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Injuries, lack of support brings Russian pro tennis player to Colorado

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By Michael Hicks

She suffered a stress fracture in her right shin that forced her off the tennis courts just after Wimbledon in 2007. She broke the big toe on her left foot and later suffered a knee injury that initially was feared to be a torn meniscus in her right knee, but turned out not to be at all.

She had a breakup with her coach, who also is her dad, and moved from Houston to New Jersey. And, now, she’s in Colorado. All that in the last three years. It’s been a tumultuous ride for Russian tennis star Vasilisa Bardina.

Three years ago, she was ranked 48th in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association. She reached all four of tennis’ Grand Slams, including two trips to Wimbledon. But almost as quickly as her professional career  had risen, Bardina has seen it come crashing to halt.

Be it the nagging injuries that kept her from running in 2007 as she prepared for the French Open, the ailing tendonitis in her right knee the past few months or the negative vibes surrounding her, Bardina needed a change.

This is where the Evergreen Sports Center, in particular tennis instructor Sarah Stone, comes in. Stone, a former WTA player herself, invited Bardina to come out here to get back on track. Stone has a history of being connected with upcoming pros. She either coached or played with a couple of other top 50 players, including French Open finalist Samantha Stosur and Italy’s Romina Oprandi.

“It wasn’t the ideal situation for her there (Bardina living in New Jersey). We’ve always remained friends, and I was chatting with her. I told her I’m at a great place and there are great pros here,” Stone said.

The decision didn’t come immediately, but eventually it came.

It’s not too hard to realize why Bardina struggled to come to grips with this opportunity. After all, she’s been a professional tennis player longer than she’s been out of high school. With a career record of 137-67 she’s enjoyed more success than failure. But in order for her to get back on track and her mind right she first needed to heal the injuries that are keeping her off the playing court more than on it.

“Nobody likes to get injured. Maybe it’s just something I had to go through,” the 22-year-old right-hander said. “I believe things happen for a reason, usually. I don’t know about the injuries. Maybe it’s something I needed to do before I start playing again.”

With a support system behind her and a training staff and physical therapist looking out for her health, Bardina is, hopefully, turning the corner. Her coach certainly believes she can get back to where she was.

“She definitely has the dedication and ability to go deep into the Grand Slams. And she’s only 22. She’s not old,” Stone said. “ … This is  going to be good for her. I really believe in her.”

It doesn’t hurt that the students at the Evergreen Sports Center, who receive tennis lessons from Bardina, are appreciative of her efforts. And, as it turns out, she appreciates them as well.

Be it her own modest goal of being back playing in three months or Stone’s goal of six months, there seems to be a light at the end of what’s been a very dark tunnel for Bardina.

“I do want to play a few tournaments in autumn. My main goal is to give it a shot. I still feel I haven’t tried and I haven’t done everything to make a comeback. There always was something that wasn’t just sitting right,” Bardina said.

But now things seem to be aligning in the right order. Sure, she would love to work on that powerful baseline game of hers or figure out a way to get back in the rankings — somewhere she hasn’t been in a year. But, for now, it’s all about getting healthy again. The rest of that stuff will come in due time, Stone believes.

“I think she has the ability to be in the top 20 in the world,” Stone said. “For a lot of players things happen. Life happens.”

Just like it has for Bardina.