As Vitalia Diatchenko and Galina Voskoboeva prepare to take on the Williams sisters in Paris, learn more about the pair as they continue their comebacks.
David Kane
June 1, 2016

For most players, the road to Roland Garros begins as the tour turns from hardcourts of Miami to the clay courts of Charleston. For doubles partners Vitalia Diatchenko and Galina Voskoboeva, it started late last summer.

"I was still dealing with my injury and my foot was hurting so bad, and I was very depressed by that," Voskoboeva told WTA Insider on Friday. "But then I got a text message from Vitalia, asking how I was doing, and if I want to play doubles at Roland Garros.

"I was sitting in the changing room in such a bad mood and I said, 'Ok, let's try!' We were both deeply injured, but I've never made such an arrangement so early.

"The first time we played together was the year when I came back from my first injury in 2011, and we won a 100K Challenger in Astana. We didn't play again until last week, when I'm coming back from another injury. I should probably play more often with Vitalia, not only after surgeries!"

Diatchenko may have secured a doubles partner nearly eight months in advance, but her own injury issues had just begun.

"I was playing with pain for a year and a half," the 25-year-old said on Sunday. "It was getting more and more painful, until I just could not walk."

Overcoming a three-year odyssey to repair an injured anterior cruciate ligament, the Russian rocketed up the rankings, making her Top 100 debut - peaking at No.71 - and winning her first WTA title at a 125K Series event in Taipei.

But an Achilles injury sidelined her last spring, and her haste to return after surgery saw her reinjure her leg a mere hours before she was set to play the highest-profile match of her career.

Vitalia Diatchenko

"I could feel that my injury was very serious, and so it was quite painful to play," she said, looking back on her 2015 US Open encounter with World No.1 Serena Williams. "I was really sad what I couldn't finish that match, really disappointed!

"In retrospect, I probably came back too early, but it was only because I wanted to play so much. It was really difficult to be off the tour for so long. A lot of people said that I could not play sports again, or that I would not back on court after so many surgeries and very serous injuries.

"I can't explain how happy I am to have broken the rules!"

Nine months, a new coach (former WTA No.15 Elena Likhovtseva), and a second surgery later, Diatchenko made her return on a much smaller stage last week in La Marsa, a Challenger event in Tunisia.

"I met Elena at Fed Cup and I liked the way she explained tennis. Of course she has a lot of experience, being such a great player. We started working together in April, and I've liked the way we're starting to practice but, of course, we have a lot of work ahead!"

She won two matches in singles before bowing out to none other than Voskoboeva, with whom she went on to win the doubles event.

"Being back on the court, I was nervous and excited at the same time; it felt crazy inside, to be honest!

"I was listening a lot to Galina, because she came back earlier this year, so I got a bit more experience."

Herself back in Paris for the first time in three years, the veteran could certainly relate to Diatchenko, one who was also making a second major comeback.

Galina Voskoboeva

"I can understand everything that's happening with her now because I had the same feelings a few months before. When she makes mistakes, I understand exactly why. It's not because she's playing badly, but because there are some things on the court that she can't do straight away.

"It's not like you come to the court and remember how to do everything; you still need time."

A comeback can't be rushed, something Voskoboeva learned as she tried to shift too quickly into the clay court swing back in April.

"I had been practicing with Vitalia in Moscow, talking about how I like to play on clay courts and how I usually transition well from hard to clay, but I forgot the fact that the last time I was on a clay court was in Roland Garros, 2013! My muscles weren't ready because it's a completely different surface, and so I pulled a muscle a little bit.

"I didn't even realize it was so bad so I went to the tournament, an ITF in Germany, where the tournament director gave me a wildcard. I arrived four days in advance and thought it would be better, but it ended up taking a week, so I had to miss that tournament."

Taking two tournaments off to heal her overworked body reminded her of a conversation she'd had with the recently retired Flavia Pennetta a few years prior in Moscow.

 

 

"You might train six hours a day and be fine, but play a match for one hour, and your whole body hurts because of the additional nerves and pressure, neither of which you can train in practice. I've learned so many different parts of the body because they're all hurting!

"I know from Flavia, because when I spoke with her two years ago, she told me that the whole year she was trying to come back, her body was hurting. I just need to work harder, to stretch, exercises those inner muscles. They aren't difficult exercises, but you have to do them every day.

"It's already a miracle that I'm playing; it'd take another for me to suddenly start beating players who have confidence from playing a lot of matches. I can't wait for such a miracle; I already have one! I'll have to make it instead, step by step." 

Fatigue from 10 matches in Tunisia likely led to Tuesday's loss to Zhang Shuai, a match that took two days to complete after getting suspended due to darkness, but one from which the Kazakh still felt was an indication of her steady improvement after getting within two points of the opening set.

"I'm really happy when I see myself showing the game I used to play. The way I started the match with Shuai, for example, was probably the best play I've shown this year.

"I'm very satisfied to start seeing bright moments; maybe they don't last as long as I'd like, but the fact that I can show this game is already a good sign. I'm on the right away, and hopefully soon I can show this game for longer periods of time - and more frequently!"

 

 

For her part, Diatchenko intends to take things slowly following a first round singles loss to 2015 finalist Lucie Safarova.

"Being healthy is my main priority now. I'm not planning to play a lot, but instead to have a good quality preparation before each tournament.

"I'm planning to play some practice tournaments this summer to get back into my match rhythm and improve my ranking, so I hope I'll be good for the US Open."

Before she can get to Flushing, the two still have some doubles left to play. They wasted little time on Friday, racing out to a 6-1, 5-1 lead before ultimately dispatching Naomi Broady and Louisa Chirico to set up another meeting with Serena Williams, who has paired with sister Venus in search of a 14th Grand Slam doubles title.

"It's going to be very interesting," Voskoboeva said with a laugh. "As you could imagine, it's such a great experience. We never played against them in doubles, and for us, it's good to be playing at such a level.

"After we won our match and I was kind of joking with her, saying, 'Listen, we're almost half a team, because you have a special ranking and so do I, so it's not a full team, it's more like half!'"

 

 

The two halves may need more that 50% to outmatch the Williams sisters, but Voskoboeva and Diatchenko have already had a Roland Garros to remember.

"I took so many photos at the player's party, and when I came back home I wanted to look at them but I thought, 'I'll do it in the morning, because it's so late,'" Voskoboeva said. "I woke up in the morning, couldn't find it. I realized, 'Oh my god, I forgot it in the car!'

"The woman in charge of lost and found was so nice, and said, 'Sorry, we didn't find it today,' and I said, 'Oh my god, so you'll never find it?' She said, 'No, no, we'll keep trying.'

"The next day, I met her and asked if she found it. She said she didn't, but that they found a ring that someone lost five days ago. On the third day, they found a phone that someone lost three days ago, but still no camera.

"She finally called on the fourth day to say they found it, and so this will be my favorite Roland Garros, because this is the one where they found my camera."

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.