One of South America's all-time greats will be coming out of retirement this year, starting next week in fact. Former World No.1 doubles player Paola Suárez will play doubles over the next six months with fellow Argentine Gisela Dulko, with her sights set on winning a medal at the Olympics this summer.
Suárez, whose career spanned 14 seasons from 1994 to 2007, is one of the most successful doubles players of all time on the WTA. She won 44 WTA doubles titles, including eight Grand Slams, all with Spain's Virginia Ruano Pascual: one Australian Open (2004), four French Opens (2001, 2002, 2004, 2005) and three US Opens (2002, 2003, 2004). South America's first No.1 of any kind, she spent 87 weeks as the top doubles player in the world.
"We had really nice moments and will always have good memories," Suárez said of longtime partner Ruano Pascual. "We had a great time on the court, laughing and having fun. That was the key to our partnership. And we're friends as well. Virginia was important for my career and in my memories of tennis."
After a few years of injuries, in particular a hip injury that forced her to miss the second half of 2005, Suárez went into retirement after the 2007 US Open.
"After the hip surgery I didn't feel really good, and I've had too many injuries since then," Suárez said that September. "I just feel beaten. And I'm not having the same results. And I'm 30 years old - it's time to move on."
Years passed and Suárez pursued other projects, but a casual coffee with Dulko in Miami last spring - where they talked about the possibility of playing the Olympics together - ignited the spark, that desire to compete at the highest level of professional tennis again. Calling it the most difficult but at the same time most beautiful blogs she has written in four years at ESPNdeportes, the 35-year-old announced her comeback to the WTA doubles scene.
"One night in November, Gisela came to dinner with me and my husband," she wrote. "I'm not sure where it came from but suddenly I felt a great desire to meet the challenge... That was the beginning and now I'm ready to face the challenge. I'm going to do my best - I'll work, practice and focus as hard as I can.
"It's going to be the most difficult but most exciting challenge of my life."
Suárez has in fact been training hard and the road begins in a matter of days, at Bogotá next week - they will continue in Monterrey, Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami, then have planned to continue through the spring and summer.
The only Grand Slam title missing in Suárez's cabinet is Wimbledon, where she and Ruano Pascual were runners-up three times (2002, 2003, 2006). She has one Olympic medal from 2004, with countrywoman Patricia Tarabini.
Suárez also had a great singles career, winning four WTA singles titles (including two in Bogotá, in 1998 and 2001) and making the quarterfinals or better four times at Grand Slams (she was a quarterfinalist at the 2002 French Open, the 2003 US Open and 2004 Wimbledon, and a semifinalist at the 2004 French Open). She had a singles career-high No.9, one of only two South Americans ever to crack the singles Top 10 (after Gabriela Sabatini).
When Suárez retired in 2007, she was asked what her best memories from her career were - perhaps her words foreshadowed this comeback, the goal of which is to participate in arguably the greatest international event there is.
"I was always so surprised at how so many players from different nations could come together," the Argentine said upon her retirement. "We were all different in culture and language, but came together with one thing in common."