If Yanina Wickmayer was a feel good story at the US Open, then in Melbourne, she should be a sentimental favorite.
After serving about a little over two months of a year-long suspension for failing to fill out her whereabouts to the Flemish anti-doping tribunal, the 20 year-old was able to get back on the court when her appeal was upheld.
Yet, it meant she had to qualify for the Australian Open, something the “tougher” Wickmayer did with ease.
“Well, I’m 16 in the world, so I think I should be main draw,” said Wickmayer after she won her first round match against Alexandra Dulgheru, 1-6 7-5, 10-8. “I mean, I’ve asked myself that question a lot of times. I knew I was going to have to play quallies. I knew it a couple of weeks before, so I could prepare myself for the qualifying matches, which was, in a way, positive. I knew I was going to play them and I could prepare myself mentally.
“Had a great preparation in Auckland and was playing well. I had a good few matches here. I rather had them in Sydney, but I had them here. When I played them, I really enjoyed being on court, and I just played my matches the way I wanted to play them. It all came out good. “
Things were going so well for Wickmayer in Flushing, losing in the Semifinals to Caroline Wozniacki and she was only going to get better.
Then October happened and she was given a one-year suspension because the Belgium native failed to fill out the whereabouts forms online, which she said was because the anti-doping tribunal failed to provide her with the password.
Yet, she appealed her suspension – along with Xavier Malisse, who also got a year for the same reason – and it was overturned in December.
Every positive, Wickmayer sees this as a growing experience.
“You know, it was a tough time,” she said. “I’ve been through a tough time. It was tough for me not knowing when I was going to play again, not knowing what the future will bring.
“But I kept on practicing, working hard, and trying to put a goal for myself. I was really happy to be back on court. I had a great week last week, won my first title of the year, and played some great matches in the qualifying, which I really enjoyed playing.
“It was tough, but I think it made me strong. Yeah, it made me a little tougher maybe. Today was a tough fight again. It’s only good mentally to get stronger and get tougher also as a person and an athlete. It just makes you stronger.”
She will need her new found strength to get through this Open. Even though a top 16 player, as a Wild Card, she will get some tough draws early on, with No. 12 seed Flavia Pennetta up next in the second round.
Yet, Wickmayer is just happy to be on the court, especially as a Non-Australian qualifier.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen when I got suspended,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to be here. But then when I hear I could play again, I got a wild card in Auckland, which was great. Those people gave me the chance to compete again. That was great.
“And I understand in a Grand Slam it’s really hard to get a wild card. I asked for it, but I understand that that’s really hard for a tournament director to give a wild card to a non‑Australian player. So I accepted I had to play quallies.
“I think for me mentally, yeah, it was good playing them. I got a little stronger, a little tougher mentally. I think it’s going to serve me well in the future.”