Kata Comes Back in NYC
NEW YORK, NY, USA
- She finished 2008 at No.20 in singles and No.4 in doubles, and was primed to climb even higher in 2009. But just as her momentum caught full steam, the injuries crept in, and now, 10 months later, Katarina Srebotnik
is finally able to make a welcome return to the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour at the US Open
Srebotnik had phenomenal results last season, including one final, three semifinals and four quarterfinals, as well as five Top 10 wins. She reached the second week of Roland Garros
and the US Open, earning two of those Top 10 wins on those big stages (beating Serena Williams
in Paris and Svetlana Kuznetsova
in New York), but by the Sony Ericsson Championships at the end of the season, the pain was just too much.
"I was having pain in my Achilles in the last few months of the year but decided to treat it rather than do something drastic. It was hard to play and the treatment was taking longer than I expected. When I finished playing in Doha with Ai, I decided I wouldn't play again until it was 100% healed. I could have started 2009 normally if I took pills to take the pain away, but I really didn't want to do that."
Rather than take a complete break from the sport, Srebotnik, always the hard worker, kept herself in tune as best she could, despite the disappointment of being pushed away at her peak.
"The whole thing felt like a huge punch for me. Physically I was tired from playing so much at the end of the year, so maybe I was ready for a little break. When I couldn't go to Australia, then, it was okay. It's very far and it's hard to begin the year there.
"I wasn't used to doing nothing though, so I was doing upper body work in the gym. Maybe I did a little bit too much of it, because I injured my shoulder on one of the machines. I pulled out of Fes and Madrid because of the shoulder - the Achilles was healthy by then.
"When Roland Garros
came and I had been out for so long already, I was really sad. It was hard to watch on TV. I thought it would be okay for Wimbledon - I even went to London - but then a few days before the tournament the pain came back. I didn't want to come back without being 100%, so I withdrew.
"I was always on stand-by mode. It wasn't a holiday at all. Week after week, I was told I'd be back soon, so I was practicing whatever I could practice. But those weeks turned into months. At the time I didn't know it would end up being this long, but that's probably a good thing because it would be harder for me if I knew it would end up being 10 months at the end."
One thought lingering in Srebotnik's mind throughout the lay-off was the possibility for rising higher in the rankings, given the most exceptional results from last season came during the summer and fall.
"I didn't really have anything to defend in the first half of the year - I was still No.25 this April - so I knew if I kept playing like I was, I could have gone even higher, maybe Top 15, who knows. Now I see my ranking dropping and it's going to go down even more... I've had to accept that will happen."
Another trial during the lay-off came in Srebotnik's coaching situation, in that she split with her long-time coach, making the comeback all the more difficult.
"There were three hurdles for me in those 10 months - the first two were the injuries and the third was I lost my coach after Wimbledon. She had different ambitions - she picked to travel with another team on Tour. We had many good years but in this whole situation I realized who really cares for me and who always will. The ones who stuck by me are the true friends.
"Right now I'm trying out a few coaches. I have trial periods with some of them. At the end of the year I'll make a final decision on a coach for 2010. For the US Open, I just have a sparring partner travelling with me and supporting me."
Srebotnik isn't keeping her expectations too high to start. She still has her goals and hopes to get back to her best and even higher, but doesn't want to rush it.
"It took a combination of many things to get over the injuries. The right therapy, the right rehab exercises to strengthen the muscles, taking enough time...
"For the next year or so, I'm not going to put any pressure on myself. I just want to stay healthy and enjoy my tennis. I have a frozen ranking of No.20 in singles and No.4 in doubles, so hopefully they will help me in the eight tournaments next year where I can use them. I believe I can come back. Ideally it would be better to come back at a smaller tournament, but I couldn't play any leading up to the US Open, and the atmosphere there is great. It'll pull me in. I'll still look at my first match as one match. I have to start somewhere - let it be New York!"
Srebotnik drew Nadia Petrova
first round, and will take the court Monday or Tuesday. How does she feel about her game coming into her first match back?
"Right now I feel really, really good. I've been serving for three weeks now. I'm still sore in the shoulder, which is understandable considering I hadn't practiced for 10 months, but this is bearable, and it will go away after a few weeks. I'm just excited to be back to competition. I've realized how much I miss this sport, how much I love it. When you're healthy, you don't know what you have.
"I think I speak for a lot of injured players when I say this. There are always worse things than losing a match."