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Kleybanova wins on emotional return

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Originally published on: 21/03/12 09:48

Alisa Kleybanova made good on her vow to bring a whole new approach to her tennis career on Tuesday, making the most of her time on court by winning her first match back after a 10-month battle with cancer.

The former world No.20, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma last July, showed the inevitable signs of rust early on in her first round match with Johanna Larsson at Miami’s Sony Ericsson Open but recovered from the loss of the first set to win 2-6 6-3 6-2.

And while the 22-year-old Russian admitted she was a little “out of control” in the first set, she said her new outlook on the game allowed her to gain a grip on the match. “I’m looking at my matches differently now. It’s my work, but I really just wanted to enjoy every point and every moment,” said Kleybanova. “Even when I lost the first set I wanted to stay positive and just enjoy myself out there, and that’s why I was able to stay out there and change the way the match was going.”

Kleybanova’s next opponent is No.22 seed Maria Kirilenko, who she defeated in their only other career meeting in Sydney in 2009. She is ranked over 200 places below her fellow Moscow native, but after finishing her chemotherapy treatment in December, Kleybanova has returned with a new outlook and relishes the opportunity to be back on court. “I don’t want to think about rankings, I just want to be myself,” she said. “I have a huge motivation to just live at 100 per cent, every day of my life.”

Kleybanova revealed that she switched off from the game while undergoing treatment in Italy and thought only of beating the opponent in front of her, cancer. “I knew it was going to be another big fight for me and one that is much tougher, will take a lot of time and something I really had to focus on beating,” she said. “I followed everything that my doctors told me to do and I learnt to listen to my body well. I hope that is among the reasons why I was able to recover quickly.”

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