Kleybanova wins first match back since illness
KEY BISCYANE, Fla. -- Alisa Kleybanova had no idea what her tennis game would look like in her first match back from a 10-month layoff to successfully fight Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Her answer came in the form of a 2-hour-plus marathon first round match on Tuesday at the Sony Ericsson Open. Kleybanova pulled out a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Johanna Larson.
Kleybanova advances to the second round, playing No. 22 Maria Kirilenko.
Kleybanova triumphed on her fourth match-point opportunity, when Larsson sent her return long off her deep serve. Kleybanova and her camp immediately reacted with fist pumps and cries of joy. Some in the sparse grandstand crowd at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park gave Kleybanova a standing ovation.
She said, "Thank you, thank you so much," to the crowd, before running over to give her friends and coach Julian Vespan a hug.
Kleybanova, ranked as high as No. 20 in the world before her fight with cancer, looked tentative and unsure of her range in the first set. Larsson was the aggressor, hitting harder and forcing Kleybanova to be on the run.
Kleybanova improved as the match wore on, dialing in her first serve and deepening her groundstrokes. She even started coming into net more, finishing off points with her overhead smash in the third set.