The comeback of Nicole Vaidisova

MIAMI -- For Nicole Vaidisova, a 6-1, 7-6 (4) first-round win over Timea Babos at the Miami Open on Wednesday will be earmarked as one of the great days in her tennis career.

That might seem a bizarre admission for a former player once ranked as high as No. 7. But considering the circumstances, it makes perfect sense. The match, which the now-No. 328-ranked Vaidisova played courtesy of a wild card, signified her first WTA Tour victory since she won a first-round match at the Memphis tournament in February 2010.

"It feels good," said Vaidisova, beaming when asked what it's like to win again on the tour. "You kind of forget what it feels like. I think this time around, I definitely won't take it for granted; I'm grateful to be here."

The road between Memphis and Miami was five years filled with challenges and turmoil. She had two surgeries on her right shoulder, which was once known to deliver one of the bigger serves in the game.

At just 21 years old, Vaidisova married fellow player Radek Stepanek, 11 years her senior. They divorced three years later.

Throughout this whole period, there was the unknown: Would Vaidisova ever play again?

"I thought after taking time off to let it heal my shoulder would be better," Vaidisova said. "But I had to do surgery No. 1 [in the United States] and that didn't go to well, so then there was surgery No. 2 [at home in the Czech Republic]. This process started three years ago, so it's been a long time. I've had a lot of help from doctors and physios who really tried to help me, and they're a huge part of that I'm now able to play."

Vaidisova joined the tour as a teen phenom at 15 years old in 2004 and immediately turned heads. The young Czech, another in a long line of child prodigies coming out of the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida, was undeniably attractive.

Vaidisova was immediately flagged as a future star, reaching the top 100 her first year on tour. In only her third WTA tournament -- a new event in Vancouver in August 2004 -- she went from qualifier to champion. Coincidentally, she won that title with a final victory over American Laura Granville, the very same player who became the final player she beat in Memphis before leaving the game in 2010.

In the first incarnation of her tennis career, Vaidisova won six titles, all by the end of 2006, and journeyed to the semifinals at the 2006 French Open and 2007 Australian Open.

Slowly, however, Vaidisova started to descend in the rankings just about as quickly as she rose to fame. In those days, Vaidisova wasn't as willing to share information as she is today, one month shy of her 26th birthday. Observers who weren't privy to the seriousness of the shoulder issues believed her downturn was due to a disinterest in tennis and a growing interest in Stepanek.

Vaidisova's stepfather, Alex Kodat, who coached the Czech periodically from age 10 (and who is now her coach of record) told Czech media after Memphis she was walking away because she was no longer keen to play.

These days, Vaidisova emphasizes she never indicated she was going away for good.

"When I stopped I never said I retired [or that] I wasn't ever going to play again," Vaidisova said. "I kind of just wanted to step back and take a breath. It's tough when you're younger. On the tennis tour, we all kind of go at 100 percent speed and don't think about things too much. We grow up much faster since as little girls we're so much away from home and traveling. It was good for a while just to stay home and gather my thoughts."

During the time away, Vaidisova went on to what she refers to as "normal life" in which she was home with friends and family.

Among the important revelations she came to is that after tennis, whenever that will be, she would like to have a different career. She took some courses -- not for university credit yet -- and found a subject perfectly in sync with her life as a tennis player.

"I would like to study psychology," Vaidisova said. "I think tennis-wise, you go through a lot in your head -- we all do. It's interesting to me to look at it all in a clinical way to explain it."

But for now, Vaidisova is taking her tennis rebirth in a slow and methodical manner. She believes the low-key approach by playing smaller ITF events was ideal.

Not willing to put any undue pressure on herself, Vaidisova is playing without expectations and goals. After her win Wednesday, she wasn't looking past her second-round match against third-seeded Simona Halep, another new face she doesn't know in the locker room.

Vaidisova said she doesn't have any immediate goals.

"I think I need more matches and more tournaments," she said. "If I'm able to move forward and be on the tour more, and play more tournaments in a row, then I think I can relook at this.

"I think I just want to give it my all and have no regrets."