Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Zvonareva's Long Road Back

Few elite players have been as unlucky with injury as Vera Zvonareva. A mysterious viral illness badly disrupted her 2012 season and the Russian ended the year nursing a shoulder problem that was also frustratingly hard to diagnose.

Surgery was the only available option for Zvonareva, who now faces missing most of the 2013 season. She has now damaged three of the most important joints for a tennis player, having previously missed large chunks of seasons due to wrist and ankle issues.

These frequent injuries would not be so much of an issue for a younger player, but at 28, Zvonareva is one of the elder stateswomen of the WTA tour. She was in the top 10 as long ago as 2004. Most players are past their peak as they near their 30s, even when fully fit.

A full recovery is of course possible and Zvonareva need only look to compatriot, Maria Sharapova, for inspiration. The world number three had to remodel her serve and whole style of play after suffering persistent shoulder injuries, but was still able to claim the French Open crown last year.

It is easy to forget how high Zvonareva’s stock once was. In the volatile upper echelons of the women’s game, successive slam final defeats, at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, followed by a run to the 2011 Australian Open semi-finals, represents great consistency.

Only Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters stood in her way at these events and no one could argue with the 2008 Olympic bronze medallist’s year-end ranking of number two in 2010. She appeared set to take the next step as Victoria Azarenka has done, rather than regress as Caroline Wozniacki and others did when starting to reach full potential.

It will be a long time before we discover if Zvonareva can fully deliver on the talent she first showed when reaching the French Open quarterfinals as an 18-year-old. With years advancing and degrees to her name, she might decide the long road back is not worth treading.

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