New York: The opening day of the US Open was a celebration of comebacks: Corina Morariu’s, Lindsay Davenport’s, andNew York’s.
Morariu returned to Grand Slam action less than a year and a half after starting treatment for leukaemia and did what she could to keep top-seeded Serena Williams off-balance in their first-round match on Monday before falling 2-6, 3-6.
“I didn’t think that I’d ever be back here,” a teary Morariu said. “There are days when you feel so bad, and things get so difficult, that you don’t think you’ll be able to do the things you used to.”
Davenport, the player many consider the most capable of challenging the Williams sisters’ dominance, wasn’t given much of a test in her first major tournament match since right knee surgery in January. She beat Eva Dyrberg of Denmark 6-2, 6-1.
The match between Morariu and 1999 champion Serena was preceded by a ceremony of tribute to the heroes and victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — two days after last year’s Open ended.
For 24-year-old Morariu, of course, being back on court is a victory in itself. Her face betrayed no emotion when she walked on court for just her second tour singles match in 14 months, but Morariu did unveil a wide smile as she went to the changeover chair after breaking Serena’s serve in the third game.
“There were definitely a lot of emotions,” she said. “When you have a tough time walking up the stairs in your house, it’s tough to imagine that you’ll be able to play with Serena Williams.”
Morariu wasn’t just pleased to be there, however. She wanted to win, and it showed: she slammed a ball off the ground after an unforced error ended the first set, stood with hand on hip after over-hitting a sitter, yelled after a poorly hit backhand.
Davenport, the 1998 open champion and former No. 1, spent nine weeks on crutches after her operation, then endured months of rehabilitation that included eight hours a day using a machine that repeatedly bent and straightened her right knee.
Asked what it would take to get her game and confidence back to the level that brought her three major titles, including Wimbledon in 1999, she said: “I don’t know if it will take beating a Williams or a very top player to get me going, or if it takes winning some more tournaments. But I’m not there.”
Before Morariu’s illness, her highest singles ranking was 29th, and she was No. 1 in doubles for part of 2000.