At the end of April, the Spanish tennis player announced her recovery from cancer after an eight-month battle – now she is about to compete at Tokyo 2020, her fourth Games
The Tokyo 2020 Games are the fourth Olympics for Spanish tennis player Carla Suarez Navarro. She also describes them as "the most special one." Suarez will make her debut tomorrow, 24 of July, alongside Garbiñe Muguruza in the women's doubles, where they play against Belgium's Elise Mertens and Alison van Uytvanck. In the singles tournament, Suarez Navarro will face one of the favourites, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia.
The opportunity to take part in the Games would have nothing to do with tournaments, rankings or matches. This time, it is different.
Suarez wanted to retire from tennis in 2020, so she wouldn't be at Tokyo [when it was announced the postponement of the Games she didn't change her mind]. However, her life changed shortly after.
In early September 2020, Suarez Navarro was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. Eight months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment followed, and finally, the tennis player posted on social media that she had overcome the disease.
Over the past months, her incentive has been to return to the courts to play in major competitions such as Roland Garros or the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. And finally, Suarez can say she is ready. Her comeback took place at Roland Garros last month.
Because there was something clear to her: she wants to retire from playing tennis on her own terms. On the court.
In an interview with Olympics.com last May she discussed the past year and, above all, her plans for the future. A future that begins with Tokyo 2020.
After an 8-month battle against Hodgkin's lymphoma, Spanish tennis player Carla Suárez Navarro is finally back to full health. Now, she wants to go back to the court and finish her career on her own terms. Suárez confirms in an exclusive interview that trying to make it to her fourth Olympic Games at Tokyo 2020 in 2021 drove her on during difficult times in her cancer battle: "I had it in my mind during my treatment and it helped me a lot." The former world number six also reveals to Olympics.com and the Tokyo 2020 website what success means to her, and why teaming up with close friend Garbiñe Muguruza for doubles at the Olympics would be a perfect way to end an incredible career.
At the end of April you announced you had recovered from Hodgkin lymphoma. What has been the most complicated part in this process?
I think the most shocking part was the news itself – when they tell you you are suffering that, and when you have to tell that to your family, that's the hardest part, although chemo is also really tough. In my case, I was really lucky from the beginning. It is true that you go through difficulties, tough times, days in which everything is hurting, that you don't really want to get out of bed. But, generally speaking, everything went quite well. I even did less chemo sessions than was expected. Then radio[therapy], which was not as bad as chemo – it has less side effects. But, if I had to say one thing, it would be the getting to know what was happening to me, and some of the chemo sessions.
What was the moment like when doctors came up with that diagnosis?
They were running tests for like 10 days in order to see where the problem was coming from and what would be its solution. The doctor had already told me that one of the options was lymphoma, so when he told me the diagnosis it wasn't that shocking. But obviously this is news you don't want to hear and your world stops for a while because you have plans, and suddenly you have to just think about yourself for four or six months, take care of yourself, put everything into your recovery. And there's nothing else beyond that. So immediately I asked him what I could do to recover and the doctor gave me a lot of confidence and hope.
Retirement can wait
You wanted to retire in 2020, after 13 years on the professional circuit, but everything changed. Are you more enthusiastic about your goodbye from the court this time?
It was very clear to me that 2020 would be my last year, but after the disease I didn't want people to remember me like that. So I want to have the opportunity to play three or four tournaments more before I retire, and do so on the court. I didn't want to go through the back door, but I really know this year will be my last because my body and my heart are telling me so.
Why is it so important for you to come back to the courts and finish your career there?
Because of all the years I am doing this, because of all the effort, because of all my work. And also because of my family, because they have put in a lot of effort for me. I am looking forward to stepping on a court for the last time, to decide when it is my time to go. Besides, I want to say goodbye to those fans and those people who have always supported me.
Being a tennis player helped me during this process. This sport is individual, so it teaches you to overcome anything from when you are a child.
The sport's values
In the process of fighting the disease, how important has the mental part been?
Being a tennis player, being an athlete in an individual sport, travelling and competing that much... There are a lot of things inherent to the sport regarding the mental part. So it wasn't that hard.
How has tennis helped you?
It has helped me a lot, especially because of that – tennis is an individual sport, so it teaches you to overcome anything from when you are a child. There are days that you don't really want to train and you have to do it and do it well. It is the same in the tournaments. And somehow you have to give your best that day. I think that mentality helped me a lot.
Was it positive for you to have specific goals, such as to compete in Roland Garros or at Tokyo 2020?
So much. The doctors told me it would be good for me to do some exercise, but for me it wasn't the same without a goal. As I was, it would have been very easy to just not do anything and not leave home. The fact of having Roland Garros or the Olympics in mind helped me a lot – much more than people can imagine.
Tokyo 2020, a fourth Olympics
What did you think when Tokyo 2020 was postponed?
I remember it was very difficult for me to assimilate the postponement. I always look forward to the Olympics because us, as tennis players, we don't have many chances to represent our country, so they are special. After three Olympics, I was waiting for my fourth participation. And when they were postponed, I didn't know about my disease and anyway I was sticking to the thought of retirement. Everything collapsed for me. It took me some days to assimilate and overcome the fact that I would retire before having the chance to compete there.
What does it mean to compete at your fourth Olympics?
I am very happy, especially because I had Tokyo 2020 on my mind during the treatment. The Olympics helped me a lot. Besides I'd like to play my last doubles match with Garbine [Muguruza].
You have a good relationship, right?
Yes, we are good friends. I think we have learnt a lot from each other. We don't only get together for training or playing, but also to have a good time. I am blessed to have her in my life – a player who has been the number one, who has won Grand Slams. Plus she is very funny. I am blessed to have her as a friend.
Has that friendship made you better players?
We play doubles together, so we kind of share our mentality with each other. When I was missing something, she pushed me to make myself better. She trains really hard and somehow you have to reach that level too. In that sense, I think she has helped me a lot.
How do you remember your experiences in Rio 2016, London 2012, and Beijing 2008?
All of them have been very different from each other. In 2008, it was my first time so everything was really intense – I tried to soak up all the atmosphere, go to the Opening Ceremony, to other events, get to know other athletes...
In London, my parents and my brother were there, and it was the first time I won a match. It was different, yes.
And then Rio, where I was really focused on the results, especially in doubles with Garbine.
And now, what do you expect from Tokyo 2020?
Probably they are the most special ones because of where I've come from but I am one hundred per cent sure that they would be my last Olympic Games.