Canada’s new queen of the court will gladly allow Alisa Kleybanova to take the applause when they square off at the Rogers Cup later today. Al Dannity writes about the Russian’s heroic struggle to beat cancer and get back on the WTA Tour.
No matter what Eugenie Bouchard does today, it’s impossible for her to impress me more than her opponent. This is no slight on the promising Canadian. Bouchard could win 6-0 6-0 without dropping a point and I will still marvel at Alisa Kleybanova. Bouchard is only her opponent today, Kleybanova’s already seen off her enemy.
The Russian had a promising start to her career on the WTA Tour. She was no Serena but by 2009, aged 20, she was getting seeded at Grand Slam events. That’s solid progress and bode well for a successful career after four years of grinding her way through the lower levels of the tour. If she had stayed on course for a career of mid-teens seeding at majors, I likely wouldn’t be writing all that much about her past today. Everything changed in 2011 when Kleybanova was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. All top level Tennis players get brought up in a bubble where the sport is their one priority. Kleybanova had suddenly learned that there are more important things than the game in one of the worst possible ways.
Here’s where our story takes a happier turn. In 2012 Kleybanova announced that she had beaten cancer and was re-joining the tour. The Russian wanted to take back control of her life but she learned in a brief return at Miami that she was trying too soon. So she stepped back and took more time off. Kleybanova, having a career high of 20th in the world, would wait until the time is right. Now nominally ranked 599th in the world, her ranking is formally protected by the WTA, Kleybanova is finally ready to return. Toronto is the stage. Bouchard is the opponent. The first time she throws up a serve, she will have won.
Our odds-makers have the Russian as a +174 outsider to win this evening. Bouchard, with the home crowd behind her and a good Wimbledon run in her pocket, should take care of business as -250 favourite. In all honesty, I don’t know how you can set an accurate line for this game. At her best, the Russian is well ahead of where Bouchard is now but we have no idea how far off that she is. The practice court doesn’t carry the same intensity as Centre Court in Toronto. I’m guessing Kleybanova’s glad she’s getting another shot to find that out.