Ana Konjuh: 'I will try to come back next season, if not..'

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Ana Konjuh: 'I will try to come back next season, if not..'

The Dubrovnik native Ana Konjuh was destined to conquer the tennis world after a stellar junior career, winning Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl at the age of 14 in 2012 and the Australian Open in January next year. Ana hadn't stayed on the ITF junior Tour for too long, losing in the semi-final of Roland Garros and Wimbledon before finishing the entry-tier duties with the title at the US Open at the age of 15.

Super talented player was the force to be reckoned with in the professional events as well, reaching the first final in 2012 at the age of 14 and claiming the first title in June next year in Montpellier. Ana was one of the youngest players in the top-300 at the end of the season, ready for more of the same in 2014 despite missing four months of tennis due to an elbow that would bother her many times again.

She had reached the third round at Wimbledon as a qualifier and the semi-final in Istanbul still before turning 17, finishing the season with a few good results on the lower-ranked events to settle into the top-100. The start of 2015 was not that good but it became much better after Nottingham where Konjuh won her maiden WTA title, earning enough points to wrap up the year in the top-80.

Just like in the previous season, Ana needed some time to find the right form in 2016 and it came at the best possible moment, advancing to the quarter-final of the US Open where she lost to Karolina Pliskova, backed by the semi-final in Guangzhou and the quarter-final in Moscow.

That was enough to secure the place in the top-50 and continue swift progress towards the leading positions, working devotedly on her game and improving all the elements to match the better-ranked opponents. The hard-hitting Croat had opened 2017 season with the final in Auckland, followed by the quarter-final run in Dubai.

Ana scored eight wins on grass and her problems started after reaching the quarters in Stanford (she cracked the top-20 at the end of July), losing in the opening round of the three most significant North American events and being forced to skip the rest of the season after the US Open with a right elbow injury.

Ana ended her cooperation with Zeljko Krajan at the beginning of September and underwent elbow surgery on September 15, hoping to make a fresh start in 2018. Konjuh had made a comeback in Brisbane where Elina Svitolina defeated her in the second round and more elbow troubles sidelined her from the upcoming tournaments, struggling with the left hand and undergoing another medical intervention in March.

Her ranking position went down rapidly, entering Roland Garros from outside the top-100 and losing 6-0, 6-1 to Carla Suarez Navarro before failing to make an impression in Eastbourne and Wimbledon as well, barely standing in the top-400 at that moment.

The worst thing is, Ana wasn't sure what to do with her right elbow, practicing with no problems but starting to feel the pain in competitive matches after just a few games. Konjuh visited the specialists in Zurich, Turin and Bologna but no one could have figured out what causes the constant pain.

Eager to compete again in 2019, Ana lost all three matches in St. Petersburg, Trnava and Budapest, feeling a sharp pain in her elbow once again and deciding to undergo the fourth surgery, desperately trying to extend her career and compete with no pain.

At the moment, the Croat is preparing to hit the court again but only with sponge balls and with light practice schedule, taking things slowly and targeting possible return for 2020 if that elbow is finally healed. If not, Ana will have to seek some other opportunities in life, tired of all the surgeries and setbacks that have been following her since the early days of her career.

"I will start with practice soon after having a few days off at home in Dubrovnik. It has been six months since the surgery and things look fine at the moment, the recovery takes between nine and 18 months and I hope I can start playing at some point in 2020.

I had to deal with the pain probably even before the age of 12, competing under painkillers and learning how to deal with it on a regular basis. The first surgery came in 2014 and I was able to play pain-free until the summer of 2017 when I couldn't put my hand straight, dealing with problems ever since.

Now, I have to start right from the beginning, training with the sponge balls and only with my left hand, it will take a couple of months to recover physically. The most recent surgery is certainly the last one, if the elbow starts to hurt again once I make a comeback there will be no way back but to quit tennis.

It was a serious surgery and we are still not 100% that was the cause of the pain, that makes things much tougher. My role model has always been Roger Federer, also Kim Clijsters with who I had a chance to work for some time."