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Starting from scratch

An ex-champ is missing from Madrid, but on the mend

Posted: Friday November 2, 2007 11:50AM; Updated: Friday November 2, 2007 11:50AM
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A year ago, Sam Stosur had one of her finest years as a pro, winning 10 titles with Lisa Raymond and finishing '06 ranked No. 1.
A year ago, Sam Stosur had one of her finest years as a pro, winning 10 titles with Lisa Raymond and finishing '06 ranked No. 1.
Sandra Behne/Bongarts/Getty Images

The culmination of the 2007 season begins on Tuesday, when the top eight singles players and top four doubles teams in the world compete for the WTA Championships in Madrid. All year, players have battled for enough quality points to earn a place among the elite in the year's final event.

There's always some last-minute drama, as players try to knock each other out, vying for those final spots. This year, we've seen such stories as Daniela Hantuchova winning at the last minute in Linz, Austria, to earn one of the last two singles spots. Or the battle in the doubles event, where Rennae Stubbs and Kveta Peschke won two events this fall to clinch a berth.

But there's a story you probably missed among the drama -- and it's not about a player or team trying to clinch. It's about an individual who earned her spot months ago, only to have to relinquish it in the end under unfortunate circumstances.

A year ago this week, my doubles partner, Samantha Stosur, was half of the No. 1 doubles team in the world. We had just won our ninth tournament of the year, heading into Madrid as the defending champions. We would go on defend our title, ending what would be an impressive year that included the French Open title and the Doubles Team of the Year award.

One year later, Sam sits in her apartment in Tampa, Fla., her home away from home during the long tennis season, amazed at how things can change on a dime. She hasn't seen a gym in almost a month, sleeps 10 hours a night and gets winded walking around the grocery store.

She hasn't picked up a racket since flying home in September from the U.S. Open. That following morning, she was taken to the emergency room after suffering from intense headaches. She would spend the next few nights in the hospital, as the staff ran tests to figure out what was wrong. The first bit of news she received was that she had contracted viral meningitis, a diagnosis that would lead to a month of medicine and lots of rest.

But she didn't feel any better. She underwent more tests, which uncovered more troubling news: Sam had Lyme disease. One of the fittest players on tour, Stosur went from playing tennis four hours a day, followed by grueling gym workouts, to staying in her apartment and struggling to find the strength to make herself breakfast each morning.

For the next six weeks, Sam had to receive a new round of antibiotics through an IV, twice daily, which she had to administer herself. There would be no exercise, no sweating, nothing that would cause fatigue. This world-class athlete went from being on top of the world to the mercy of doctors and nurses in the blink of an eye.

Luckily, Sam's prognosis is very good. With the help of her medicine and strict doctor's orders, she's been feeling better each day and is on the road to recovery. Her goal is to be back playing in her homeland of Australia by January. I have no doubt that Sam's positive outlook and patience will get her back on the court, playing at the level she did just a few months ago.

For me, not being able to play in Madrid and complete a possible hat trick of WTA Championships was, of course, disappointing. But when I take a step back and look at the reality of the situation, I realize how incredibly lucky I am in so many ways.

It's unfortunate that because of the nature of our sport, playing week to week, tournament to tournament, we never get a chance to sit back and relish our victories. We take them for granted, always looking ahead to the next event. But what if there wasn't a next week? What if this was the last final you were to play, the last ball you would ever strike or the last time you would stand on the podium and raise the trophy?

Life has a funny way of playing itself out, sometimes even a cruel way of teaching us its most valuable lessons. It's easy to take for granted hitting a winner or the adrenaline you feel serving at match point. On and off the court, this is a lesson I have become more familiar with in the past few months. Life is precious; live every day with conviction and passion, and relish every moment.

I know that Sam will be back better than ever, with a new appreciation for the sport that has brought so much to her life. That will make two of us.

Five-time women's doubles Grand Slam winner Lisa Raymond writes for SI.com on alternate Fridays.