After being suspended for doping, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova came close to quitting tennis. Having finally put the perceived injustice behind her, the Czech player reached her first quarterfinal at a Grand Slam tournament on Monday.
The 28-year-old Zahlavova Strycova was banned for six months by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for the stimulant sibutramine in October 2012. She claimed she had inadvertently taken the drug through a supplement but was still suspended for the doping violation.
"I felt like everything is unfair and everything is like it happened," she said after beating former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5 in the fourth round at Wimbledon. "I was like, 'I don't want to be here and see the same people every week.' I was empty."
Another doping offender, Marin Cilic, will be playing in the quarterfinals at the All England Club. The big-serving Croat, who defeated Jeremy Chardy 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 Monday, also tested positive for a banned stimulant and served a four-month ban last year. He claimed he didn't intend to ingest the substance, which was in a glucose tablet bought at a pharmacy.
Zahlavova Strycova's ban ultimately motivated her. A former junior world champion, she was 124th in the WTA rankings when she was suspended. She returned on the tour in April 2013 and managed to revive her career, coming back into the Top 50. She is now 43rd, close to the career-best ranking of No. 39 she reached four years ago.
The Czech right-handed player said the first month of her suspension was the hardest to take. That was when she thought about ending her career, but she quickly realized that life without tennis would not be fun.
"I didn't want to come back and play again and compete. But it was just a short period of time," she said. "Then I was, 'Yeah, what I'm going to do? I really like it. I love the sport.' And then I didn't ask myself anymore."
At Wimbledon, where she is playing for the 11th time, she has beaten seeded players in three consecutive matches.
Wozniacki saved two match points in the 10th game and three more in the 12th before the Czech player prevailed.
"Maybe a little bit I am surprised, but maybe I am getting more mature," Zahlavova Strycova said about her late improvement on the biggest stage. "But I like it because I didn't play for six months and it shows me also some other stuff. I enjoy much more now. With the age, I am enjoying every moment on the court, especially here at my favorite tournament."
Zahlavova Strycova will meet 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals.
Cilic, who will play his first Wimbledon quarterfinal against either Novak Djokovic or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, claimed he found "some mental toughness" out of his doping ban.
"When I came back, it sort of gave me more motivation to work and use every opportunity I have to be prepared for every tournament," he said.