Jarmila Gajdosova: the road to recovery
Jarmila Gajdosova will compete at this week's Australian Open Play-off as she continues her comeback following a debilitating struggle with mononucleosis.
The effects of mononucleosis are debilitating for anyone, let alone a professional athlete whose career depends upon their physical health.
It contributed to former top 10 player Mario Ancic’s retirement in 2011, and Robin Soderling, a former world No.4 and twice French Open finalist, has not taken to a tennis court in more than two years since being diagnosed with the condition in mid 2011.
Thankfully, such a serious fate has not befallen Australia’s Jarmila Gajdosova, but after seven months on the sidelines with that very illness in 2013, she has found the going slow in her comeback to competitive tennis.
“It’s kind of a trial period right now,” she revealed on Sunday following the draw for the Australian Open Play-off.
“So far so good, can’t complain. If it’s going to keep that way, I’m not sure, I’m nowhere near what I used to do and how I used to train. I train about two to three hours if I’m lucky each day and (have) a couple of days off in between. It’s slow progress but it’s going, so it’s good.
“It’s a long recovery and it’s not exactly 100 per cent sure that it’s going to be enough. I haven’t tried yet to practise every day and play matches every day, week after week as well to know if my body can handle it so that’s why I say it’s very much on trial. This week is the most amount of tennis I’ve played in eight months, I actually trained two hours a day and did an hour of fitness so my body is really sore right now. I can only try and see and adjust accordingly to what I’m feeling.”
Although she was official diagnosed with mononucleosis in March, it turned out the former world No.25 had been suffering from it since December 2012.
During those months she reached the quarterfinals in Hobart and, incredibly, captured the Australian Open mixed doubles title with compatriot Matt Ebden. But as the year progressed and the first round losses mounted, it became apparent that something was wrong.
“When I tried to train I ended up fainting and had blackouts, so I was actually taken to hospital eventually,” she said.
“I thought it was me being unfit and that I had to train more. I wasn’t sure what it was until I got tired of it and figured there has to be something wrong with me.
“(Because) I pretty much tried to play through it and train with it I didn’t help it very much, so that’s why my recovery was longer than I guess it was supposed to be … the doctors were unsure if I would recover or how I would recover; they knew I would eventually, but to what degree they weren’t sure.
What ensued for the Australian were several sedentary, house-bound months. Gajdosova simply ate and slept – quite often all weekend until Monday morning – and rarely went out as she simply didn’t have the energy to get very far.
But as time went on, her condition gradually improved. Come late October, she made took her first, tentative steps back onto the tour, entering the WTA 125K event in Nanjing, China. With her ranking having dipped to No.300, she was forced to enter qualifying, yet won through to the main draw, and kept winning. The powerful right-hander stormed through to the semifinals with the loss of just one set – including an upset win of 78th-ranked Misaki Doi – before falling to No.4 seed Ayumi Morita.
It was a hugely encouraging comeback despite “hitting a few balls in the back fence” but for Gajdosova, it was simply a joy to be back on court.
“It was a lot of fun for me to be there and actually compete again and play the points and win some points and everything. From that point of view I think my break was very good as well for my mental health,” she said.
“I’m very excited to be back and be able to exercise again and train and just do little things like go for runs and stuff like that which I wasn’t able to, and was driving me crazy not to do anything.”
And so the comeback continues this week at Melbourne Park.
Following her semifinal run in Nanjing, the 26-year-old has moved up to world No.235, and is the fourth seed in the draw for the Australian Open Play-off. She has drawn fellow comeback queen Jelena Dokic in her opening match, a player who has been out even longer – more than 18 months, to be exact – due to a serious wrist injury requiring surgery.
Although unfortunate that these two stars must face off so early in the event, such a blockbuster will help open the women’s tournament on a very strong note, and generate plenty of interest among the tennis community and fans alike.
Gajdosova acknowledged that Dokic was a dangerous opponent despite her recent inactivity.
“I think it’s funny as well that both of us haven’t played (for a long time) so it’s going to be pretty much who can put the ball in the court more often I guess,” she laughed.
“It’s going to be very interesting and I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun for the both of us considering how little we have both played.”
Whatever the result, Gajdosova is focused more on returning to full health to give herself a chance of again competing at the top level.
“My ranking is pretty low and I have no points to defend except Brisbane and Hobart at the beginning of the year … whatever I do (after that) is going to help me and I’m going to improve,” she said.
“That will be the main goal, just to keep it (my health) that way so I don’t overwork too much and I don’t get tired and exhausted again. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. If it happens in the next two months that would be great, and if it doesn’t, eventually it’s going to get there.”
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