Sorry if this was already posted, but I just love this girl!
Friday, April 18, 2008
PALM BEACH GARDENS — Give Sesil Karatancheva credit for the guts to come back and face the questions.
As disarming as she is in person, the best answers might have to come on the court and in the drug lab for the only women's tennis player suspended for steroids in a record two-year ban that ended Jan. 1.
Winning over skeptics probably means two things: One, passing a series of tour drug tests (she's 1-for-1 in the comeback, she says - at least there has been no letter saying differently); and two, eventually matching or surpassing her previous career high ranking of No. 35 in the world, aided by a stunning 2005 upset of Venus Williams at the French Open. Otherwise, people are bound to wonder: Why isn't she as good as she was then?
"Basically this is what I'm trying to do: Just kind of clean my name, and make people like me again," Karatancheva said Thursday at the BallenIsles USTA $25,000 Women's Challenger in Palm Beach Gardens. She spoke courtside after winning her second-round match against Story Tweedie-Yates 6-0, 6-2. "Now I'm at the period where I want to show again and prove that whatever I did back then wasn't apparently because I took something," she said. "It was because I put a lot of hard work in it, and I was very competitive." Her 2005 victory against Williams on Paris clay brought worldwide attention. The Bulgarian 15-year-old who trained part time at the Bollettieri academy in Bradenton went on to become the seventh-youngest French Open quarterfinalist since the Open Era began in 1968. She recalled Williams made 51 unforced errors, "but it was a good match. No matter if she did errors or not, I was there to play my best game, and you know, I think I did."
I was at that 2005 match. After the doping tests from that French Open and another event became public, I asked Williams if she felt cheated. She said no, because she had accuracy problems and did not know all the details of why her opponent tested positive.
Coming back at all takes some fortitude. Only one other women's player has since received as a suspension as long as Karatantcheva's - and Martina Hingis chose to retire (again) after a positive cocaine test.
Though younger than Hingis, Karatantcheva, 18, must live with a distinction no other woman on tour has.
"Now there's more pressure - 'You were No. 35 in the world, you should be killing everybody.' - but there have been a lot of changes on the tour," she said. "The competition raised a lot."
With a 104-30 career singles record, Karatantcheva was 26-6 this year heading into BallenIsles, mostly in small tournaments.
She won ITF circuit events in Arizona and California, but lost in her first qualifying match at Indian Wells to No. 121 Evgeniya Rodina. She is ranked No. 277, with 2008 earnings of $12,677.
"Now I feel lot more mature, and I feel more ready to face whatever comes with tennis," Karatancheva said. "I had a tough puberty - tattoos, earrings, I had it all. It's something you need to go through so you can, like, move on."
She maintained in 2005 a pregnancy that ended in a miscarriage produced a hormonal fluke that could have accounted for her positive test. An official review panel concluded that even if she were pregnant, it was not a likely cause of a positive test for the steroid nandrolone.
"I think every bad thing that happens in people's life is a good lesson," she said. "I learned mine. It made me stronger, so I feel better prepared for life, really."
A moment later, she offered this observation: "There's millions of dollars paid in endorsement deals and prize money, and all these people put so much pressure because they want to see what are they putting their money into. They want to see results. You cannot expect a normal human being to be able to put up with all this.
"They have to work five times harder and be five times mentally stronger just so, you know, just so they show they actually show that they deserve the money they are having. I don't think people understand that. It's like, 'Oh, I'm going to give you $40 million and expect you to run 50 mph and do all these unbelievable things and just do it on your own.''"
She said she prefers to look on the bright side, with a mixture of sober reflection and self-deprecating humor.
"I was actually the one that had the longest penalty in women's tennis," she said, smiling. "Martina also had two years, but I was the first one. I hold the record. You know, it's good to hold records. No matter what. It's a record. There's nothing to be sad about, really."