Oct. 15, STOCKHOLM—Mario Ancic had never thought having a big heart was a problem until eight months ago, when a serious health scare had him fearing his career could be over.
Going into February 2007, the 22-year-old Croatian was riding his best ranking of ninth and looking forward to a solid season after reachign the fourth round of the Australian Open and winning the title in St Petersburg the previous fall.
But a debilitating bout of mononucleosis stopped the former Wimbledon semifinalist in his tracks the following weekend as he travelled to Krefeld, Germany for a Davis Cup tie. Doctors discovered the mono had caused his heart to temporarily enlarge.
Peace of mind was hard to come by after receiving the chilling news that had he played a second Davis Cup match in his fragile state, he might never have been able to compete again at the top level. A return in August was then cut short by a shoulder injury.
The Injury List - Mario Ancic
April 2006 – Back injury
July - September 2006 – Knee injured during a jet skiing accident, back injury
February - August 2007 – Mononucleosis, enlarged heart
August - October 2007 – Shoulder injury
"Thank God I stopped playing [the next week] in Marseille and got treatment, I'd felt sick for a few weeks."
Recuperation in Croatia was far from relaxing as the world-class athlete was reduced to a near-invalid state while his battered body slowly healed. "I was in bed for weeks, until at least the early summer," he explained, and was beset by real worries about his future on court. "I was concerned that my career could be over.
"When I tried to walk I could only manage for 20 minutes, I had to start everything from the beginning," he recalled. "I'd try to run and really couldn't, it was a long, long process back. I had to start from zero after lying in bed with a fever."
After slowly trying to pick up his physical pace once doctors gave him the all-clear, he gradually regained his strength and began to consider a comeback.
But that scenario was derailed before the US Open as he won matches in Montreal and Cincinnati before the shoulder problem sent him back off court for an additional six weeks.
Healthy once again - but consulting strictly with his doctors on a regular basis - Ancic is reveling in his fresh chance.
"I missed the game so much, this is my second career," he said. "I'm still in a comeback. My shoulder is fine now, but I'm not yet back into the tennis routine. I can't yet train the way that I want.
"But every match I play is a bonus for me, I just want to try and finish the year with some wins, that's my only goal."
The Croatian added: "It's a tough period behind me, but it's behind me now. I believe in myself and I know I can play top tennis again. I'm glad to be over this career-threatening illness."
Ancic is not planning on any miracles for the remainder of 2007, content to slowly work his way back into form as his fitness permits.