The atmosphere on the court in Albuquerque, N.M., on Tuesday was quite different from the cheering crowds at a Grand Slam semifinal, but Nicole Vaidisova still needed a moment to soak it all in after her win.
After more than four years away from tennis, former world No. 7 Vaidisova defeated Sesil Karatantcheva 6-3, 6-4 in the first round of the ITF Pro Circuit Coleman Vision Tennis Champions tournament.
The victory came more than a decade after Vaidisova played and won her first ITF event as a 14-year-old -- a result that foreshadowed her precocious rise. In 2004, Vaidisova became the sixth youngest to win a WTA title and cracked the top 100. A year later, she won three consecutive titles and climbed to No. 15. The Czech earned a spot in the top 10 as a 17-year-old in 2006, when she made the first of her two Grand Slam semifinal appearances, at the French Open. That same year, she passed a $1 million in career prize money earnings.
But then her results dropped off. She withdrew from six tournaments in 2007, first due to a right wrist injury during the European clay season and then a viral illness during the summer hardcourt season. By the end of 2009, Vaidisova was ranked outside the top 150 and a year later, she stopped playing and retired at the age of 20 citing “a lack of interest in tennis.” She married ATP veteran Radek Stepanek just a few months later in July 2010, and they divorced in 2013.
The 25-year-old announced her comeback on Instagram last week, writing, “I am excited to be competing again, it’s been a long road to get to this point...This time last year I was recovering from my 2nd shoulder surgery and going through a very personal heartbreak.”
As a wild card into $75,000 tournament, she held nine of her 10 service games and broke serve three times in the win over No. 191 Karatantcheva, who had just reached the quarterfinals of the WTA event in Québec City last week. The highest-ranked player in Albuquerque is world No. 104 Michelle Larcher de Brito.
Vaidisova will play the winner of No. 3 seed Johanna Konta and Julia Cohen on Thursday.