MIAMI, FL, USA - After a 10-month absence to battle Hodgkin's lymphoma, Alisa Kleybanova - one of the biggest fighters out there - is back on the WTA, set to play the first match of her comeback at the Sony Ericsson Open.
After on-and-off feelings of illness early in 2011, Kleybanova stopped playing after Rome in May and went to get to the bottom of it. "I was feeling sick, like the cold or flu, and it was happening quite a lot," she said. "I was playing through it but I wasn't feeling well in practice, and I got really sick in Rome. I decided to stop and see, deep inside, what was really going wrong."
Kleybanova was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer originating from white blood cells. "I had felt for a while something was really wrong, but I don't think anybody was expecting something like that. But straight away I was just focused on the diagnosis and figuring out the best doctors, the best place for me to get better, and just doing everything to help fight it."
Last July 15th, on her 22nd birthday, Kleybanova announced she would be off the tour indefinitely to battle the disease. Battle it she did - several months of treatment wrapped up in December, and it also didn't take the former Top 20 player long to get back to the courts - she was hitting again in February. And then it was announced she got a wildcard into the Sony Ericsson Open.
"I missed the competition a lot," she said at a pre-tournament press conference on Monday. "I've never had such a big break in my tennis. The thing I like the most about tennis is the tournaments, the matches - it's not that I don't like hitting tennis balls, because I do love that, but my favorite things are the results, the wins, just all the excitement and emotions during my matches. It was probably that feeling that kept me fighting through all the problems I had.
"That's why I'm back in such a short time and really excited for my first round here. My dream has come true right now - I'm back on the court again."
The Russian pointed to her profession as a big help to her recovery. "I'm really thankful to be a professional athlete," she said. "Since I was a kid I've been used to hard work and discipline, and also there are a lot of things you have to overcome when you do this. You have a team around you, but you don't have your family around you a lot, so all your life you learn how to deal with things by yourself. And when you have a huge problem, you're used to it - even though this was completely different to anything I am used to, I was still mentally very motivated to overcome it, which obviously helped me a lot to get through it.
"It has been almost a year since I've been on the tour and things have probably improved and changed, but I have a huge motivation to leave 100% every day of my life, and I'm so happy to have wonderful people around me right now."