Safarova: I am back
But 2016 has been a difficult year for her coping with the after effects of a bacterial infection that hospitalised her in September of 2015. After missing the Australian Open she played her first event of the season in Doha. The bacterial infection was followed by arthritis.
“[It can] happen after you struggle with a very serious bacteria you can get arthritis as a reaction from the immune system,” she said. “I got arthritis all over my joints and it took me three months to finally cure it. It is fully gone now. There is a chance it can come back, but I feel completely fine now and pain free.”
Now, the main priority is to remain healthy after being given the green light to compete. “The doctors have given me the all clear and I feel I am back,” she said.
However, 2016 has not been without its successes. In Miami the left-hander won her ninth doubles title with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and won her seventh career singles title in front of her home crowd in Prague.
“When I came back you start from zero,” explained Safarova, “because six months away changes everything, your fitness and so on. It took me a while to fully get back in shape. Finally in Prague it was the first turning point to be back.”
The 29-year-old first started playing doubles with Mattek-Sands at the Australian Open in 2015 and they surprised everyone, including themselves, by winning the title. Since then they have become a regular partnership.
“Winning a Slam is every player’s dream. It’s something you work towards every day,” she said. “It took me 12 years to win my first Grand Slam with Bethanie. “It’s ‘only’ doubles,” she said, with reference to what some people say about doubles being inferior to singles, “but it’s a Grand Slam title and it gives you this extra push that it is possible to win singles as well.”
And how much would she like to win Wimbledon? “I wish,” she smiled. “I like grass courts.”
In the first round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon 2016, Safarova, who is making her 11th Wimbledon appearance, narrowly beat doubles partner Mattek-Sands 6-7(7) 7-6(3) 7-5.
“It was very hard, I was down three match points and then I won it, I don’t know how,” said Safarova. “It’s hard to face your doubles partner. She is such a good friend and we know each other so well.”
So how did she win that match? “You just suffer through it,” she laughed. In her second round match Safarova defeated American Samantha Crawford and will face 23-year-old Slovakian Jana Cepelova in the third round. Cepelova, who upset Simona Halep at the All England Club last year, defeated 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza in straight sets.
“She defends very well, I saw some of the match against Muguruza and she was defending everything and Muguruza was making mistakes,” she said. “I expect it to be a tough match, but obviously it is a lower ranked player and I am the favourite there. I will do my best to win.”
Her regular coach is Rob Steckley, a good friend of Mattek-Sands’ husband Justin. But at Wimbledon this year she is working with Petr Pala while Steckley is absent for personal reasons. Pala is the Czech Fed Cup coach.
“It is perfect for me because it is a substitution for my coach with someone who knows me,” she said. “My coach is in touch with him, he knows all the players and he is a good coach.
“I feel healthy right now and I am playing well. I take one match at a time, step by step.”
With No.2 seed Muguruza out, the 29-year-old is well placed to repeat her run to the semi-finals here in 2014, when she lost to Petra Kvitova, the eventual champion. Equalling her run to the fourth round as she did last year is a distinct possibility given her next opponent.
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