2012 Tennis Awards: Comeback Player of the Year - Female
There are different yardsticks to measure the value of a comeback. It could be the number of titles / Grand Slams won after making a comeback or perhaps the highest position achieved in the world rankings. But at times, these conventional measures fail. At times, just coming back to the tennis court is good enough…relegating titles and world rankings to the background. The sport of tennis has seen such comebacks before. Thomas Muster came back to the sport from a horrific car crash which left him in a wheelchair…Monica Seles came back from her unfortunate stabbing incident which left psychological scars much deeper than physical ones.
As we saw in the nominations list last week, several players who had fallen into the depths of despair – either through their own missteps or through circumstances beyond their control – made smashing comebacks to the tour in 2012. 30-year-old Nadia Petrova won two titles and rose to No. 12 in the world while Kazakhastan’s Yaroslava Shvedova came back from a serious knee injury to climb from outside the top 200 to the top 30. Melanie Oudin returned from the wilderness to win her first WTA title in Birmingham and re-enter the top 100, and Su-Wei Hsieh made a jump of nearly 100 spots in the rankings to register her own little Cinderella story.
But no comeback this year has been as successful as that of Venus Williams. The 32-year-old American may never win a Major singles title again but her spirit and smile remain intact as she continues to play for the joy and the challenge of competing; knowing that if her body supports her, she can still be among the best, but at the same time, learning that when her body does not, she may be an also-ran. Through it all, Venus has never given up hope or been afraid of the challenges over which she has no full control.
When Venus announced to the world last September that she had been diagnosed with Sjorgen’s Syndrome, not many tennis fans were familiar with the disease. Even while Venus was learning to deal with her diagnosis, the tennis pundits were ready to write her off. After all, it had been more than four years since she had won her last Grand Slam singles title. With her age going uphill and her health going downhill, many speculated that Venus would retire soon. And when Venus said that she wanted to continue to play, people scoffed. But like many times in the past, Venus rose from the ashes, conquering her disease, if not the tennis world, and proving her detractors wrong once again.
Venus had been suffering from symptoms of the disease for nearly seven years before she was diagnosed. There were times when she felt fatigued and lost matches, not knowing why she was feeling tired. It would have been easy for her to blame the losses on her game – to think that her tennis may not be as good as it once was. But not for Venus. She continued to battle through the years, winning at times, losing a few more times, and evolved into a stateswoman for the women’s game – becoming a champion for equal prize money and earning the stature that Andre Agassi has earned over on the men’s side.
To cope with her disease, Venus made adjustments to her lifestyle, giving up her beloved steak and going on a vegan diet. And slowly but surely, she found her way back to the tennis courts.
In her first event since last year’s US Open, ranked a lowly no. 134, Venus won four matches to reach the quarter-finals at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami (one of the biggest events in tennis outside the Grand Slams), scoring wins over reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic.
Venus then made the quarter-finals of the WTA events in Charleston and Rome (interspersed by an early loss in Madrid), beating the likes of Jelena Jankovic and reigning US Open champion Samantha Stosur along the way. It was no secret that Venus’ goal coming back was peaking at the Olympics. But her game, or perhaps her body, failed her on the big occasions – she fell in the second round at the French Open, the first round at Wimbledon and the third round at the Olympics. However, the 32-year-old did combine with sister Serena to win the Wimbledon and Olympics doubles titles. With 14 Grand Slam doubles titles between them, the Williamses will go down as one of the most formidable teams in the history of the sport.
In August, Venus had another big week in Cincinnati where she beat French Open finalist Sara Errani, Maria Kirilenko and Sam Stosur (for the second time) to reach the semi-finals, but she suffered another disappointment on the big stage when she lost to the in-form Angelique Kerber in the second round at the US Open. Venus did end the year on a high note though, as she won the WTA event in Luxembourg – her 44th career title and her first in more than two years.
After this incredibly successful comeback, Venus could have called it quits – knowing that she would be financially secure if she never played another tennis match or undertook another business venture again. But Venus has decided that she wants to go on and probably have another crack at the Olympics in Rio when she will be 36 years old. The skeptics might laugh but if there’s anyone who is capable of playing top flight tennis in the mid-30s, it has to be a Williams.
In showing the heart of a true champion and putting herself out there on the tennis court despite the fact that she had much more to lose than to gain, it’s Venus who earns our vote for WTA Comeback Player of the Year honours. With a 24-9 record in the year and having climbed 110 spots in the rankings to end the year as no. 24, Venus will be hoping for a healthy 2013 season and a crack at another Wimbledon title. Amen to that!
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards