JUST a week after making a massive improvement of 71 places in the WTA singles world rankings, Kelly Liggan has been cruelly laid low with a back injury.
Liggan rose from 254 to 183 in the space of three weeks, thanks to winning two ITF $25,000 tournaments - her first outright successes at that level - and reaching the quarter-final in another similar category tournament.
That left the Ireland No 1 just two places below her career-high figure of 181, set on September 15, 2003. And her major upward move was additionally notable due to the fact that her ranking had tumbled to 330 in August 2005, a figure she had improved on to 287 by the end of the year.
But the Marbella-based player's hopes of surpassing her previous best world position were emphatically dashed when she suffered a slipped disc in her back during the qualifying rounds of the US Open.
As a result, the earliest she can hope of returning to tournament action is not until the middle of next month.
"An injury like this is obviously something you would hope to avoid, but even more so after things had been going so well for me in the previous few weeks," said Liggan, who was tied 3-3 in the first set with Poland's world No 129 Agnieszka Radwanska when she felt the problem with her back.
"I didn't fall, but I felt this acute pain in my back after I stretched for a ball. I immediately got some treatment from the physio, but after trying to play on, there was no way that I could continue and I forfeited the game and the match."
Liggan's injury was so serious that after leaving the court, she was put in a back-brace by a WTA official, and on the journey home she had to use a wheelchair at New York, London and Malaga airports.
However, last Saturday, the 27-year-old right-hander was able to walk without pain for the first time, and if her recovery continues at the same rate, she plans to start hitting next week.
"I've had ultra-sound treatment and soft massage to loosen the back muscles, and that has been a big help," she explained. Finals
Liggan's tournament title successes were recorded in two consecutive weeks last month in the Vigo Open, in Spain, and the Coimbra Open, in Portugal, defeating France's Laura Thorpe (ranked 340) 6-1 6-3, and Romania's Monica Niculescu (ranked 211) 6-0 7-6 (9/7) in the respective finals.
Ironically, her most emphatic victory - 6-0 6-0 - was registered over the highest ranked player she faced over the two weeks, Spain's world No 149 Arantxa Parra-Santona.
Her quarter-final appearance was in the $25,000 Les Contamines Open, in France.
The Irish player's US Open opponent went on to qualify for the main draw, winning her first match before losing 4-6 3-6 to France's Tatiana Golovin, who pushed subsequent champion Maria Sharapova to a 6-7 6-7 scoreline in the quarter-finals