Fernando Gonzalez bowed out of professional tennis last night after a career that saw him become one of the most beloved competitors on the ATP Tour.

The Chilean went down 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3) to Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the Sony Ericsson Open to bring down the curtain on his 13-year career.

Sadly for Gonzo his career ended on a double fault, but the disappointment did not linger as the crowd rose to salute the 31-year-old. There then followed a video on the big screen, featuring tributes from many of the world's top players, including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

While there is often the sense that these types of tributes are forced, in Gonzalez's case there can be no doubt about the warmth with which he was regarded by his fellow players. Both for his personality and the extension of that to his game.

Gonzalez had one of the most spectacular forehands the sport has ever seen. Out of nowhere the man from Santiago could suddenly blast a forehand like it was propelled from a shotgun and send the ball arrowing past his bewildered opponent.

While tennis, like the vast majority of sports, has become more and more sterile, there was truly the sense that Gonzalez enjoyed his time on the court. Though he became more consistent as his career progressed, he still maintained the attitude of live by the sword, die by the sword.

His swashbuckling style may have cost him points and matches, but when it came off it was truly spectacular. It is that outlook that made him one of the most popular players to watch, both for fans and his rivals on the ATP Tour.

While being something of a showman, Gonzalez also managed some impressive achievements in his career.

In 2004, Gonzalez teamed up with Nicolas Mahut to claim gold in the doubles at the Athens Olympics. His medal collection was then enhanced in the 2008 Games in Beijing as he claimed the silver medal in singles.

Gonzalez's best run in a major came in the 2007 Australian Open where he reached the final for the loss of just one set. That he got swept in straight sets in the final by an all-conquering Federe was no disgrace.

Following the tournament, Gonzalez reached a career high ranking of No. 5. He also achieved at least a quarter-final place at all four of the majors.

But is it not stats or records that Gonzalez will be remembered for, but rather for the joyful way he played the game and reminded all those watching why we first picked up a racket in the first place.

Gracias Feña.