KEY BISCAYNE, Florida (Reuters) - Alisa Kleybanova says she will bring a whole new approach to her tennis career when she returns to tournament action on Tuesday after a ten month battle with cancer.
The Russian was in the top 20 and tipped to rise higher in the game before she was diagnosed with stage two Hodgkins lymphoma after the Italian Open last May.
After undergoing chemotherapy in Italy, the 22-year-old is now ready to restart her career as a wild card at the Sony Ericsson, where she faces Sweden’s Johanna Larsson in the first round.
“I don’t want to think about rankings, I just want to be on the court and feel good. I just want to be myself,” she told reporters.
“I have a huge motivation to just live at 100 percent, every day of my life.”
Kleybanova, who has won twice on the WTA tour, said she had been suffering excessive fatigue and flu-like symptoms for some time before medical tests produced the shocking news.
“Something was going on because I kept getting sick but then I always got over it and I was playing tournaments and feeling pretty good,” she said.
”In Rome, obviously, I got really, really sick and couldn’t get over it anymore. So we started to do all the controls and exams.
”You never think of something like that, you always think, let’s try again. I went to Paris, I was still hoping to play the French Open but I didn’t get better that time.
“On one side it was a shock but the other hand I knew there had to be reason why I wasn’t right,” she added.
Kleybanova switched off from the game completely during her treatment in Italy and concentrated only on fighting the cancer.
“I knew it was going to be another big fight for me and one that is much tougher and take a lot of time and something I really had to focus on beating,” she said.
”I followed everything that my doctors told me to do and I learnt to listen to my body well,“ she added. ”I hope that is among the reasons why I was able to recover quickly.
”You feel really bad. I didn’t really try to keep myself in shape or anything, the most important thing was obviously to survive - to stay there and resist.
“Because in the beginning you still think okay, I can do it, but the more you do, it gets worse. It doesn’t matter anymore how you look and how long it is going to take you to get back on court.”
After finishing her treatment in December, she wasted no time in getting back in training in Florida with her eye on the Key Biscayne tournament.
“I know there will be some stress and nerves ahead of matches but it’s not the most important thing in my life anymore,” she said.
“I‘m just going to have fun out there and try to enjoy every day that I am on court. I am sure that will help me to get me back to my condition and hopefully even better again.”
Editing by Nick Mulvenney