By: Elena Scuro Photo Credit: Tony Chang/Chang Photography
(May 20, 2012) Known as one of the biggest fighters on the WTA Tour, Alisa Kleybanova was in the midst of a steady climb up the rankings before she faced her most daunting opponent.
Nevermind that she’d scalped the best women around, scoring big wins over Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic, and Kim Clijsters; or that she had upset then-world No. 7 Elena Dementieva in Malaysia to win her first title, in 2010; or that she had put together a strong start to 2011 by taking the doubles title in Brisbane (with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) and reaching the fourth round in Indian Wells: as Kleybanova asserted her place in the top 25 of women’s tennis – while playing the tournament stop in Rome – she realized something wasn’t right.
"I was feeling sick, like the cold or flu, and it was happening quite a lot. I was playing through it but I wasn't feeling well in practice, and I got really sick in Rome. I decided to stop and see, deep inside, what was really going wrong,” she said.
Then in May, the Russian unexpectedly withdrew from the French Open and later, in June, from Wimbledon. On July 15, her 22nd birthday, she revealed to the WTA the reason for her absence: Kleybanova ahd been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
For 10 months, Kleybanova underwent medical treatments in Italy while fans eagerly awaited news about her health and recovery. Finally, on February 29, 2012, she announced that she had successfully completed her treatments and would start training again in West Palm Beach, Fla.
"I missed the competition a lot,” she told the WTA. “My dream has come true right now - I'm back on the court again."
With a wildcard into the Sony Ericsson Open, Kleybanova will return to the Tour and play Sweden’s Johanna Larsson in the main draw’s opening round.
But before she gets back on the road to reclaiming her spot in the top 20 (she’s currently ranked 248th), take a peek at her official website, where she gives a little nod to her most recent match – against cancer.
Kleybanova bageled that one.