Comeback queens of New York seek US Open glory

 05 Sep 2017 - 0:52

Comeback queens of New York seek US Open glory
Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia returns the ball to Maria Sharapova of Russia during their fourth round match of the US Open on Sunday. The Latvian 16th seed Sevastova rallied to eliminate the five-time Grand Slam champion 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 and advanced to the quarter-finals.

AFP

New York:  Overcoming obstacles comes with the territory at the US Open but several women have battled through serious injury to become Grand Slam contenders on the New York hardcourts.

US star Sloane Stephens and Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi have fought major foot issues, Petra Kvitova rallied from a home attack from a knife-wielding intruder and Anastasija Sevastova took nearly two years off with back and muscle injuries.

One of the "Comeback Queens" could end the Flushing Meadows fortnight with a Grand Slam crown, but when it comes to what they appreciate most, it's just the chance to compete again.

"I think it's just being able to be pain-free, just being on the court again," Stephens said.

"I couldn't play, I literally couldn't even go on the court, stand and hit a ball."

Stephens injured her left foot last year and underwent surgery in January, spending 11 months recovering before returning at Wimbledon, where she lost her first match.

She reached the semi-finals in US Open tuneups at Toronto and Cincinnati and has won 12 of her past 14 matches.

"Because I wasn't able to walk for like 16, 18 weeks, whatever it was, I think that was probably the toughest time for me," she said.

"Now that I'm running around and sweating, my ponytail is flying, these are all such great things. I think I'm just happy to be running around and competing again."

Stephens has a Tuesday quarter-final against Latvian 16th seed Sevastova and she could match her deepest Slam run to the 2013 Australian Open semi-finals.

"When I started playing again at Wimbledon I didn't expect much. I was just playing and having fun," Stephens said. "I'm still playing and having a good time. That's really all there is to it."

Sevastova retired in 2013 due to various injuries but returned in 2015 after her body had healed and has reached the US Open last-eight for two consecutive years after ousting Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.

"You play the sport for these matches. I was ready," she said. "I came pretty confident. But still, it's getting tougher every match."

Kanepi, a 418th-ranked qualifier in her first tour-level main draw of the year, has seldom played in the past two seasons due to plantar fascitis in both feet and was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, a precursor to mononucleosis.

She could become the lowest-ranked player to reach the US Open quarter-finals since the system began in 1975, although four women who had no ranking but got that far, most recently Kim Clijsters in 2009.

"In June last year, I didn't care if I didn't play tennis again," Kanepi said. "I needed a break and the longer the break the better."

Kanepi had already battled through back and Achilles issues.

"I ignored pain, kept playing tournaments, thinking it would go away, but it got worse and I couldn't play at all," she said.

"I started training in January. I felt better and my heels weren't hurting anymore so I decided to try tennis again and it went on from there."

And then there's Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion and Czech 13th seed who was stabbed in her left hand last December. She is in only her eighth event of 2017.

"I came here not with the great results on the hard court, but on the other hand, I feel that I'm playing good," Kvitova said. "I'm glad everything so far clicked together.

"It's much more easier for me to feel more normal than before."