Daja Bedanova: Tennis Back In Her Life Again
Published December 15, 2011 12:00
OLOMOUC, Czech Republic - She was from the same generation as the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters, but while those names are still prominent on the WTA today, she was forced to stop years ago. Many of us still remember Daja Bedanova, and although the talented Czech had to leave the sport in 2005, the sport has found its way back into her life in more than one way.
After a few years of grinding it out on the ITF Women's Circuit and in WTA qualifying, Daniela Bedanova - who has always gone by her nickname, Daja - played her first WTA main draw at Philadelphia in 1999. It didn't take too long for her smooth all-court game to click in the big leagues, as she won the Bratislava title in 2000 and would reach three more semifinals and four more quarterfinals over the next few years - including one very, very big quarterfinal.
The 2001 US Open was probably where fans really got to know Bedanova. Ranked No.37 and unseeded, she shone in a 64 61 third round upset of Meghann Shaughnessy, who was ranked No.12 at the time, then stopped a red hot Monica Seles in the fourth round - the No.8-ranked Seles had won 16 of her last 20 matches going in, beating the best in the business during the summer hardcourt lead-up - but Bedanova rose to the occasion, 75 46 63. She went out quietly to then-No.1 Martina Hingis in the next round, 62 60.
Bedanova would spend six career weeks in the Top 20 the next summer, peaking at No.16, but soon afterwards the injuries began creeping in, and by 2005 the fire had burned out. She played her last WTA event at Amelia Island in April and after a few more months on the ITF Circuit she called it a career.
"I would have played longer, but the problems I was having with injuries were getting worse and worse - the worst ones were my back, my forearm and my chest muscle," Bedanova describes. "And there were also many other problems that were really hard to handle. It was all getting more and more complicated and it was difficult to play, let alone play my best. I had to stop.
"When you do something from when you're small, it's hard to stop. And I was still so young. You don't know what to do anymore. You don't know if you'll be happy without it. I didn't know what to do at first. So I took a break."
While playing professional tennis may not have been an option anymore, there's so much more to the tennis world - and it found Bedanova once again.
"During the break some friends asked me to play, so I did, and then they kept asking more, then friends of friends asked, then finally a man asked if I wanted to start a tennis academy, in a completely new sports facility built in my hometown. So I figured I could be a coach. It has been great. I want to show everyone that tennis can be fun. Kids, adults - from four years old to 65 years old, no limits. I take care of the tennis academy and I also practice there too."
The tennis world also found Bedanova in another, more personal way. "I got married to Jan Hajek, who plays on the men's tour, on April 1, 2010. We have been together for over nine years and we've been married for almost two years now. We live in Olomouc, which is 10 minutes from Prostejov. He travels a lot but I have a lot of fun teaching in the academy and spending time with our small dog, Rex. I'm enjoying life right now. Before I had no fun at all, because there's really no time for these things when you're playing professionally.
"Tennis was a really nice experience, and I wouldn't trade it for anything! But now it's over and already there has been much more to life for me."
Still though, the 28-year-old looks back at her career with a smile. "The bad memories go away and the good ones stay: winning the WTA tournament in Bratislava; the US Open quarterfinals, beating Seles - it was a dream come true to beat Seles; making the last 16 at the Australian Open that year and the last 16 of the US Open the year after; and of course representing the Czech Republic at the Olympics in Sydney was also really amazing, it was another dream come true to come through everything and just be a part of it all!"
And what about many from her generation still at the forefront of the game? "There are so many players still around. Clijsters, she's my age and we played a lot. The Williams sisters, Schiavone... there are so many of the girls still playing right now. It's really amazing how they're still doing so well.
"I still keep in touch with some of the players. Lucie Safarova lives close by. And whenever I'm at a tournament with my husband, if it's a combined men's and women's tournament, I get to see some of the players I know.
"I miss playing, but I'm really happy now. I wouldn't change anything."