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Cancer victim Kleybanova wins comeback match in Miami

March 21, 2012 -- Updated 1733 GMT (0133 HKT)
Russia's Alisa Kleybanova has won two WTA Tour titles since turning professional in 2003.
Russia's Alisa Kleybanova has won two WTA Tour titles since turning professional in 2003.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alisa Kleybanova wins on her return to tennis at the Miami Masters
  • The Russian had been out for 10 months battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma
  • The 22-year-old battles to a three-set victory over Sweden's world No. 64 Johanna Larsson
  • Kleybanova has won two WTA titles during her nine years on the circuit

(CNN) -- A tennis player's biggest challenge usually comes from the opposite baseline, but Alisa Kleybanova has taken on an opponent of an entirely different nature over the last 10 months.

The former world No. 20 announced in July 2011 she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a form of cancer, after missing both the French Open and Wimbledon.

The 22-year-old Russian made a successful return to the court at the Miami Masters on Tuesday after battling to overcome the disease.

It was a fairytale return for Kleybanova, who was handed a wildcard for the U.S. hard-court tournament, as she came from behind to record a 2-6 6-3 6-2 first-round win against 64th-ranked Swede Johanna Larsson..

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"The first match back from anything is always difficult, but especially this time I really had no idea how it was going to be out there," Kleybanova told the WTA's official website.

"Tennis-wise I felt pretty good from the beginning but Johanna has a difficult game to play against, she makes you run a lot out there -- she makes you tired even if you're in your best shape."

Kleybanova, who will face 20th-seeded compatriot Maria Kirilenko next, said fighting the illness has given her a different perspective on the sport.

It's my work, but I really just wanted to enjoy every point and every moment
Alisa Kleybanova

"I'm looking at my matches differently now," she said. "It's my work, but I really just wanted to enjoy every point and every moment.

"Even when I lost the first set I wanted to stay positive and just enjoy myself out there, and that's why I was able to stay out there and change the way the match was going.

"It's not just about the win though, it's that I'm back on court. If I didn't win, it's not like I would have been mad. I was just happy to be playing points, feeling all the emotions again... it's something I missed a lot and it was all out there today."

It was also a memorable occasion for Kleybanova's coach Julian Vespan, who she described as her "best friend."

"Of course he's very, very happy I won, but he's also my best friend and he feels happy when I feel good and when I'm smiling. He just wants me to be happy. When he saw me enjoying myself again he was very happy for me."

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