On Her Own Terms: Morariu Retires
Published September 19, 2007 12:00
NEW YORK, NY, USA - In the tennis world, the word comeback has become synonymous with the recovery from injury, or a return to form. But one player's comeback in particular didn't fit into either category. In one of the most inspirational and resonant stories in the history of the sport, Corina Morariu fought leukemia and won, and in Flushing Meadows said goodbye to tennis - on her own terms.
Morariu's sense of determination was evident from the very beginning, picking up the sport and almost instantaneously developing a strong work ethic. She started travelling to tournaments while attending high school, but once she graduated, it wasn't even a question in her mind what she wanted to do.
"From the beginning I was set on becoming a pro player," Morariu said. "I wasn't a fantastic junior, and there were others my age that got all the attention, and there was a point where I'd have been satisfied to get a scholarship and go that route. But I worked hard and decided to go pro. And I was pleasantly surprised."
Morariu's transition from the minor leagues to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour didn't take long. Just three years after her high school graduation she already had her first singles title and an abundance of doubles titles, including her first Slam title at Wimbledon. In 2000, she became one of now 21 women in history to attain the No.1 doubles ranking. And by 2001, she held three Top 10 wins in singles.
"I'd have to say winning Wimbledon was one of my greatest accomplishments," Morariu said of her All-England Club triumph, which she shared with close friend Lindsay Davenport. "Obviously all the Grand Slams are big but Wimbledon is so steeped in tradition and has such prestige to it. And the ranking was icing on the cake. To be No.1 in the world in something is phenomenal. I feel very proud."
After a strong start to 2001, the unthinkable happened: Morariu was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. The doubts arose as to whether she would make it through, let alone return to her passion. But she never stopped fighting, and from her hospital bed in Miami, she saw the tennis world come together.
"I was so surprised by the outpouring of support from everyone - from fans, just people I didn't know, and players I wasn't necessarily close to before," she added. "Being there in the hospital and seeing how people were supporting me was very emotional. It had a huge impact on me. I'll carry it with me forever."
After undergoing extensive chemotherapy treatment and winning, Morariu made an inspirational return to competition at San Diego in the summer of 2002.
"A year before, I had no hair and no strength and didn't know how the story was going to end. But making it back is by far my greatest achievement. Fighting leukemia and coming back to play professionally was my proudest moment."
Later that summer, Morariu would play Serena Williams under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, a match she says is her fondest singles memory.
"Though I lost the match in straight sets, I had a renewed sense of determination and just appreciated every minute of it," Morariu added. "I was working hard and playing well, and it didn't matter if I won or not. It was a special night."
Morariu enjoyed impressive results in doubles over the next few years, her third Grand Slam final at the Australian Open with Davenport being among them. But a series of injuries, including right shoulder tendonitis that would eventually need surgery, kept her from fully regaining her momentum, particularly in singles.
"My singles was cut short by my illness and surgeries, which was unfortunate, as I felt I had a fairly good career until then. I just played in doubles the last few years, which was good, but there comes a time when you have got to move on. Tennis was a huge part of my life, but I began thinking of exploring other things."
Her new pursuits may not be far away. The world surrounding professional tennis is something that has sparked the American's interest and could very well house the coming chapters of her career.
"There are opportunities in the tennis world outside of playing tennis. I'd like to get involved in the business side of tennis, maybe television too. Playing it for so many years has allowed me to forge relationships with lots of people. The sport has afforded me the luxury of making some very interesting connections."
Among the many that will be missing her on the circuit will be Davenport, who is just making a return to action following a year-long absence to become a mother.
"I have the utmost amount of respect for her," Davenport stated. "Those close to her know what she has gone through in her private life is more than any 29-year-old should have to go through. How she still managed to keep perspective on her career was truly inspiring to me and taught me a lot about life."
"Lindsay has been my best friend for a few years now - she's like a sister to me," Morariu added. "Obviously as a player she's fantastic, but I'm really lucky to have a friendship with her. A lot of people on the Tour are so competitive, but the two of us have fostered something special."
After reaching the quarterfinals at the US Open with Meghann Shaughnessy, Morariu closed the book on one of the most powerful stories in tennis history.
"Battling leukemia helped me as a person. I was given new life. Of course it was unfortunate I had to go through it, as well as my injuries, as they didn't allow me to realize my full potential. But I wouldn't trade in being sick and fighting that for anything in the world."