The opening days of the Coleman Vision Tennis Championship had the buzz of youthful exuberance.
While many fans came out Sunday and Monday to catch a glimpse of the numerous teenage prospects trying to make a name for themselves on the pro circuit, Tuesday’s most intriguing match, and certainly the one that had the eye of the tennis world outside of Albuquerque, featured a pair of former prodigies trying to recapture the glory of yesteryear.
Former world-ranked No. 7 Nicole Vaidisova ended her four-year hiatus from professional tennis with an impressive 6-3, 6-4 straight sets win over Sesil Karatantcheva, who, as a teenager, climbed to a No. 35 world ranking.
“It was surreal,” said Vaidisova of her return to professional tennis. “It was the first time in four years I played a match. It was a little nerve-racking, but I’m so glad I got through.”
A wild-card entrant in Albuquerque’s annual $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit event, Vaidisova did much more than merely get through her opening match of the tournament’s main draw. The 25-year-old Czech Republic native who lives and trains in Florida, flashed glimpses at times Tuesday of the former teen sensation who was a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist (2007 Australian Open, 2006 French Open) who racked up six WTA titles on her way to peaking at No. 7 in the world in 2007, which represents the highest ranking any Coleman Vision participant has had prior to or after participating in the 17-year tournament.
But for now, she cautions any talk of her ability to actually return to that form on any consistent basis is premature.
“I can’t be arrogant to think that after four years out of the game and have the health issues I’ve had that I can just come back and win everything,” Vaidisova said. “I still have a long journey ahead of me. No matter if I’m winning or losing right now, this is part of that journey, part of the plan to get back to this.”
Vaidisova got off to a slow start Tuesday – “It was a little tricky in the start,” she admitted – but by the fourth game of the opening set she was showing plenty of power and very little trouble covering the court. She was rarely out of position, never appeared winded despite the elevation difference between the courts of Tanoan Country Club and her home in Florida, and she showed no ill effects of her two-time surgically repaired right shoulder.
For a player who hadn’t played a professional match since March 2010, she certainly looked the part of someone capable of stringing together wins this week in the Duke City.
While she’s happy to get back into the swing of things, Vaidisova said she enjoyed her time away from the game. She was able to visit family and friends and loved not feeling the pressure to win every day.
It was that pressure, she said, she wished she had handled better in her teenage years, advice she said she’d gladly share with the young up-and-comers in this year’s Coleman Vision, who included Junior Davis/Fed Cup members Sonya Kenin, Tornado Alicia Black and CiCi Bellis, the 15-year-old who gained national fame over the summer by becoming the youngest player wince 1996 to win a match at the U.S. Open.
“I can relate to (what they’re experiencing),” Vaidisova said. “They’re so excited. It’s good. It’s really good for tennis. …
“Enjoy it. If I would tell somebody like myself when I was younger, it would be to enjoy it more than I did. It was just so much about winning, winning, winning, that I actually didn’t enjoy it as much as I wish I could have back then.”
At least for a couple of hours Tuesday afternoon, it was clear Vaidisova was once again enjoying tennis.