Vitalia Diatchenko, tougher than the rest

The Russian suffered a seemingly neverending streak of injuries. However, she managed to come back and beat Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon.

by Alessandro Mastroluca
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Vitalia Diatchenko, tougher than the rest

Before entering the Court 2 at Wimbledon, Vitalia Diatchenko would have desired to forgot her last moment on the big stage. At Us Open, facing her idol Serena Williams, she limped out of the tournament after winning 5 of 37 points.

“I don’t want to tell you because you’re going to be shocked, guys, how many I did,” said Diatchenko after her stunning comeback victory over Maria Sharapova, her maiden win at WTA level since 2015 Baku.

“I can tell you the last one I did, it was last April, so one year ago, this time, I wasn’t playing tennis at all. I started in August, September last year, then I got another problem with my back. I think I will write a book after I finish playing so everyone understands how much I passed.” Sharapova suffered her third defeat to opponents ranked outside the Top 130 in the tournament, after losing to No.154 Kudryavtseva in 2008 and to No.131 Larcher De Brito in 2013.

It was a definitely brave performance from thehar-hitting Moscow-based 27-year-old, who twice called the trainer for lower back issues.“At least I wasn’t injured today” Diatchenko was quoted to say by Sport 360.

“I got some problems in the beginning of the match with my leg, but it was good to feel healthy and to play matches and finish matches. So finally I could show my game”. Diatchenko, who grew up in Sochi, has lived in Moscow since she was 11 years old.

The daugher of a United Nations employee and a housewife, Vitalia “has fire in her racquet”, said Patrick Mouratoglou, who invited her to train in his academy years ago, to ESPN. Not surprisingly, her tennis idols growing up were Monica Seles and Serena Williams.

She spent two years away from tennis w/right shoulder injury (age 14-16); began playing again at age 17. In 2009 she managed to qualify for her first Grand Slam main draw at Roland Garros beating Cabeza Candela, Halep, Begu.

She saved eight match points in a dramatic first-round clash to Mathilde Johansson, who double-faulted on four of those points and never really found a way back to fulful her potential. Diatchenko won just two games against Dinara Safina but things seemed to improve.

In 2010 won one singles title and four doubles titles on ITF Circuit, in 2011 she went several times two points away from victory against Daniela Hantuchova. After winning the singles and doubles title at $100k ITF tournament in Astana, she lost in the qualifying rounds to Alize Cornet in Moscow.

In the doubles main draw, partnering Elena Vesnina, they seemed en route to clinch an upset win over the No.2 seed King/Shvedova. Fate had other plans for Diatchenko who slipped and broke meniscus, cruciate and lateral ligaments.

The first surgery in Russia worsened he condition. Diatchenko played three tournaments in 2012 and decided to undergo a second surgery in Rome. Professor Pier Paolo Mariani, one of the most renowned knee surger who treated more than 1200 athletes included Francesco Totti and Kevin Strootman, whose return on court he considers as one of the ten biggest successes in his whole career.

Periods of doubts and sorrow predictably came to make her days and dreams full of shadows. “Today, while lying on the MRI, a day after a survey of only one knee, I realized that I can not be called tennis player … Because it my whole career is only in hospitals” she wrote on Twitter in 2013.

Graduated at the Russian State University of Physical Culture and Sports, in 2014 she advanced to her first WTA quarter-final in that same Moscow where it all began to fade. As a qualifier, she claimed over Cibulkova her maiden Top 20 win and lost to eventual champion Pavlyuchenkova.

She also won WTA 125k Series event in Taipei that year and achieved her career-high singles ranking of No.71 in November 2014. “When I started to play again last year, I had passed so many tough times, and it was much better and much more easy for me to play on the court than to stay in clinics and be in pain every day,” she said, the New York Times wrote.

“So I’m just happy to play, and I enjoy every single match.” But she did not play between February and May 2015 due to a left Achilles injury (underwent surgery in February). In 2016 she fell at the first hurdle at Roland Garros (l.

Safarova) and US Open: there she won two games against Bacsinszky in a match later identified for irregular betting patterns. Last year, she ended the season ranked No.188 (up from No.553 in 2016), with two ITF Circuit titles in Chiswick and Istanbul, two $25k events.

With a neverending array of ultra-flat two-handed forehands and backhands, she built a second chance to live her dream. Probably, while she was producing the biggest win of his life, she would have thought to her first meeting with Sharapova at Roland Garros in 2015.

“Before I played with Maria, everyone said that she hits the ball so hard, and you have to be careful,” Diatchenko said, after a 6-3 6-1 defeat. “But I didn’t feel that she was pushing me away out of the court. I felt comfortable”. On the most cherished grass-courts in tennis history, she was totally at ease.

Vitalia Diatchenko Maria Sharapova Wimbledon
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