In August 2015, Lucie Safarova’s tennis career suffered an unexpected hiccup. After making her first Grand Slam final at the French Open two months prior, she reached another final at the Connecticut Open in New Haven, the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and the round of 16 of the Wimbledon Championships.
It was after New Haven where the Czech picked up an abdominal strain and after the US Open, a mysterious infection ensued which kept her out of action for more than a month. The Czech nevertheless qualified for the WTA Finals after posting strong results in the first half of the season.
After missing out the month of January this year and going 0-5 in her first five matches, Safarova has since turned around her season by winning her seventh WTA title in Prague late April, on home soil.
Positive words from Graf
It was at a tennis club in Austria where Steffi Graf was based. At that time, Safarova’s father was working there. He took his daughter, then a little girl, to meet her idol, whom she proudly describes as her hero.
The Czech had the time of her life as she got the opportunity to hit a few balls with Graf and asked her on what it is like to be a tennis player to which the German replied ''Be patient, work hard and follow your dreams.''
Overcoming a challenging phase
The abdominal strain which Safarova carried into the US Open last year clearly affected her performance, resulting in an opening round exit. The Czech was even forced to withdraw from doubles competition. After flying home to receive treatment, she woke up one day with the infection which soon worsened in the days to come. It came to a point where she was left extremely weak and disoriented.
Initially, two rounds of antibiotics were administered but to no avail until penicillin finally killed off the infection. The Czech was cleared to play few weeks later, returning to action in Linz but bowed out in the opening round. She also suffered a similar result at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
At the WTA Finals, she qualified in both singles and doubles (alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands). However, she did not go beyond the round robin stage in either discipline. In singles, she managed just one win, coming over Angelique Kerber.
Safarova was nominated as part of the Fed Cup team for the final where they faced Russia but did not step on court after discovering an inflammation in her left wrist. A diagnosis finally revealed the real culprit, reactive arthritis, an auto-immune illness that crops up after an infection which explains the severe pain and swelling she suffered.
More bad news emerged at the start of 2016 when she was forced to sit out the whole of month of January including the Australian Open, citing that she has yet to fully recover from the infection. Returning in February in Doha where she was the defending champion, she lost her opening match to Cagla Buyukakcay in straight sets.
Since winning Prague, Safarova has won four of her last eight matches, a significant improvement compared to the first few months prior. It can be construed that Graf's advice did play a huge role in helping the Czech go through, persevere and conquer the lowest points of her life as a tennis player.