Say hello to Alisa Kleybanova

Alisa Kleybanova is on a comeback from blood cancer. Charles Krupa / AP Photo
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Some battles are bigger than others. Russia’s Alisa Kleybanova proved that on the opening day at the US Open after a two-and-a-half year absence from the majors because of cancer.

Eager to return

Diagnosed after the 2011 Australian Open with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of blood cancer, Kleybanova, 24, marked her return to the grand slam stage with a tenacious three-set victory over Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig. “I just wanted to come back on the court so much,” Kleybanova said. “I wanted to play tennis again so much that it [recovering] wasn’t a question for me. I saw a tennis court a few months ahead of me ... I think that gave me a lot of power.”

Special ranking rule

Kleybanova was ranked as high as 20th, but after missing much of the last two seasons because of her illness, is now 363rd. She entered the main draw at Flushing Meadows thanks to the WTA’s special ranking rule. Until Monday, she had not played in a grand slam in two years. “I’m just taking it step by step, enjoying it every day, trying to improve as much as I can, and play my best tennis,” she said.

Reluctant role model Kleybanova announced she was sick via the WTA's website on July 15, 2011 – her 22nd birthday. She underwent chemotherapy until December 2011. She is reluctant to be viewed as a role model. "All those things are over for me now," she said. "I went through them. I came out as a winner ... I hear a lot from people that I'm an inspiration for them. A lot of people now look up to me. I don't want to be an example. If I am, very nice. But I did this for myself."

Praise from Puig The 44th-ranked Puig, who cracked the top 50 after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, said it was hard to tell Kleybanova had been ill. "She was a top-20 for a reason," Puig said. "It's amazing to see how she has come back from that, and be able to play at such a level. Definitely, I won't be surprised to see her at the top." Kleybanova's next opponent will be ninth-seeded Serb Jelena Jankovic.