In previous seasons, some of the most enthralling stories have featured players returning to the tour after prolonged absences. Some came out of retirement, while others had overcome injuries/illnesses, or started a family etc. What does 2014 offer us by way of the comeback?
The most prominent player on either side who fits the bill is Vera Zvonareva. The former world #2 hadn’t played on the WTA Tour since the London Olympics before she entered the Shenzhen Open this week. The Russian is no slouch - a two-time Slam finalist and Olympic bronze medallist. But, she faces a tough road back with likely early round opponents being top seeds (Li Na this week). Still, her 5-7 3-6 loss bodes well going forward.
Kim Clijsters spoiled tennis fans with her ability to immediately compete for Slam titles after lengthy absences. She is a unique talent who possesses a killer skill set. Vera, while a very good player before her injury, has nowhere near the talent of a Kim Clijsters. Patience and perseverance will be her best ally in 2014.
Ross Hutchins will be making a return to the ATP doubles circuit after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The Brit missed all of 2013 after his diagnosis. His is an improbable and triumphant return. I wish him all the luck and success in 2014 and beyond.
The other big name floating around regarding a return from illness is Robin Soderling. The Rafa slayer has been M.I.A. since 2011 while recovering from mononucleosis. There’s still no word on when, or if, Soderling will be able to return to the ATP Tour. However, I found that he is producing his own line of tennis balls under the brand RS-Tennis. You can check that out here. Come back soon Robin!
Then there are those who might decide to come out of retirement. The obvious candidate is Marion Bartoli. Many thought her retirement at the Cincinnati Masters last year was a bit premature. She’s still only 29 and ranked #13. Her task would be far easier than Zvonareva’s given her high ranking, and I imagine it will be very difficult for Wimbledon to roll around and not attempt a title defence. Still, Marion has always taken the road less travelled - perhaps she is truly done.
Venus Williams is another version of the comeback candidate. While she has officially returned to the WTA after being stricken with Sjogren’s Syndrome, her results have not returned to what they were pre-diagnosis. Perhaps 2014 will see Venus find a way to cope with the auto-immune disease in a way that will allow her to play her best tennis more often. Should she return to the top-10 or even the top-20, I’d absolutely call it a comeback.
We saw Martina Hingis flirt with a return last summer under the guise of playing doubles. Will we see someone of the calibre of a Clijsters or Henin give it a go? Now that Kimiko Date-Krumm has shown that age ain’t nothin but a number, the expiration date on a player’s return window is as elastic as it’s ever been. It then becomes a matter of what the goals of a comeback are - to return to elite form or just satisfy a competitive yearning?
For now, we’ll have to wait and see how 2014 plays out. Best of luck to all those who are making their way back or will attempt to do so this year.