Kleybanova makes moving comeback after cancer fight

21 Mar 2012 22:46

Russia's Alisa Kleybanova, a former top-20 player who missed the past 10 months battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, is making an inspirational return to the WTA Tour this week at Miami.

Kleybanova defeated 64th-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday to reach a second-round matchup on Friday against compatriot Maria Kirilenko, the 22nd seed who lost her only career meeting with Kleybanova.

"I still feel like I'm building my game, and it'll take time before I reach my highest level," Kleybanova said.

"I'm just going to try to get better with every match. I hope the good results will come, but I'm not going onto the court just thinking of winning. Who knows what will happen in the next one?"

Kleybanova's comeback on and off the court at the $9.6 million hardcourt event played alongside an ATP event captured the attention of her fellow players, including World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

"Highlight of my day yesterday was seeing Alisa Kleybanova being on the tennis court back winning! so happy for her!" Azarenka said in a message on her Twitter website.

Surrendering two service breaks in the first set Kleybanova battled back to advance, breaking in the fourth game of the second set and holding into the third, where she jumped ahead 4-0 to seize command.

"For everyone else it's just the first round but for me it was very emotional," she said. "I'll always remember it. It will always be the first match of my comeback.

"I felt I was playing better the more I was on the court. It's not just about the win though, it's that I'm back on court.

"If I didn't win, it's not like I would have been mad. I was just happy to be playing points, feeling all the emotions again... it's something I missed a lot."