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Make This Place Your Home: Jarmila Gajdosova

By Victoria Chiesa

“Settle down, it’ll all be clear; don’t pay no mind to the demons, they fill you with fear. The trouble it might drag you down; if you get lost, you can always be found. Just know you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna make this place your home.” -“Home”, Philip Phillips

Twelve months ago, Jarmila Gajdosova opened her 2012 season at the Hopman Cup in Perth, partnering Lleyton Hewitt and representing Australia. The Australian sporting fans were slow to embrace her in that event, but rallied her and pulled her through a tough opening win against Anabel Medina Garrigues. In Australia’s second team tie against France however, Gajdosova was double-bageled by Marion Bartoli in 50 minutes, and was reduced to tears after the loss. Following that loss to Bartoli, Gajdosova was the victim of obscene and ongoing abuse on Twitter in regards to both her on-court performance and her, well, Australian-ness. She was called “gutless,” “a joke” and others referred to her as “a refugee.”

Gajdosova was born in Bratislava, Slovakia and her WTA bio states that she “fell in love with Australia in her first trip to the Australian Open as 14-year-old”; she became an Australian citizen on November 23rd, 2009. She was married to ATP Tour journeyman Australian Sam Groth, and went by the name Jarmila Groth from February 2009 until late 2011. Following their divorce, Gajdosova was again subjected to abuse on Twitter and the ongoing harassment led to her absence from the social media site for a period of time.

On the court, she has had decidedly mixed success in her adopted homeland. In 2010, ranked outside the top 100, she fell in qualifying in both Brisbane and Sydney. Gajdosova started off 2011 again in Brisbane, where she knocked off top-seeded Sam Stosur in straight sets for her first win over a top 10 ranked opponent. She would go on to win her second career title in Hobart the next week, as she posted wins over Johanna Larsson, Tamira Paszek, Roberta Vinci, Klara Zakopalova and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Despite these results in the lead-up events, Gajdosova has never won a match at the Australian Open in her career, posting a 0-7 record.

Gajdosova’s best career results in Grand Slams came in 2010, where she reached the fourth round of the both French Open and Wimbledon. She reached a career high ranking of No. 25 in May of 2011 but her high-risk, high-reward style of play always leaves her vulnerable to extended dips of poor form. Her 2012 season was the imperfect storm, as her tennis and personal life went into a tailspin. Her last match win of the 2012 season came in May at Roland Garros, where she benefitted from a retirement from Magdalena Rybarikova. She ended the season on a nine-match losing streak, and plummeted from No. 45 to her current ranking of No. 183. Gajdosova’s mother passed away in late September and she could not grieve with her family, as she was competing at the WTA event in Guangzhou.

Gajdosova returned to Brisbane in 2013 for the fourth straight year as the beneficiary of a main draw wild card; a new year offered her a new start. With new coach Antonio Van Grichen in tow, she faced off against Roberta Vinci in the opening round. She was greeted with a warm reception and after dropping the opening set, the crowd was a huge factor in propelling her on to victory. After Gajdosova ripped her final backhand past Vinci at the net, handing her a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory, she again walked off an Australian court in tears. These tears were different from 12 months ago. These were tears of relief, tears of triumph. Gajdosova later recognized how much she had finally been embraced by the Australian crowd.

As the last Australian standing in Brisbane, Gajdosova fell in the next round to lucky loser Lesia Tsurenko, who replaced Maria Sharapova in the draw. Despite getting off to a good start in the match, Gajdosova could not contain her unforced errors and eventually fell, 6-1, 1-6, 4-6. As Gajdosova tried to fight back late in the third set, chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” could be heard throughout the stadium.

Gajdosova will continue her long road back up the rankings next week in Hobart, the site of her last tournament triumph. Her goal is to return to the main draw of the Australian Open, via either qualifying or a main draw wild card. One thing is certain; Australians are famous for the passion they show for their athletes, and they’ll finally be cheering Gajdosova on in her own backyard. After all she’s been through in the past twleve months, Gajdosova deserves nothing less.