Comeback Player Of The Year: Alisa
Published November 21, 2013 12:04
MOSCOW, Russia - Shortly after breaking into the Top 20 for the first time, Alisa Kleybanova missed two months of action, citing illness. And then, on July 15, 2011, her 22nd birthday, she dropped a bombshell - she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma and would be off the tour indefinitely.
But it takes a lifetime of hard work and determination to make it in the world of professional tennis and Kleybanova used those attributes in her battle with cancer, finishing treatment that December and, by February, already hitting the practice courts again to prepare for her return to action in Miami.
She did well in Miami - winning her first round match, falling in a tight two-setter in the second round - but she needed more time to get used to the grind of the tour again, and the full comeback actually began earlier this year at a string of ITF Women's Circuit events, winning 14 of 16 matches and even capturing a title in Landisville, Pennsylvania, where she definitely got used to the grind once again.
In August of this year she returned to WTA-level competition, playing four WTA tournaments - Toronto, Cincinnati, the US Open and Moscow. She went 4-4 in those, which included a Top 20 win over Carla Suárez Navarro - she also represented Russia in the Fed Cup final, losing in straights to Sara Errani.
But whether or not she's beating Top 10 players or winning WTA titles already, the comeback is complete - and to be in the conversation again just two years after being struck with something so devastating is why Kleybanova is deservedly this year's WTA Comeback Player Of The Year.
Of course, for a player who has had so much success in the past, there's still a lot of motivation.
"I know things are always going to be up and down. I'm not expecting to win everything and come back to the Top 20 so quickly. But I'm ready for the journey," Kleybanova said after her Fed Cup defeat to Errani. "I'm really happy to be back. I've been through enough tough things already. I'm feeling great physically now, I know what I need to work on, and I got my ranking up pretty quickly already this year.
"I just have to stay positive about things, have a nice off-season, train hard, stay healthy, stay away from injuries, and just have a good preparation over the next weeks to get ready for the new season.
"And after that, I hope to play the 2014 season from the first month to the last month."