Corina Morariu article
Not sure if this has been posted before, but I haven't seen it. So.
Outlook is optimistic for Morariu
Wednesday December 12, 2001 <br /> <br /> <br />She was watching herself in a movie. That's how Corina Morariu felt when she stepped on the court last spring. The Australian Open mixed-doubles champ and a singles player clinging, ever tenuously, to a top-50 ranking, Morariu felt like an imposter was playing in her place. As the tour snaked through the U.S. and Europe, she was losing to inferior players, mentally absent from the opening point of the match. Unable to concentrate, she would sometimes forget the score during games. Regardless of the conditions or the length of the match, invariably, she would be dog-tired afterward. At times she wondered whether she was subconsciously telling herself that it was time to quit the grind of the WTA Tour and commence a new chapter in her life. Then she reasoned that a battle with the flu was responsible for her poor play. "I got more and more sluggish," she says. "But I figured maybe I could play myself out of it."
After suffering a foot injury at the German Open in May, she returned to her home in Boca Raton, Fla., to convalesce before the French Open. Her first day back home, her nose bled incessantly. After brushing her teeth, her toothbrush was covered with blood. She suddenly had bruises all over her body, though she couldn't recall taking any spills. Her father, Albin, a physician, suggested she see a doctor. On a Tuesday she relented; by Thursday, she was hooked up to an oxygen tank, diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. "Looking back, it made sense," she says. "My red-blood-cell count was low and that's how you get oxygen to the brain. So naturally, I was having trouble concentrating, feeling weak on the court and having shortness of breath. But when you're young and you're an athlete and not feeling well, you don't think, Oh, it might be cancer."
Overnight, her world did a headstand. One week, she was a pro tennis player, worried about her draw and defending rankings points; a week later, she was receiving chemotherapy. For most of the next six months, her primary residence was an antiseptic room at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. Every test result became an exercise in existentialism.
The low point? First, Morariu flew to the U.S. Open, courtesy of the USTA, and spent three days in New York during early-round matches. "It was funny. There I was, having lost a lot of weight and with my hair fallen out, and everyone else was tan and muscular," she says. "But I just had a great time seeing everyone." After three exhausting days at the National Tennis Center, she left to start another round of chemo on Sept. 9. Then came the events of Sept. 11. Morariu was in the bone-marrow-transplant unit. "I'm lying there with all these oncology patients, and then I'm watching on TV how these terrible people tried to ruin our country and ruined so many lives," she recalls. "I'm thinking, Is there anything good in this world? I totally lost it."
Like a dysfunctional family, tennis is rife with in-fighting and petty jealousies. But when one of its own faces a crisis, the sport comes together. Morariu has been deluged with support from players on both tours, from administrators and from fans. She singlehandedly caused a spike in sales for the South Florida floral industry. When the family requested that no more flowers be sent to her room, stuffed animals started arriving; by the time Morariu left the hospital, she needed three car trips to transport all of them to her home. Her pals on tour, like Lindsay Davenport, Lisa Raymond, Rennae Stubbs and Kim Po-Messerli, flew to Miami to visit. While Morariu was in the hospital, Davenport wore a Tiffany pendant with a C around her neck when she played. "I learned that having cancer does wonders for your popularity," Morariu says. "Seriously, everyone knows the top players are world-famous. But when you're ranked where I was and not always playing in front of all the fans, you never imagine people all over would be sending get-well wishes. It was totally overwhelming."
As was the solicitude she received from other colleagues on tour, players like Anna Kournikova, Jennifer Capriati and the Williamses, with whom she was always cordial but never particularly friendly. "A lot of players that I was on 'Hey, what's up?' terms with were really supportive," she says. "Especially when you're an athlete, you think you're invincible, so I really think this hit home for a lot of the other girls."
The biggest source of support was her family, particularly her husband, Andrew Turcinovich, who spent every night with his wife in the hospital. Married in December 1999, Morariu and Turcinovich had the awkward dual dynamic of player-coach and wife-husband. With tennis suddenly the furthest topic from either's mind, their relationship took on a new dimension. "Now it's not, 'I love you, but you need to hit your forehand differently.' Now we talk about normal things," she says. "It's easy to say, 'If anything happens to you, I'll act like this,' but you never know how someone's really going to act until you're in the situation. With Andrew, he was -- and is -- just unbelievable. I'm so lucky. We joke that with what we've been through, it's our 10th anniversary coming up."
The best news has come in the form of her recent test results -- all negative, the disease in apparent remission. Her heavy-duty chemo sessions over, she can now take doses orally. What's more, Morariu learned last week that in the case of a relapse, her brother, Mircea, is a perfect match for a bone-marrow transplant. A world-class athlete not long ago, Morariu's stamina and strength are shot. Last week she joined her parents for lunch. After walking 50 yards from the parking to the restaurant, she needed to catch her breath. But, at age 23, she hasn't ruled out a return to tennis. "Right now I'm just enjoying being out of the hospital," she says.
Always considered one of the brighter, sunnier and more well-adjusted players on tour, Morariu hardly needed a brush with death to gain some perspective on the charmed life that attends a pro athlete. Still, if she returns, she's sure that her recent experience will manifest itself on the court. "One of the things I didn't like about tennis was how up and down it was. If you win, you're happy and everything in your life is great; if you lose, you're so down. After what I've been through -- the cancer, the chemo, not being able to go to bathroom without an oxygen mask -- losing a tennis match isn't the end of the world. In fact, it's anything but."