ALISA Kleybanova, of Russia, won her first Grand Slam match since being treated for cancer, beating 44th-ranked Monica Puig of Puerto Rico 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 at the US Open.
The 24-year-old Kleybanova was ranked as high as 20th, but after missing much of the past two seasons because of her illness is now 363rd. She entered the main draw at Flushing Meadows thanks to the WTA’s special ranking rule.
Until Monday night, she hadn’t played in a grand slam tournament in more than two years. “I’m just taking it step by step, enjoying it every day, trying to improve as much as I can, and play my best tennis,” Kleybanova said.
After being diagnosed in the spring of 2011 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer, Kleybanova announced she was sick via the WTA’s website on 15 July that year – her 22nd birthday. She underwent chemotherapy until December 2011.
“Everything is a little bit new for me right now, so I’m just trying to feel everything and try to deal with things as well as I can for the moment,” she said.
The 44th-ranked Puig, who cracked the top 50 after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, said it was hard to tell Kleybanova had been ill.
“She was a top-20 for a reason,” Puig said. “It’s amazing to see how she has come back from that, and be able to play at such a level. Definitely, I won’t be surprised to see her at the top.”
Ivanovic battles through grief
Former world No 1 Ana Ivanovic made a strong start at the US Open yesterday but said she was playing with a heavy heart after hearing about the drowning death of a childhood friend back home in Serbia.
Vukasin Ziramov, 25, died last week after jumping off a bridge into a river while on an outing with friends in Senta.
“It’s been very sad news,” Ivanovic, the 13th seed at Flushing Meadows, told reporters after her 6-2, 6-0 rout of Anna Tatishvili of Georgia.
“It was very hard because it was almost like my relative. We grew up, and I knew him since we were kids. It’s very, very sad.” On the court, Ivanovic showed the positive effects of working with a new Serbian conditioning and coaching team she took on after Wimbledon as she works her way back after a disappointing stretch in her career.
The 25-year-old Serb, who rose to the top ranking in women’s tennis in 2008 after winning the French Open, had dropped to 22 in the rankings in 2011.
Ivanovic ranked 15th heading to Flushing Meadows. “I was playing really well and I had a few tough losses,” Ivanovic said about a hardcourt build-up that included a three-set loss to Victoria Azarenka in Carlsbad, a third-set tie-breaker loss to China’s Li Na in Toronto and a three-set loss France’s Alize Cornet in Cincinnati.
“I’m very confident with the game and the way I was playing,” she said, adding she was concentrating on conditioning and making her serve and forehand more dominant.
Ivanovic said she was driven to return to the upper echelon of the game. “It’s my only goal I have at the moment,” she said. “I really want to get back to the top of the game. I believe I have qualities to do so. “Once you’re in the top, you don’t really feel satisfied with being in the top 15. You really want to aim and push yourself. That’s where I am at. I really want to put my head down and work hard and try to maximize my potential.”