the mightiest forehands in the history of tennis.

The Santiago native, born Fernando Francisco Gonzalez Ciuffardi, slugged his way into 21 career ATP finals, winning 11 titles, including eight on clay (which you would expect from a South American player), with his last one coming in Vina del Mar in his native Chile in 2009.

As it turned out, Vina del Mar would mark Fernando's sparkling tournament, as he won a title there no less than four times and was the runner-up on another occasion. He appeared in five finals there over an eight-year span.

But Vina del Mar was far from the brightest spot in his career, as the Chilean strongman peaked with a trip into the 2007 Australian Open final, ultimately succumbing to, who else, the great Roger Federer. It would mark Gonzo's first and only berth in a Grand Slam final.

"El Bombardero" (The Bomber) reached at least the quarterfinals of a major seven times (at least once at all four Slams) and landed in at least the semifinals at eight Masters events.

Not too shabby.

Gonzo also collected all three medals at the Olympic Summer Games, as he garnered doubles gold, alongside countryman Nicolas Massu, in Athens in 2004; silver in singles in Beijing in 2008 (after beating American James Blake in a semifinal match clouded in controversy); and bronze in Athens in '04. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the gold medal match in Beijing.

In the process, Gonzalez became only the fourth male tennis player in history to capture each Olympic medal.

Did You Know?: Gonzalez and Massu topped a German tandem of Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler in the gold medal doubles match in Athens. Schuettler, like Gonzo, is also a former Aussie Open singles finalist.

Gonzalez was also a two-time Masters runner-up, in Madrid in 2006 and Rome in 2007, and helped Chile capture back-to-back titles at the clay-court World Team Championship in Duesseldorf in 2003 and 2004.

The oft-injured 31-year-old stuffed his equipment into his bag for last the time last week after losing to big-serving Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3) in a riveting opening-round affair at the ATP Masters event in Miami. Gonzo had stated last month that Miami would mark his final action on the circuit.

Note: Mahut, of course, is best known for playing against John Isner in the longest-ever tennis match in the opening round at Wimbledon two years ago.

After falling to Mahut, Gonzalez was presented a commemorative frame by ATP executive chairman and president Brad Drewett and sent off with a special video tribute that featured goodbyes from the likes of Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

"Fernando has been one of the most exciting and charismatic players on the ATP World Tour over the last decade," Drewett said. "He is a wonderful person off the court and popular with everyone involved in the sport, including his fellow players, tournaments and all of us at the ATP. We thank him for his many contributions to the game and wish him all the very best."

Maybe it was only fitting that Gonzo's career came to an end in Florida, as the Sunshine State also marked the site of his first ATP title, in Orlando, 12 years ago.

Slowed mightily by a hip injury over the last few years, Gonzalez settled for a career record of 370-202.

He was only able to compete in four tournaments last year after undergoing right hip surgery in October 2010.

"I don't have the energy to get up in the morning, train like I have to train, travel like I have to travel," Gonzalez admitted. "And I've been doing this for many years. If I'm not going to be 100 percent, I think I have to do something else."

Also in 2010, Gonzalez opted to skip a Masters event at Indian Wells in order to travel to areas affected by a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in his beloved Chile. He also hosted a benefit for the earthquake victims, "Champions for Chile," appearing alongside Andy Roddick, Jim Courier and fellow South American Gustavo "Guga" Kuerten.

Gonzalez said he would like to be remembered as someone who gave "100 percent every single time when he went to the court. "And, of course, I think it is much better to be remembered as a person than as a tennis player," he said.

Oddly enough, however, Gonzalez is not the best-ever player from Santiago, as I would have to give that nod to his left-handed compatriot Marcelo Rios, a former world No. 1 who piled up 18 titles and reached an Aussie final (1998).

FYI: Gonzalez' career prize money came in at just under $9 million.