Comebacks front and centre this week

The post-US Open part of the tennis season might be tennis overload, or garbage time for some fans.

A lot of the top players are tired.

Some who have traveled all year are just trying to get through the season healthy.

But in various remote places around the tennis world, there are comebacks happening.

And a lot of players have everything to play for.

We take you to the city of Templeton, Calif., population about 8,000, where a $60,000 women’s ITF tournament is taking place this week.

It’s not a place you generally find former top-10 players.

But this week, there are some stories brewing.

Comeback stories abound

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Vandeweghe is dropping down to the ITF level this week in Templeton, Calif. as she returns from nine months off the court. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Former No. 10 Coco Vandeweghe, currently at No. 476 after missing the better part of a year with a serious foot issue, has a wild card into the singles.

Vandeweghe returned in San Jose in July, her first tournament since playing doubles at the Tour Finals in Singapore the previous October.

She won her first match, against Marie Bouzkova, but has lost four in a row although she did make the Cincinnati doubles semifinal with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Her first-round match against No. 2 seed Usue Arconada will be her first singles match at the ITF level since 2015.

Shelby Rogers, who broke into the top 50 in 2017 and has been playing the bigger events with a protected ranking after being out with a knee injury, is in the draw with her current “real” ranking of No. 303 and faces a qualifier in the first round.

Top-10s in Templeton

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Bouchard and Grace Min won the 2011 Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles together. Bouchard’s career exploded, while Min’s stalled. Yet they find themselves at the same ITF tournament his week and if they both win their first-round matches, will play each other for the first time since 2012 – when they were both juniors. 

Former No. 5 Genie Bouchard, whose current ranking of No. 157 this week essentially nudged her out of most of the Asian swing, had entered as the top seed.

But after the addition of wild card Varvara Lepchenko (once in the top 20, now at No. 137), and Arconada’s rise to a career-best ranking of No. 145, she is the No. 3 seed.

Bouchard will face Gabriela Talaba, a Romanian at a career-best No. 272 in the rankings, in the first round.

Talaba, who won a $25K ITF in Redding, Calif. a week ago, is only 18 months younger than Bouchard.

But the 24-year-old has never played a main-draw match at the WTA level.

In fact, she only took part in her first WTA-level tournament this past July, where she lost in the first round of qualifying in Bucharest.

She’s been busy; Talaba starred for four years at Texas Tech, winning multiple honours before wrapping up in 2018. She’s a lefty with a one-handed backhand.

But there’s a huge gap in experience, to say the least.

Falconi returns

Irina Falconi sabbatical open-ended

Also in the draw? A name that used to be a familiar one, but that we haven’t seen since the Oracle Challenger in Chicago last September.

Irina Falconi, now 29, reached the top 70 in both singles and doubles earlier in her career. But a year ago, she embarked upon an open-ended break.

Of late, she’s been hosting a tennis podcast. There is literally nothing in her social media to indicate she’s been thinking of a return or training to come back. Which shows you how futile it is to think you know anything about someone from what they choose to post on social.

She has a protected ranking of No. 155 to work with for awhile.

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Genie Bouchard and Irina Falconi on the practice court at the 2015 French Open. Bouchard was defending a semi, but lost in the first round to Kristina Mladenovic. Falconi reached the third round – only her second time doing that at a Grand Slam after the 2011 US Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In Tashkent, mom-of-two Bondarenko is back

Across the world, at a small WTA Tour event that’s in its final year in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, another very good player returns.

Kateryna Bondarenko was top-30 in singles and top-10 in doubles a decade ago. 

She won the Australian Open doubles with older sister Alona in 2008. And then she had her daughter Karin, now six – before making her first comeback.

She got to No. 56 in singles, and No. 50 in doubles, after the 2016 US Open.

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Husband/coach Denis Volodko poses with baby Karin at the 2014 French Open, after Bondarenko returned from her first maternity leave. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Bondarenko has been out since losing to Vera Lapko in in the first round of the US Open a year ago. And, it turns out, she was already pregnant with her second daughter, born last winter.

As it happens, it’s a full-circle sort of thing. Bondarenko had one career WTA Tour title before leaving on her first maternity break. After coming back, she won her second – two years ago this week, in Taskhent.

And that’s where she has decided to start her comeback.

Now 33, she has special rankings of No. 85 in singles and No. 65 in doubles. 

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Bondarenko on court at the 2014 French Open, her first Grand Slam (and seventh match back) after 18 months away. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Bondarenko’s third act

And with the new rules instituted by the WTA for the 2019 season, she gets a break on the seeding for her first eight tournaments back.

If you saw the Tashkent draw, you saw that Bondarenko was the No. 9 seed. That wasn’t because a seeded player withdrew late. It’s called an “additional seed”, and ensures the player will not face a seeded player in the first round.

Bondarenko lost to Greet Minnen 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of singles in Tashkent, struggling on second serve and converting on just one of nine break-point chances.

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Bondarenko’s return to singles was about as ragged as you’d expect, as she fell in the first round in Tashkent. (WTATV)

She’s entered in the doubles as well, with Aleksandra Krunic, who had been a regular partner before she went off the tour.

And that same rule means they are seeded No. 5, in a 16-draw that normally would have four seeds. They face Sharon Fichman and another 30-something WTA working mom, Tatjana Maria, in the first round.

Bondarenko has also entered Beijing in doubles with Krunic, as well as Tianjin.

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Girls

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Duval keeps grinding

Back in Templeton, more comebacks.

Vicky Duval, a former top-20 junior just getting started in the pros, qualified and upset former champion Samantha Stosur in the first round of the 2013 US Open. She was still 17 and Stosur was No. 11 in the world. She got wild cards into Indian Wells and Miami, and qualified again at Wimbledon in 2014, upsetting No. 29 seed Sorana Cirstea in the first round.

A promising kid out of the juniors with a great back story, Duval qualified at Wimbledon in 2014 – then announced she had contracted Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Duval jumped into the top 100. But at that Wimbledon, she announced she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

She missed more than a year. And once she did return – she even jumped in to replace an injured Serena Williams at Hopman Cup with Jack Sock in 2016 – it’s been a struggle to stay on court. After that Australian summer, she missed six months, came back to play and lose three matches during the grass-court season – and was gone until the following April after surgery to repair a meniscus tear in her knee.

She came back at an ITF in Indian Harbour Beach ranked No. 896 (and defeated Bouchard, who had dropped down to that level briefly, in the quarterfinals). And then Duval played a crazy schedule, literally almost every week, until right about this time a year ago.

Like she was trying to make up for lost time.

(Duval briefly glimpsed the top 200, checking in at No. 199 for a couple of weeks in March 2018).

And then she was out again.

A stress fracture in her left foot and a partial ligament tear in her right ankle kept her out for months.

Volunteer assistant coach at Florida

Duval, who is entering her second season as a volunteer assistant for the women’s tennis team at the University of Florida, returned in June at a $25K in Sumter, S.C. and reached the final.

Her ranking stood at No. 529. Duval has played most weeks this summer. And she finds herself in Templeton, ranked No. 439.

Only the most determined could keep grinding.

Duval will meet … Falconi in the first round.

Jesse Witten – still kickin’

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At 36 and all but retired, Witten is still willing to put it on the line at a $15K ITF event, as he did this week in Cancun. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

American Jesse Witten, now 36 and a full-time coach at the Tough Tennis Academy in Naples, Fla. where he learned his trade as a kid, was never a big-time player.

He peaked at No. 163 in singles back in 2010.

But a decade ago at the US Open. He had his moment.

Ranked No. 276, and out of the qualifying, Witten upset No. 30 Igor Andreev in straight sets in the first round and No. 79 Maximo Gonzalez in four sets in the second round before falling in four tight sets to No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic.

Over the last few years, he has surfaced a couple of times a year – mostly at a Futures event in his hometown of Naples, Fla., and at the Lexington Challenger at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky. He won the NCAA title there in 2002.

But there he is this week, with no ATP Tour ranking, in the qualifying of an entry-level $15,000 ITF in Cancun, Mexico.

Witten won his first two matches in straight sets, before falling to a Bolivian kid 10-8 in the match tiebreak in the final round.

You just can’t keep a tennis player off the court.

Kayla Day – week in, week out

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Kayla Day at the 2018 US Open (You thought it was Ostapenko for a split-second, didn’t you!) (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Another player in the Templeton main draw is American lefty Kayla Day, who is still just 19.

If you look at her numbers on the ITF circuit, it’s off the charts. With a month out here and there, she has been grinding it out on the ITF circuit non-stop for four years.

And at the beginning of that period, she also was playing junior tournaments.

Until July, when she missed two months. She returns this week in Templeton.

This time three years ago, Day was the No. 1 junior in the world after beating Viktoria Kuzmova in the 2016 US Open junior girls’ final. She also reached the doubles final.

(Notably, she defeated 2019 women’s singles champion Bianca Andreescu, who is nine months younger, in the semifinal of that US Open).

By the summer of 2017, she was already up to No. 122.

Currently, she sits at No. 369.

US Open junior champion Min 

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Min defeated Caroline Garcia to win the 2011 US Open girls’ title. Garcia, who is struggling herself lately, made it to the top 10 while Min is still grinding. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Day’s first-round opponent, who reached a career-best of No. 4 after she defeated Caroline Garcia to win the US Open juniors in 2011, is Grace Min.

Min, who is now 25, broke into the top 100 for three weeks back in 2015. She’s currently at No. 368 – one spot above Day.

There are a lot more stories out there this week. But these are a few.

And if it’s any consolation, here are a few names who didn’t even make it out of the second round of the Templeton tournament a year ago: Taylor Townsend, Kristie Ahn, Marie Bouzkova and Jessica Pegula.

And look at what they’ve done this season.

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So in this week of comebacks, even with the big WTA event in Wuhan going on,  keep track of their results – which will probably have to be on the live scoring. 

The Templeton Tennis Ranch (pictured above, pic from their website) will be the place.

The more you look at the journeys of the players, the more you respect how stubborn and determined they are.

It’s comeback week on the WTA Tour as Golovin joins up

Some 15 years ago last week, French player Tatiana Golovin was on the stadium at the 2004 US Open, playing a third-round match against Serena Williams.

She was just 16 years old.

Already, she had reached the second week of the Australian Open that January just as she was celebrating that birthday – ranked No. 354 and in on a wild card.

She was named WTA Tour newcomer of the year in 2004, following in the footsteps of Maria Sharapova, who had won the award in 2003.

But less than four years later, in May 2008, Golovin played her last match at the WTA event in Berlin, Germany.

She tried to compete in the Olympic doubles later that summer in Beijing with Pauline Parmentier. But she couldn’t make the date.

Golovin was just 20.

Form of arthritis forces Golovin out

The Frenchwoman had to stop because of a disease called ankylosing sponylytis.

It’s a form of arthritis that causes inflammation of the vertebrae that “can lead to severe, chronic pain and discomfort” in the spine and in other areas of the body.  

But on Friday, the day after 36-year-old Kim Clijsters announced she would return to the WTA Tour in 2020, Golovin – still just 31 – made an announcement of her own on BeIn Sports, the network for which she serves as a tennis analyst.

“The idea has been brewing for a year and, since the summer, I’ve been at it very seriously. Beyond the tennis, I started serious physical training a month ago. The goal was to be ready at the beginning of next year, but things are going quickly and today, I’m thinking of perhaps starting again in mid-October,” Golovin said.

Early retirement, and what might have been

GolovinGolovin said that she stopped because her body could no longer respond to the demands of high-level sport because of the disease.

She had closed the door on her tennis career a long ago.

But, she said, she’s been asked on several occasions over the last 18 months to speak about the disease.

And after meeting various doctors during those speaking engagements, she learned that there were treatments that might allow her to return.

“In hindsight, I’ve realized over the last few years that the place I best expressed myself was as an athlete,” she said. “I’ll see if I can get there again. I just have to find a way to manage the pain, because it’s still there.”

She’s at the French national training centre in Paris, training every day, testing racquets, all with the support of the French Tennis Federation, she added.

Career high of No. 12

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Golovin isn’t what you call a serious analyst, but she can be entertaining – there was that time when she wore a whole bunch of different headwear.

Born in Moscow, Golovin moved to France when she was just eight months old.

She was a precocious junior, playing ITF events by age 13 and making the 2001 US Open junior girls’ draw on her ranking, still aged 13. By 14, she was already playing pro events.

She reached No. 22 in the junior rankings, beating players like Kateryna Bondarenko, Jarmila Gajdosova, Casey Dellacqua, Anna Chakvetadze and Nicole Vaidisova before the wrapped up her junior career at age 15 at the 2003 US Open.

Six months later, just 16 and already ranked No. 94 and into the Miami Open on a wild card, she defeated Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina to reach the round of 16 there.

 

That spring, she and Richard Gasquet (who was about to turn 18) won the French Open mixed doubles title.

It was hardly a cakewalk draw. Look at the teams they defeated.

Golovin

She reached the second week of Wimbledon, losing to Serena Williams in the round of 16.

By late summer, already ranked in the top 30, she was playing Williams again in the third round of the women’s draw in New York. With the exception of Serena, she had beaten most of the best players of her era.

She reached her career high of No. 12 in February 2008. Six months later, she was out of the game. And shortly after, she was already doing television and missing the competition.

All of which to say – she was really good.

She also played a TON of tennis, at a very young age. Whether or not that contributed to her physical issues, who knows. But the fact that she (and others) ended up out of the game at a young age is just one of the reasons behind the WTA’s age-eligibility rules.

Lots of off-court attention

Golovin was a product of the Nick Bollettieri academy, spending six years there.

She was coached by various big names, including Mats Wilander and Brad Gilbert.

In the post-Anna Kournikova era (Kournikova is 6 1/2 years her senior), Golovin got a lot of attention because of how she looked – attention she seemed to enjoy.

All the way back in 2004, she said this: “I love it that people are talking about me, and that I’m being compared to Anna Kournikova. It’s a compliment. I know her well; our mothers are friends.”

She made the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, along with Daniela Hantuchova and Maria Kirilenko, part of a feature unfortunately named “Volley of the Dolls”.

Off court, she had a long romance with French soccer star Samir Nasri, even moving to the U.K. to be with him when he played for Arsenal and then Manchester City.

Nasri was rarely out of the tabloids for various reasons, and so it was a fairly high-profile romance.

Then, she met Stade Français rugby star Hugo Bonneval in 2013. Their daughter Anastasia turned four on July 10, and their son turns two in November.

Life seems very full. But as is the case with Clijsters, there may just not be a true substitute for that competitive feeling.

Kim Clijsters returning for a third set

Especially when you’re forced to stop at such a young age.

Maybe it’ll happen for her. Maybe, despite all the advances, the disease still won’t allow her to train and play at the top level. But at least she’ll know.

We look forward to seeing what she can do.

But if she does return, she probably won’t be allowed to promote a betting site.

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@unibetfrance @usopen

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Golovin doesn’t appear anywhere on the ITF’s retired lists. So presumably, she can return whenever she’s ready without having to go through the waiting period.

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Brand new 😍 @rolandgarros @fftennis

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Kim Clijsters returning for a third set

Life – and tennis – can sometimes be a full circle sort of thing.

Last week, newly minted US Open champion Bianca Andreescu was being called the new Kim Clijsters by some in the game.

Thursday, the original announced that she was returning to competitive tennis one more time.

Clijsters, whose last match came in the second round of the 2012 US Open – seven years ago – is still just 36.

She’s three years younger than Venus Williams, who is planning a full slate of events in Asia this fall with wild cards in Wuhan and Beijing, and entry into Hong Kong.

And she’s nearly two years younger than Serena Williams.

“While there is a lot of work ahead of me in the next four months, my biggest motivation is the personal challenge involved – both physically and mentally, I want to test myself again. At 36 years old I feel like I’m too young to be retired and, with so many inspirational athletes and moms competing, I can’t wait to get back on the match court and see what’s possible after having three children,” Clijsters said in a press release.

A video production company has been following Clijsters’ journey for six months now.

“The end product will be an emotional and honest story about the choices, hard work and sacrifices Clijsters faces in her comeback,” the press release states.

Out of the blue

Clijsters had been at the US Open early in the tournament this year, for the ceremony adding her to the Walk of Champions.

She then returned home.

But there was something in the works. Clijsters didn’t just casually drop this on Twitter. 

There was a video.

(Video courtesy De Mensen)

Still around the game

Clijsters has three children: Jada (who memorably took the court with her when she won the US Open in 2009, after her first comeback) is already 11 1/2. Jack turns six in October, and was born just a year after she played what then was her final match. And Blake turns three in October.

She first became No. 1 in singles – and doubles just over 16 years ago, when she had just turned 20.

She came back after her first retirement in 2007 (when she was just 23 years old), with daughter Jada, and won the 2009 US Open.

After the second retirement, Clijsters stayed around the game. She worked with several players both through her academy and even on site at tournaments.

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Clijsters leaves courtside after countrywoman Yanina Wickmayer’s loss at Wimbledon in 2014. Clijsters was “officially” on board for Team Wickmayer at Wimbledon two years ago, and she has been involved in the development of Elise Mertens, who trains at her academy. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She also has been a regular in the legends events.

Clijsters was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame two years ago. Although she wouldn’t be the first inductee to “unretire” and come back to the game.

Exhibition in NY

Clijsters played an exhibition with John McEnroe a few weeks ago at Flushing Meadows, although the legends event is all but defunct now because there are only a few exhibition matches, and they’re played during the qualifying week.

She also was inducted into the US Open’s Court of Champions.

(Probably had to pass on those fabulous-looking cupcakes, if she’s back in training!)

She played the Wimbledon legends invitational in July, paired with Rennae Stubbs.

What’s the plan?

Clijsters says “see you in 2020” in the video, so now is the time to get back in fighting shape for the comeback.

Why is she doing it? Well, the first thing is because she can. Why not?

She did a podcast with the WTA Tour website in conjunction with the news. And the general takeaway is that the Belgian loves tennis, and she wants to challenge herself.

“”I have friends who would say, I want to run the New York Marathon before I turn 50. For me, I still love to play tennis.  … The love for the sport is obviously still there. But the question still is, am I capable of bringing it to a level where I would like it to be at and where I want it to be at before I want to play at a high level of one of the best women’s sports in the world?”

Clijsters has been working with her old trainer Sam Verslegers, And she has reunited with longtime coach Carl Maes with “more team members” to come.

What’s the plan? Well, if Clijsters feels in December that she’s not in good enough shape, it won’t be at the start of 2020. So it’s a fluid situation.

Flexible plans, and schedule

She won’t have any minimum standards on the number of the tournaments she has to play, because of her service time. Will she start back at the top-level tournaments, simply because she can? Or will she ease into it? 

I guess we’ll all find out along with her.

The last such comeback announcement from a former Grand Slam champion ended up not happening at all.

Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, announced at the end of the 2017 season that she would return in 2018.

She was younger than Clijsters is now. But it turned out not to be; her body just wouldn’t let her.

Marion Bartoli announces comeback

One fascinating thing to watch in early 2020 will be the tussle amongst the veterans for the top-20 wild cards.

This season, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and occasionally Victoria Azarenka have all vied for those. 

Clijsters would be eligible for those as well, with her resumé. 

Five women to watch on the comeback trail

Injuries can kick a tennis player right in the gut.

But they’re not done until they’re really and truly done.

And until then, they keep trying to come back.

In keeping with that theme, all of a sudden, there are a few players who have re-emerged on the entry lists and are giving it another shot.

These are players who have figuratively fallen off the face of the tennis cliff, almost always because of injury.

They don’t call. They don’t write.

And, suddenly, they’re back.

Vertigo takes Dodin off the courts

Oprandi

Dodin, a hard-hitting 22-year-old, is down to No. 393 in the rankings, from a career best of No. 46 just before the 2017 French Open.

She hadn’t played since retiring after the first set of a first-round match against countrywoman Amandine Hesse at an ITF tournament in Contrexeville – last July.

But Dodin returned two weeks ago, playing a $25,000 ITF in Sunderland, Great Britain. She won two rounds, then lost to Brit Tara Moore in the quarterfinals.

Dodin took the plunge at a bigger event and entered the qualifying in Stuttgart this week. Countrywoman Jessika Ponchet defeated her 6-2, 7-5.

(A side note in the full circle kind of way: Ponchet was the one who was up 6-0, 5-0 and had match point on Moore in Sunderland, before the Brit won it 6-3 in the third)

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Dodin at Wimbledon qualifying last June, in a loss to Mona Barthel that went to 8-6 in the third. She played one more match a few weeks later – and was gone until two weeks ago in Sunderland. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Dodin is entered in the $60K ITF event in Les Franqueses del Valles, Spain next week, with a special ranking of No. 164. She also entered two $25,000 tournaments the week after, but with her “true” ranking. So she’s down on the alternates list.

And the Frenchwoman has entered the French Open qualifying and Wimbledon qualifying with the protected ranking.

Where has she been? Surprisingly little has come to light publicly. But Dodin has been struggling with vertigo. And that has left her unable to train. Hopefully this comeback means she has resolved the issue.

Romina Oprandi rises again

Oprandi at Wimbledon in 2012 – with no visible tape on any body part. That’s been a rare sight during her career. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The dual Italian-Swiss citizen, now 33 and a pro since 2005, has more lives than a cat.

There’s no way she should even be trying to play tennis with the state of her shoulder and now, after two wrist surgeries. But you can’t keep her down.

The former No. 32 (in June, 2013), has no ranking at the moment. She hasn’t had one since the end of 2018, when the new ITF Tour wiped out the 20 ranking points she had earned in just three lower-level ITF tournaments during the season.

Her last tournament was a $15,000 ITF in Antalya Turkey last October, which she won. (As an aside, she defeated another lost player, Greece’s Eleni Daniliidou of Greece – a former No. 14 – in the quarterfinals of that tournament).

It was her first title of any kind in three years.

Rublev aims for comeback in the desert (video)

In 2017, Oprandi played just two events, both low-level ITFs around this time of the year. She had her seventh shoulder surgery in October (and suffers from osteoarthritis as well).

She last played regularly in the first half of 2016, until early June.

Oprandi is using a protected ranking that dates all the way back to then (No. 139) to enter the French Open qualifying. 

We’ll see if she can make it. The protected ranking expires in June, 2019. And she has yet to use it to enter and play a Grand Slam tournament.

Oprandi had entered a $25,000 clay-court event in Switzerland this week but pulled out a couple of weeks ago. She also pulled out of next week’s $60K in Germany. But she’s still entered in a $25K clay-court tournament in Rome the week of the Madrid WTA/ATP tournament, and all the bigger ITFs the week after that.

What’s been going on lately? Surgeries on BOTH wrists. The first came in October, on the left wrist.

The second came on New Year’s Eve – on the left wrist.

This is new for Oprandi, who has had SEVEN surgeries on a right shoulder she basically destroyed playing soccer as a 14-year-old.

Here’s an interesting story from her hometown newspaper in Bern, Switzerland nearly a year ago. Oprandi was playing over-30 interclub, mostly practicing lefthanded. She also was playing team soccer. We’re talking about a ridiculous athlete here. 

Most often when we saw Oprandi on the court, she had various body parts wrapped up in every configuration.  

Comeback hipsters join forces in Fla.

But when she’s been healthy and in form, she’s a crafty, clever player. One of those player the tennis purists who do a deep dive appreciate the most.

She reached the third round of Wimbledon twice, and the third round of the US Open twice.

Here’s a little photo gallery of Oprandi, complete with tape on body parts other than that destroyed shoulder.

2010 Wimbledon:

Oprandi

2011 US Open:

Oprandi

2012 Australian Open:

Oprandi

2015 Australian Open:

Oprandi

Friedsam rounding into form

Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam, 25, is currently at No. 681 in the rankings.

In Aug. 2016, she reached a career high of No. 45. But it was a short period in heaven.

Friedsam’s last full season came in 2015. She played 28 events, all the way through mid-November.

Friedsam saves to the crowd after a first-round loss to Genie Bouchard at the 2015 Australian Open. She couldn’t have known that that it was the beginning of her last full season on the WTA Tour because of injury. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In 2016, she played just two matches after Wimbledon and had her first shoulder surgery – just as she got inside the top 50.

Then, in 2017, she returned in late September for five events, capping off the season with a run from the qualifying to the title at a $25K ITF in the U.K.

In 2018, she played just three events. In the last, she used a protected ranking to get into the Australian Open, where she lost to countrywoman Angelique Kerber in the first round.

And then, a second shoulder surgery.

This year, she entered a lot of events, but didn’t play any of them until she finally returned at the end of February in a $25K ITF event.

With a protected ranking of No. 50 that she can use until September, she can play many of the bigger tournaments and hope to get some nice spikes in her ranking before it expires.

Friedsam’s first effort came at Miami, where she won the first set against Ajla Tomljanovic but lost 6-0 in the third.

In Charleston, she won the first set 6-1 against Tamara Zidansek, but lost the next two 6-1, 6-0.

Comeback takes toll on Gasparyan

This week in Stuttgart, she received a wild card into the qualifying. Friedsam beat No. 1 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, countrywoman Antonia Lottner and, on Monday, No. 8 Tereza Smitkova to reach the main draw.

She’ll get No. 6 seed Kiki Bertens in the first round of the main draw.

Anna Tatishvili on the comeback trail

Oprandi
Like Oprandi, Tatishvili is in a race against the expiration of her injury protected ranking on June 24.

The Georgian-born Tatishvili, now an American citizen, hasn’t played since reaching the semifinals of a $25,000 ITF in Sumter, SC in October, 2017.

She had to retire in that match.

Now 29, Tatishvili reached the top 50 – checking in at exactly No. 50 in Oct. 2012.

She had her third ankle surgery in Jan. 2018. And it appears that now – finally – she might be close to returning.

Her special ranking expires June 24, 2019.

Tatishvili, who obviously has no ranking at the moment, had entered the WTA tournament in Prague with a protected ranking of No. 107.

But she has withdrawn from that event. And she hasn’t entered anything else until the French Open.

There, she is the next into the main draw with that protected ranking, as soon as the first player withdraws.

Another comeback: Bojana Jovanovski

Paula Ormaechea – back to the WTA

Now 26, Ormaechea was considered a rare promising player out of South American as a junior, when she had wins over Daria Gavrilova and Johanna Konta.

Ormeachea peaked at No. 59 when she was 21, after reaching the final at the WTA event in Bogotá earlier that year.

Oprandi
Seen her at Indian Wells in 2014, Ormaechea was a big enough deal that she had her own personalized shirt, with the promotional tag line of the time. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

But after the 2017 US Open, she had dropped all the way down to No. 742. By the end of 2018, she had clawed her way back to No. 234 playing clay-court tournaments on the ITF circuit.

Ormaechea has played little in 2019. She showed up at the Australian Open qualifying, winning a round and earning $18,600 (and 40 ranking points).

But then she disappeared again, victim of a right shoulder injury. But two weeks ago. Ormaechea defeated a wild card and two qualifiers to reach the semifinals at a $25,000 ITF in Tunisia.

Oprandi
Ormaechea’s comeback in 2018 was all on clay – until she missed another three months in 2019. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

This past weekend in Stuttgart, she reappeared on the WTA Tour for the first time since losing in the first round of the Florianopolis tournament in Aug. 2015.

It’s been so long, that tournament doesn’t even exist any more.

Ormaechea lost 6-1, 6-1 to Germany’s Antonia Lottner in the first round of qualifying.

She may sneak into the qualifying in Prague next week. And she’s entered in the French Open qualifying; she should get in.

Ormaechea reached the third round at Roland Garros in both 2013 and 2014.

Another comeback: Greta Arn, 38

Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 13, 2019

Anastasija Sevastova (LAT), 29

When this clever Latvian reached a (then) career best of No. 36 after the 2011 Australian Open, she was 20 but looked about 14.

And she was playing with what looked like a … Kneissl, which we hadn’t seen since the early days of Ivan Lendl.

But a little more than two years later, she officially retired. 

There were a lot of physical issues.

“I decided to stop because it was depressing. I had big back problems, some muscular problems, all the time getting fit then injured again – I was not happy, so I decided to stop and see how my body reacted,” she said at the time.

And then … surprisingly, Sevastova applied for reinstatement into the ITF’s anti-doping  program in December, 2014.

A young Sevastova during her first career, at the 2010 French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She started from absolutely nowhere, at a $10,000 ITF in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt as a wild card at the start of 2015. She won the singles and doubles there, dropping only one set (in the first round of doubles). Then she moved on to places like Trnava, Antalya and Ahmedabad, India and the next thing you know, she was close to the top 400.

By the end of 2015 she was at No. 110.

Sevastova didn’t play a Grand Slam from 2012 through 2015.

By the end of 2016, she was a US Open quarterfinalist and ranked No. 35.

Last summer, she was a US Open semifinalist and finished the season at … No. 12.

2275.sevastova 2 Tennis birthdays April 13, 2011Sevastova is a shining example of how the game can wait for talent. She joins Aussie Ashleigh Barty (who is younger and whose break came a little earlier) to debunk the notion that in this generation, you have to grind it from a young age to succeed, at the expense of everything else.

But you have to have the talent.

Both women (Sevastova studied at university during her break; Barty played cricket) came back stronger, with renewed passion and with adult bodies more resistant to the physical grind.

Sevastova’s path was out of the mold anyway. It was reported that she didn’t even take tennis seriously until she was about 15 years old.

She only played three junior tournaments her entire career, all of them the lowest Grade 5. She played her first Fed Cup matches a few weeks after her 15th birthday and just about the time she turned 16, she headed out to the grind of the ITF circuit on a full-time basis.

A few years later, she was in the top 40. 

 

Meghann Shaughnessy (USA), 40

ShaughnessyFontdaMoraShaughnessy, who is the niece of well-known Boston Globe sports columnist and ESPN personality Dan Shaughnessy, had her day in the sun nearly 20 years ago.

She fell just shy of the top 10, at No. 11, after the U.S. Open in 2001.

That was September 10, the day before. …

Shaughnessy also reached No. 4 in doubles in 2005.

She wasn’t necessarily a crowd pleaser. But had something few of the girls had – an actual serve.

But she also had a coach, Rafael Font de Mora, who had a serious hold on her from the age of 13. He was also her manager, and a decade older.

Eventually, it became romantic. She was still a teenager when they were engaged, but eventually his jig was up. He moved on to make things complicated for another player, German Anna-Lena Groenefeld.

If there was a commonality between the two (beyond a more-than-passing resemblance, it was that Font da Mora controlled everything, reportedly alienating them from their families in that quest. In an interview with a German tennis magazine, Groenefeld (who put on significant weight during that period, but who looks fabulous and fit now and just won the doubles in Charleston) talked of being weighed three times a day and, if she were a few grams over, to be made to train.

That the two women were also a successful doubles team just made the whole situation that much more awkward.

 

The other issue was control over the finances. With Shaughnessy, de Mora reportedly waived his coaching fees in exchange for a percentage of her earnings. That can always get dicey down the line. With Groenefeld, de Mora remained her manager even after she got away from his as a coach.

1057.bms 12 Tennis birthdays April 13, 2011Here’s a piece from Sports Illustrated that documents a bit of that, in the wider context of sport. It definitely didn’t seem like a good situation.

It seems as though Shaughnessy (or Groenefeld, who could serve at 120 mph back in the day and was an excellent singles player) ever truly recovered and maximized their talent – even if both had good careers.

Shaughnessy’s sportswriter uncle wrote a piece about her back in the day that sheds a lot of light on the whole process.

Injuries didn’t help – the left knee, especially.

But she became a doubles specialist and in 2011, got all the way up to No. 15.

Shaughnessy and the fabulous Bethanie Mattek-Sands teamed up in 2011. Their title at the Paris Indoors was the 17th of Shaughnessy’s career. The pair also made the final at Indian Wells, and Charleston.

Awhile back, word was Font de Mora might be back in the picture with Shaughnessy. But she announced in 2012 she was engaged again – not to him.

The lucky fellow was Nick Anthony, who is a high-performance manager at Exos and has worked with the American Davis Cup team. And they did indeed marry in Oct. 2014.

Groenefeld (now 33) also is recently married, to longtime coach Ingo Herzgerodt, 47.

Shaughnessy also was involved in a situation with former baseball superstar Roberto Alomar in 2010, having sued him for exposing her to HIV during a relationship back in 2004 and 2005 and reportedly receiving a settlement.

All of which to say, she’s picked some beauties. 

Meanwhile, Font de Mora still runs his ITUSA Academy in Arizona. And Shaughnessy and Groenefeld (along with Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Jarmila Groth) among the “success stories” on the academy’s website.

Groenefeld’s first name is misspelled.

Greta Arn (HUN), 40

Arn at the 2013 Australian Open. That was the last Grand Slam main draw she played, as she continues a comeback. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Arn was struggling along on tour after topping out at No. 81 in the world in 2002. That was eight years after she played her first pro event, all the way back in 1994.

But she persevered and, at the (relatively) advanced age of 32, reached her career best of No. 40 in May, 2011.

Arn has dual nationality (German and Hungarian, both of which she has represented internationally) and her training base is/was Rome. Her residence is listed at Switzerland. A true tennis mutt.

She defeated Maria Sharapova, Julia Goerges, and Yanina Wickmayer en route to her second career title in Auckland to start the 2011 season. It was her first since her maiden crown in Estoril in 2007, where she came through the qualifying.

Arn and another comebacking player, Rebecca Marino, practiced together and bonded a bit at the Saguenay Challenger in Oct. 2017. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

But after Arn lost in the first round of Wimbledon qualifying in 2013 to Julie Coin of France, she stopped.

She got a degree in architecture. Lived her life.

Arn returned four years later, in July 2017, at an ITF in Budapest as a wild card. She was then 38.

She reappeared in the WTA rankings that month at No. 784 and by the end of the year, was inside the top 300. That included a pit stop in Saguenay, Québec, where she won a $60,000 ITF tournament and ran into another player who was about to return to action after a long layoff, Canada’s Rebecca Marino.

But Arn has not been able to get much above that, and lost some 150 spots by the end of 2018.

She’s still around, though. And as she was about to turn 40, Arn has played in the main draw of a couple of WTA tournaments this season (her first since Jan. 2013).

Arn qualified at the Budapest event in February. And then last week, she got through three rounds of qualifying in Monterrey, and reached the second round before losing to Kristina Mladenovic.

Arn won her first main-draw WTA Tour match since 2013 in Monterrey a week ago. (WTAtv)

Simon Greul (GER), 38

At a relatively advanced age of 29, Greul was playing the best tennis of his career, breaking into the top 60 in March, 2010 and peaking at No. 55.

7206.gretul Tennis birthdays April 13, 2011He beat both Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils at Indian Wells.

Greul also made his Davis Cup debut for Germany in 2010, in a dead rubber against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in which Tsonga retired early in the third set.

But a few years later, he was done.

He did get to play Roger Federer in the second round at the US Open in 2009, among many highlights (and pushed him in the last two sets). He also got to play Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon that same year, in the second round.

Greul’s last tournament was a Challenger in Ortisei, Italy at the end of the 2013 season.

It would have been spectacular, ranked No. 260, to go out with a win. And he nearly did. 

Greul reached the final, beating Dudi Sela (then ranked No. 69) and Dustin Brown along the way. He lost to Andreas Seppi, then ranked No. 25.

Former top 20 Ana Konjuh returns (video)

PARIS – Five years ago, 15-year-old Ana Konjuh held virtually every big junior title there was.

She won the Orange Bowl and the Eddie Herr in Dec. 2012 (actually, she was still 14 then).

She won the Australian Open juniors weeks later over Katerina Siniakova in the final (and also teamed up with Canadian Carol Zhao to win the doubles). 

Konjuh reached the semis in both singles and doubles in the French Open juniors, and the singles semis at Wimbledon.

And she capped off her junior career with a US Open junior title, during which she defeated reigning French Open (adult version) champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, and American CiCi Bellis in the third round.

Those were fairly lofty credentials to bring to a pro career. By the time she was 19, last July, she hit the top 20 for a week and spent the entire season in the top 50.

And then, she disappeared.

Well, Konjuh is back for this French Open, after rehab following a second elbow surgery.

Out of the top 100

Konjuh missed four months after the first elbow surgery, which came shortly after she began her pro career after the Australian Open in 2014. She was just 16.

After last year’s US Open, she had a second surgery.

The Croat tried to come back in January; clearly, she wanted to play the Australian Open. But after a brief outing at a tuneup event in Brisbane, she fell off the charts again.

Her name appeared on plenty of entry lists. But she always ended up withdrawing. This time, she stuck.

Tough first round

Konjuh doesn’t have an easy one in her return to the courts. She faces No. 23 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.

To that end (purely coincidentally, no doubt), she played practice sets with Suárez Navarro’s countrywoman Garbiñe Muguruza Saturday.

It seemed definitely a random pairing. And if there was one takeaway from it, it’s that nearly all the points were pretty short.

Konjuh is definitely the epitome of today’s “aggressive player”. Which, in essence means that she can hit a lot of winners, but also cough up a lot of unforced errors.

She coughed up a bushel on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Muguruza is looking for a return to form.

The 24-year-old  won one match in Miami, and none in Indian Wells before running the table at a smaller event in Monterrey, Mexico in early April.

Her clay-court season has been less than inspiring. She retired in her first match in Stuttgart, lost in the third round in Madrid and lost a third-set tiebreak to Daria Gavrilova in her first match in Rome. That one was a bit of a shocker.

(Let’s note, though, that Muguruza is ranked No. 3 in the world. It’s not like she’s having a terrible life).

The Spaniard shocked the tennis world in 2016 when she defeated Serena Williams in the Roland Garros final.

(If you thought the frost in the air during Muguruza’s on-court consults with coach Sam Sumyk was limited to those brief encounters, you can see on this video that she pretty much ignores him – except when she’s arguing with him – as he’s non-stop coaching his butt off on the practice court. Brrr…..)

Muguruza has a tough opening match as well.

She faces another former champion in Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Kuznetsova has started up slowly after missing months because of a wrist issue. But one thing she does know how to do is win in Paris.

Who else is back?

Konjuh and Belinda Bencic, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012. They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Belinda Bencic is back

The former No. 7, still just 21, has been out since Indian Wells.

Trivia: Bencic and Konjuh, a pair of 1997s, reached the Wimbledon junior girls’ doubles final in 2012 when Konjuh was 14, and Bencic just turned 15.

They lost to Genie Bouchard and Taylor Townsend.

That’s quite a crop of four players to track, in terms of the ups and downs of their careers.

Bencic has played just three tournaments this season, a year that began with so much promise when she upset Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open.

The Swiss player had battled back at the end of 2017, after missing nearly six months after wrist surgery and watching her ranking fall out of the top 300. This year, it was a foot injury. And Bencic has had periodic back problems.

Between the two of them, they could start a franchise.

Bencic got the best draw of all. She’ll meet qualifier Deborah Chiesa of Italy, Chiesa is a year older than Bencic, but currently ranked a career best No. 163. 

This is not only Chiesa’s first main-draw appearance in Paris, it’s her first appearance in Paris – period – since she made the doubles draw in the junior girls’ event five years ago.

Nike is ready … Is Serena ready for Roland Garros?

PARIS – As little as Serena Williams has played this year – for the last year and a half, with the birth of Olympia – there’s no way to know what her level will be.

But after she opted not to play either of the big WTA Tour clay warmups in Madrid and Rome, it’s an even bigger question mark.

It’s one of the secrets that will be revealed as the French Open gets under way on Sunday.

Williams’ sister Venus does play on Sunday, against China’s Qiang Wang. But Serena, in the top half of the women’s singles draw, won’t play until Tuesday or Wednesday.

During a practice on Suzanne Lenglen Friday, Williams was definitely not pushing herself. Similar to her sister’s practice the previous day, she really was hardly moving at all.

The sound of the ball off the racket, of course, sounds the same as ever.

Here’s what it looked like.

Nike ready to represent

There are promo posters celebrating Williams’ return to Paris all over the city.

“The Queen is Back” – they harken.

Nike

Is she? We’ll soon find out.

Williams’ first-round opponent is Kristyna Pliskova, the lefty twin sister of top-five player Karolina Pliskova.

Pliskova’s ranking has been as high as No. 35 (that was last July). It’s currently at No. 70. But she has some good wins during the clay-court swing.

She qualified and made the third round in Madrid. And in Charleston, on the American Har-Tru in early April, she defeated Petra Kvitova, Katerina Siniakova and Elena Vesnina on her way to the quarterfinals.

Can it be Serena time?

Through all of Williams’ notable absences from the Tour during her long career, you always got the sense that when she did return, she could turn on the switch and become Serena again.

There was a lot of hard work and sweat behind the scenes to make that happen, of course. But her base level is so high, she can win a lot of matches even as she tries get back to her top level.

Everyone remembers that 2007 Australian Open when Williams came in visibly out of shape. And yet, by the end of the fortnight, not only was she far more match fit – she was holding up the trophy.

Williams was unseeded, ranked No. 81 when she went Down Under. On her way to a 6-1, 6-2 win in the final over world No. 2 Maria Sharapova, she defeated several top-20 players: No. 6 Nadia Petrova, No. 11 Jelena  Jankovic, No. 12 Nicole Vaidisova and No. 17 Shahar Pe’er.

She was 25 then, though. And she hadn’t had a baby and a really tough post-birth period with complications.

At 36, it’s a significantly bigger challenge.

Not match tough – but is she healthy?

There were photos of her at the Mouratoglou Academy a few weeks ago in which she had some significant tape on her knee. She was fiddling with her right leg during this Friday practice. 

But it was hard to tell if something was bothering her, because she didn’t run much.

We’ll find out soon enough just how up she is for it.

In the meantime, she’s got a bitchin’ pair of shoes to wear.

Nike

Not only that – she’s got a guy. Among his duties are collecting said blingy shoes, knocking off the terre battue – and storing them neatly in a plastic bag.

Nike

That is good living.

Popular win for Andujar in Marrakech

Sometimes, the good guys win – not that Pablo Andujar’s opponent in the Marrakech final Sunday, Kyle Edmund, isn’t a good guy himself.

But the victory by the 32-year-old Spaniard – his third career title in Marrakech – completes a long slog of a comeback after three elbow surgeries.

Andujar defeated Edmund 6-2, 6-2 to complete a double over the last two weeks.

He won a Challenger in Alicante, Spain last Sunday, traveled to Morocco and kept the momentum going in impressive style.

He came “home”, and will leave with the trophy.

“I don’t have words for your support. Each time I come here, I’m like at home, you make me feel like I’m at home. A thousand times thank you to everyone,” Andujar said in French, during a trophy presentation in which he spoke three languages.

Andujar

It took Andujar about 10 months after his third elbow surgery in 13 months to finally post a victory on the ATP Tour.

He did it in Rio de Janeiro in February.

But then, another setback. In his next match, against Dominic Thiem of Austria, he was forced to retire with a shoulder problem and missed another six weeks on court.

Shoulder just a bump in the road

Andujar returned at the end of March and in his second week back, he won five matches – three of them in three sets – to win the Ferrero Challenger Open.

Right to Marrakech, where the former No. 32 lost just one set on his way to the title. With his opponents having helped pave  the way by eliminating top seed Albert Ramos-Viñolas and No. 7 Alexandr Dolgopolov (himself coming back from injury), it was a smooth path.

Andujar’s ranking when he arrived in Rio in February was … No. 1821. With his efforts the last two weeks, he’ll land just outside the top 150 on Monday. And, if he keeps it up, no longer will need to use his protected ranking of No. 105 to enter tournaments in short order.

At No. 355 this week, Andujar is the ATP Tour title winner with the lowest ranking in 20 years, since a teenaged Lleyton Hewitt won Adelaide when he was ranked No. 550.

And his efforts may well earn him wild cards at a couple of big ATP Tour events coming up in his homeland, in Barcelona and Madrid.

Andujar

Andujar’s parents were on hand to see him take the title Sunday. But he had a special thanks for two more back at home.

“I dedicate this triumph to my son, to my wife, my parents, my physio and my coach. It truly has been two very tough years for me,” he said. “I hope to come back next year – if I’m still around.” 

Popular victory

The news of his victory led to a number of congratulatory Tweets.

(Screenshots from TennisTV)

After two years, Sharon Fichman returns (updated)

There’s no word about whether this is an official comeback, or merely a one-off.

But Canadian Sharon Fichman returned to the court Wednesday, in doubles at the $60,000 ITF event at Indian Harbour Beach.

She played doubles with American Jamie Loeb, against Sesil Karatantcheva and Mara Schmidt. And they won, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to advance to the quarterfinals.

Fichman is still only 27. She’s three weeks older than Milos Raonic, and two weeks older than countrywoman Rebecca Marino.

Marino, as we all know, returned to the court in February after a five-year retirement.

(We’ve reached out for an interview with Fichman. No response so far – she and Loeb were defeated by No. 4 seed Taylor Townsend and Ingrid Neel Friday, 6-4, 6-4)

Two years away

FichmanHer last match came in May, 2016, when she lost in the second round of qualifying at an ITF event in Trnava, Slovakia. Her singles ranking had fallen to No. 362 by then, as she dealt with a series of injuries.

Fichman’s last doubles match came two years ago last week, when she and the now-retired (and newly a mom) Jarmila Wolfe won the doubles at the $25,000 ITF tournament in Jackson, Mississippi.

Since then, she has completed some Tennis Canada coaching courses and worked with some of the Canadian juniors. As well, she has done some television commentary, and will be on the call for next week’s Fed Cup tie between Canada and Ukraine.

She’s dating Dylan Moscovitch, a figure skater who won a silver medal in 2014 in Sochi and retired, like, yesterday.

 

Fichman never officially announced her retirement. Nor did she retire for the purposes of the ITF’s anti-doping program, which would require reinstatement and a three-month period in the program before she would be allowed to return.

So there’s nothing stopping her from coming back.

Fichman reached career highs in singles (No. 77) and doubles (No. 48) in 2014, as she got super-fit and redlined her original, all-court game. 

She qualified and made the second round at both Acapulco and Indian Wells, and was straight into the main draw at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. That year, she won a $100,000 ITF in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France in which she beat Yulia Putintseva, Johanna Konta, Tamira Paszek, Kiki Bertens and then Timea Bacsinszky in the final.

That’s an impressive week for anyone.

But then, the injuries started to get her.

Livestream available

The match was available here. Fichman and Loeb survived to fight another day.

Nishikori back with Dallas Challenger win

Kei Nishikori skipped the Australian summer circuit because he wasn’t quite ready, after dealing with a wrist issue during the offseason.

He missed the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open.

The 28-year-old from Japan is taking baby steps in his comeback – at least by the standards of a player formerly in the top five with 11 ATP Tour titles and more than $17 million in prize money. And a return to the Challenger circuit is the first step. 

Last week at the event in Newport Beach, Calif., Nishikori fell in three sets to American Denis Novikov. Novikov is a 24-year-old ranked No. 214.

But this week at the Dallas Challenger, the No. 1 seed defeated another young American, Mackenzie McDonald, 6-1, 6-4 in the final.

As it happened, Nishikori faced Novikov again in the first round. But this time, he defeated him 6-3, 6-3. 

Nishikori didn’t roll over any of his far lower-ranked opponents on the way to the final. But he got the job done. Better yet, he got some matches in his system before handling McDonald with relative ease Saturday night.

Here he is after his semifinal win over Jason Jung.

Successful return to his roots

Nishikori hadn’t played a Challenger event since the fall of 2010, when he was just 20 but already on the comeback trail from injury. He missed 11 months after elbow surgery in 2009, after being named the ATP’s “Star of Tomorrow” in 2008.

Nishikori’s last ATP Tour event was the Rogers Cup in Montreal last summer, where he lost in a third-set tiebreak to Gaël Monfils in the first round.

The 28-year-old will return to the ATP level in a week’s time, at the New York Open on Long Island.

The New York Open is the relocated Memphis Open, where Nishikori won four straight titles between 2013 and 2016