Dubai: Every player competing at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships is thrilled to be taking part in one of the most popular stops on the WTA and ATP Tours, but Alisa Kleybanova has more reason than most to cherish the moment.
At the end of 2010, the Russian was a finalist at the Tournament of Champions in Bali after claiming titles that year in both Kuala Lumpur and Seoul. In January 2011 she won the doubles in Brisbane and, a few weeks later, she reached the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships by beating world number three Vera Zvonareva — an achievement that put her into the world’s top 20 for the first time.
But, a few months later, her promising career was stopped in its tracks when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — a form of cancer affecting the white blood cells. Having missed the French Open and Wimbledon, she announced on July 15, her 22nd birthday, that she was taking an indefinite break from the Tour to undergo treatment. She eventually recovered but wasn’t able to return to the WTA Tour until August last year.
Dealing with her condition was the greatest challenge she ever faced, but Kleybanova was determined to overcome it and her battle eventually earned her the 2013 WTA Comeback Player of the Year award.
“I was ready to go through anything. I wanted to be back healthy and play again,” she said. “So I think that gave me a lot of power, a lot of confidence. I was very patient. I wasn’t so stressed about those things. Like when you do very tough training, you know it’s going to be tough. You have to go through this, because after you’ll get better and things will get better.
“So I just took it as something I must do right now to be able to come back on the court. I think because I had that goal I just was very focused on doing the right things, and it helped me to go through everything strong, without giving up, without having negative thoughts.
“My goal was so big, to get over this, that I think that helped me a lot. Like in a match, you just do everything to be a winner.”
Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman of Dubai tournament owners and organisers Dubai Duty Free, said: “It is always a pleasure to welcome our players back to Dubai, but there will be a special welcome for Alisa Kleybanova. She has demonstrated tremendous courage and resilience in overcoming such a devastating setback, and it is those same qualities that we hope will once again earn her a place among the very best.”
Kleybanova will join a star-studded field that includes defending champion Petra Kvitova, 2011 winner Caroline Wozniacki, 2012 champion Agnieszka Radwanska, 2013 runner-up Sara Errani, 2011 US Open champion Samantha Stosur and former world number one Jelena Jankovic.
Play in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins with the WTA event, which takes place between February 17 and 22. The ATP event runs from February 24 to March 1.
The event is held under the patronage of HH Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Tickets are on sale from Dubai Tennis Stadium, Garhoud, from 9am to 9pm daily. Grandstand tickets range from Dh75dh for opening rounds to Dh500 for finals, with season tickets also available.
For more information visit www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com or call +971 4 4172415.