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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Dire Leave of Absence

At a time when many on the WTA circuit are celebrating the marriage of Elena Dementieva to her long-time boyfriend Maxim Afinogenov, tragedy plagues a fellow Russian competitor. Last week Alisa Kleybanova announced that she has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer.

The young and upcoming star of women's tennis has shown great potential over the past few years, clubbing her way to deep runs at a number of the circuit's big events. Often criticized for her physical shape, Kleybanova has a way of hushing nay-sayers with her can-do attitude and willingness to leave it all on the court. There are few in the WTA who have the courage to dart, scramble and throw their weight behind every shot late in a third set the way we have seen Kleybanova do in the past, and to see her take leave from the tour is a disappointing blow to the game.

With a career-high singles ranking of 20, the feisty Russian has earned two career titles, her latest coming in Seoul, Korea in 2010. Her most notable Grand Slam effort came in the 2009 Australian Open, where she stunned Ana Ivanovic in the third round only to lose steam in an 8-6 third set against Dokic in the round of 16. Kleybanova has had a number of other impressive wins, including a 6-3 6-2 championship win over Dementieva in the 2010 Malaysian Open.

Health complications have kept Kleybanova from competing since Rome in May, and her latest diagnosis will force her to take time away from the WTA while she receives immediate treatment. Fortunately for the 21-year-old, the prognosis for young people with stage 1 or 2 Hodgkin's lymphoma is positive and Kleybanova aspires to return to the circuit in the future.

"Obviously this is different than anything I've ever experienced, but after this is over my life will be even better than before," said Kleybanova in a press conference. "This is the toughest time in my life, and I hope it always stays the toughest time in my life. I'm sure I'll be able to overcome this—it's just a matter of patience and time." (For a full article, click HERE)

As Kleybanova finds the strength to overcome this difficult time and return to the circuit, her story will be an inspiration for the tennis world. Maybe, if we're lucky, she'll return with an even stronger competitive spirit and one day lift a grand slam trophy. That may be a little far-fetched for a player yet to break into a slam quarters...

But if anyone can do it, it's her.

-Kedzie Teller, ITB Senior Editor


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