Harkleroad eyeing May return to court after surgery

Ashley Harkleroad, who helped carry the U.S. Fed Cup team through the quarterfinal round earlier this year with two victories, is recovering from surgery to remove her right ovary on March 31 after a frightening episode during the Sony Ericsson Open.

Harkleroad expects to resume practicing next week and could be playing again by early May.

"The good news is that if I want to have babies, the doctors said no problem," Harkleroad told ESPN.com by phone from her family's home in Georgia. "If I couldn't, I'd be really depressed.

"It was still hard for me mentally. I felt like something had been stolen from me. First I was sad, then I was depressed, then I was pissed off. But I'm OK now," she said.

Harkleroad, 22, has been on a roll lately and looked to be on the verge of cracking the WTA's top 50 for the first time in four years when she began play in Key Biscayne. She experienced some abdominal pain during and after her straight-sets second-round win over France's Virginie Razzano but chalked it up to menstrual cramps and tried to treat it with over-the-counter pain medication.

Looking back, she knows she was ignoring dangerous symptoms and recommends that other women pay better attention.

"Athletes play with pain," she said. "I'm pretty tough."

The discomfort worsened, and Harkleroad underwent a diagnostic ultrasound that showed she had a blood-filled cyst on her ovary.

"The advice I was given was that I could play with it as long as I could deal with the pain," she said. "So I took four Aleve and two Pamprin and went out for my third-round match."

She declined to say who gave her the advice or whether she is contemplating legal action.

"Let's not go there now," she said.

Harkleroad lost to Russia's Elena Vesnina in three sets despite leading in each set and notching a first-serve percentage of 74 percent.

"I really should have won the match," Harkleroad said. "I was moving tentatively on the court, because in the back of my mind, I was worried about making [the pain] worse."

It was a hot day in Key Biscayne and Harkleroad also became severely dehydrated because it hurt too much to drink more than a sip of water at a time.

After she got back to the hotel with her boyfriend and coach, Chuck Adams, Harkleroad spent several hours vomiting, unable to eat or drink, and grew progressively weaker.

"I finally looked up at him and said, 'Call 911,'" she said. "It's the first time I've ever been in an ambulance, and I had a panic attack. My hands and tongue went numb. It was so scary. I just wasn't sure I was going to make it."

The cyst had ruptured. Harkleroad said she bled internally, affecting her liver function, and wound up losing more than a quart of blood. She was rushed to Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Fla., where Dr. Luis Mendez performed emergency surgery. Afterwards, she said he cheered her up by telling her he had spared a small fish tattoo on her right hip.

Harkleroad spent two days in the hospital and several more days confined to bed rest but said she is healing quickly now. A talented clay-court player, she hopes to return to tournament play in Prague the week of May 5 and start preparing for the French Open.

Her absence will further complicate the U.S. roster selection for the Fed Cup semifinals against Russia later this month -- a date Harkleroad had a big part in booking against Germany in the quarterfinals.

After Lindsay Davenport lost a shocker to Sabine Lisicki on the first day of competition, Harkleroad evened the score with a win over Tatiana Malek and then clinched the win the next day after a Davenport win by beating Lisicki.

Davenport is playing against Russia but the Williams sisters are not.

Harkleroad's wholesome looks and irrepressible personality made her a teen sensation after she turned pro in 2000, but she became disenchanted with the touring lifestyle and walked away from the game briefly in 2004-05 when she fellow player Alex Bogomolov were married. The two divorced in 2006.

Recently she has been resurgent, making her first WTA semifinal since 2004 in Hobart, Australia, last January and beating two seeded players, Dinara Safina and Lucie Safarova, in Indian Wells last month en route to a fourth-round appearance. Harkleroad is currently ranked No. 55.

Harkleroad said she hasn't been in any hurry to remarry, but recent events have made her think.

"We're talking about it," she said of herself and Adams.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.