Gajdosova returns to begin long climb back

JARMILA Gajdosova ended her wretched season in September, her mother's death providing a devastating full stop to a troubled time.

She had split with her coach, Gavin Hopper, in April, a year after her sudden separation from her husband, fellow player Sam Groth, and she had accumulated more injuries than match wins in a barren stretch since the French Open in May.

Then this. Too much and enough.

''My mum was sick - she had throat cancer - and then she went for surgery and unfortunately her body gave in and she died,'' Gajdosova says. Her mother was just 56. ''I think that was the sign that 'OK, this year is about over for you. Go home, see your family, rest up.' I just had to try to get it together, get myself in the right state of mind and come back happy, healthy and ready to compete and to fight my way back.''

Gajdosova played her last match - a first-round loss in Guangzhou, China, where she was the 2010 champion - two days after her mother died, having been urged to stay and play by her father in Slovakia. After her loss she went back to Slovakia and spent six weeks with her family. Then, in November, she moved to Tampa, Florida, to train under new coach Antonio van Grichen, best known for his work with Victoria Azarenka and Vera Zvonareva.

An Achilles injury cost her about 10 days, but gradually, the talented baseliner is rebuilding a game known for its sweet and powerful ball-striking as well as its erratic tendencies. There is much ground to recover. Having started the year ranked 33rd, she is now 184th. An absentee from this week's play-off, she will need a discretionary Australian Open wildcard to go with the Brisbane International invitation delivered this week, but pencil it in.

An Australian citizen since 2009, and resident since her mid-teens, the woman known to all as Jarka will arrive in Queensland this week and be joined in Noosa by her extended family, before welcoming a new year that surely will be easier than the last.

''It's going to take time,'' she says. ''I've just been trying to work hard, and I will start again from zero and I hope I get a lot of support from the home crowd and everybody else around, and hopefully I get back. Tennis is what I love to do and I was pretty decent at it. I mean, I got to 25 in the world, so I'm not too bad, I guess. I'm just trying to start again and be happy, enjoy what I do, and hopefully the lucky break comes.''

History, though, would suggest it is unlikely to be at Melbourne Park, where she has been eliminated in the first round for seven successive years.

''I guess playing in front of the home crowd you try to do well and I kind of just can't get the monkey off my shoulder. But I'm not going to worry about it this year; I'm really coming to the new year with a new slate and a new beginning, and whatever happens happens. I will work hard for everything I can - every ball and every point - and that's all I can do.''

Van Grichen has been a positive influence, Gajdosova says. The experienced Portuguese coach is something of a disciplinarian ''and the training sessions are very hard, and he's trying to enforce the aggressive game I play, just a bit more physically, so I don't make as many errors but I still can go for my shots''. Her association with Hopper ended after he could not travel as much as Gajdosova wanted.

''The last 18 months have been very difficult in my life and in my tennis career, so hopefully I can forget it all and 2013 will be a good year,'' she says.

''If I could get to top 50 it would be a great year, but the main goal is to get back to top 100 and then take it step by step from there.''

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