Suarez Navarro, 2021 Roland Garros.

In 2008, a 19-year-old ranked No. 132 on the WTA tour qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time. It was new territory for the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria native, though one would have hardly known with the way the sturdy Spaniard carried herself on court throughout the fortnight. Buoyed by determination and buckets of positivity, all five feet and four inches of this auspicious athlete captivated Roland Garros with an elegant backhand, effortless movement and enchanting smile.

Thirteen years after leaving a lasting impressing with her outstanding run to the quarterfinals, Carla Suarez Navarro is back, beaming in Paris—carrying that identical enthusiasm but for reasons beyond the tennis court. The former world No. 6 is in the French capital to play her first tournament since being declared cancer free.

“I already won the most important match of my life,” she told earlier this week. “Roland Garros for me is one of the best tournaments in the world. So for me, it's a gift to be here again, to be able to play.”


In 2020, the former world No. 6 had intended to play one final season before stepping away. Life instead had other plans. Last September, Suarez Navarro announced she had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Everyone reacts differently to hearing, ‘you have cancer.’ As for Suarez Navarro, she initially thought, “what do I have to do to be good again?” and “how long will it take me?”, before processing the fact the blueprint to her professional tennis exit was no longer possible.

“My mind, it comes like, ‘I cannot retire this year.’ Or, if I retire, it's not the way that I dream,” she recalls. “So at the beginning, it was a little bit tough because of this. But then, I was so positive. I was thinking that 2021, I can come back and do all the big tournaments and also say goodbye to my fans.”


My mind, it comes like, ‘I cannot retire this year.’ Or, if I retire, it's not the way that I dream

Making adjustments and taking on new challenges are two qualities rooted in tennis players. While Suarez Navarro was understandably nervous about her first chemotherapy session, during a pandemic no less, she was confident her background would lend an invisible hand in facing an unfamiliar opponent. Her approach to the situation was a familiar playbook: maintaining the encouraging drive that guided her to seven Grand Slam quarterfinals and 28 Top 10 wins.

“The first one, I had pain a little bit in my stomach, but after four days, I was feeling really good. So that was really important for me,” Suarez Navarro says. “Because if the first session of chemotherapy was difficult or negative, the way you go through the other ones is not the same.”

Like many who endure chemo, Suarez Navarro lost her hair. She accepted it as part of the deal. Her extensive tennis family reinforced a cheerful attitude through an outpouring of calls and messages, and good tour friends like Garbine Muguruza visited. Feeding off that positive energy, Suarez Navarro kept moving forward, and by the end of her fourth round of treatment, she received a remarkable piece of news.

“I did a body test and their results were really good. Almost all was disappeared,” she says. “Before that, the doctors talked to me that I have to do 12 sessions, but after that result, they only did eight. So four months, not six.”


When it was confirmed her cancer was gone, celebrations were low-key with the COVID-19 pandemic still a strong factor. Suarez Navarro spent the next four weeks off—no doctor visits, no tennis. By the end of March, she began radiotherapy. Soon, the 32-year-old was back on the practice court training with one recurring thought in her mind: Roland Garros. She took it day by day, testing her strength and speed and in May, visited the Mutua Madrid Open for a long-awaited reunion with her peers.

“it was a really special week. I wanted to be there,” Suarez Navarro says. “I go to Madrid to practice and to see rest of the players. I had coffee with some, and it was nice to see them again.

“I needed it, I missed these things a little bit. Not all the matches, not all the weeks, but I miss [when] we can talk a little bit more in the locker room.”


Suarez Navarro checked in with WTA friends earlier this month in Madrid.

Suarez Navarro checked in with WTA friends earlier this month in Madrid.

In her WTA return at Roland Garros, Suarez Navarro drew 2018 finalist Sloane Stephens, a matchup set to take place Monday or Tuesday. Suarez Navarro has already won in making it back to the Grand Slam stage, and though she is the first to say having fun is a top priority, her champion mindset is still fully intact.

“I always repeat to myself, ‘if you want to go to Roland Garros, you have to be ready to compete with all the people who was one year playing tournaments,’” she shares. “I want to be ready. I don't want to be here in any price. I love all of Roland Garros and I love the city.”

Paris is christened both the City of Light, and City of Love. With Suarez Navarro intending to make this her final appearance, ahead of hopeful farewells at Wimbledon, the Olympics and US Open, here’s to spreading the love to and shining a light on the Spaniard with the elegant backhand, effortless movement, enchanting smile—and, now, emboldening story.