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Big Return

Morariu takes her fight against cancer on the court

August 29, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — There were days Corina Morariu wondered if she would ever be healthy again, ever be able to return to a semblance of normal life, let alone the professional tennis circuit.

She came to the U.S. Open two years ago in between chemotherapy treatments, looking pale and weak, having lost her hair. Last year, she returned, her cancer in remission, and played in Arthur Ashe Stadium in a night match against eventual champion Serena Williams.

A living inspiration to many, she is now using her serve to try to raise money for cancer research. Morariu's enthusiasm and passion carried over the phone line in a recent interview about her alliance with the pharmaceutical company Roche.

For every ace she serves during the U.S. Open the company will donate $1,000 to Friends of Cancer Research, for programs designed for the treatment and prevention of cancer.

Morariu, 25, had a rare form of leukemia that went into remission 14 months after her diagnosis.

Slowed by injuries this year, she lost in the first round of singles on Monday against Maja Matevzic of Slovenia and in the opening round of doubles with partner Jelena Dokic of Serbia on Thursday against the top-seeded team of Kim Clijsters of Belgium and Ai Sugiyama of Japan.

There haven't been any aces yet, but she will get another crack at it in mixed doubles with partner Justin Gimelstob. They will be playing the fourth-seeded team of Elena Likhovtseva and Todd Woodbridge.

Still, the Open isn't the end of her partnership with Roche.

"I've teamed up with them till the end of the year and they obviously have been instrumental in developing innovative medicine for cancer patients and getting those medicines out to the people who need them," she said. "I was lucky enough to be the beneficiary of that a couple of years ago.

"It is such a horrible, horrible disease," she added. "One of my main goals when I decided to start playing again was to try to give a little bit of hope or a little bit of inspiration to people that are going through what I went through two years ago.

"For me, when you're that sick, there are days where you don't think you are ever going to get back to where you were ever going to feel healthy again or feel normal or be able to resume any sort of normal lifestyle, let alone compete at the level I had previously.

"It helped me to see other people that had fought the disease and done things that they've done before. Obviously Lance Armstrong is the most famous example, but for me that was a big part of it. And being out here at the U.S. Open and being able to raise money for cancer research and being involved with a company like Roche, for me, it's one of the main reasons I started playing again."

She refused to return to the often insular, me-first world of the sport. Since coming back, Morariu has been hit by a variety of injuries and spoke frankly at the French Open about the end of her marriage.

For a fresh look, she moved from South Florida to Orange County, to the Laguna Beach area, close to her former doubles partner and friend Lindsay Davenport. They won the doubles title in 1999 at Wimbledon.

"I kind of wanted to get out of Florida and then for my tennis, Southern California really seemed the only other option, for weather and practice," she said.

Morariu is enjoying the change of venue.

"I'm in love," she said of the area.

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