Her ranking may not have moved by much since the U.S. Open last year, but Aryna Sabalenka has played seven straight matches since returning from injury, and none has gone past five sets. On Friday, Sabalenka will face Varvara Lepchenko in a WTA event in Toronto, and she will be vaccinated after she contracted the highly contagious polio-like disease named for its tetanus-causing element.
According to the Associated Press, Sabalenka told a Canadian hospital that she contracted polio-type-19 — a form of the disease called varicella zoster that affects the more than 20,000 people in Canada and which has been linked to measles and other infections. She said that she was vaccinated when she was in the Philippines, where she is from, as part of a disease-prevention effort as part of the Philippine government’s campaign to eradicate polio. She said that on the morning of July 5, when she was in the Philippines for the rest of a poor summer vacation that she hoped would last for a month, she woke up with a headache.
“I got up at 7 a.m. and I saw a doctor and my head was really bad,” Sabalenka said. “It was swollen. I was thinking I had an infection, because I could barely control my pain.”
She said that a couple of days later, she visited the doctor, who took blood from her finger, and she was then advised that she was suffering from varicella zoster. She said that she took antibiotics, but she did not know that her symptoms were caused by the disease that was once a pervasive illness in Asia and now exists primarily in certain parts of the world. She said that she was in her bedroom in September and that she awoke to shaking. “The next day, it happened again,” she said. “I remember waking up very late in the night and I was shaking, so I asked the doctor about it and he said there is no more improvement.”
Sabalenka left the Philippines on Sept. 11 and returned to her home city of Ghent, Belgium, and was diagnosed with varicella zoster on Sept. 19. She said that she has taken the vaccines that were given to her when she was in the Philippines. She says that she will not play a tournament until she is healthy, but the Associated Press reports that a match in Ottawa on Aug. 7 will be her first.
“I am very happy because I feel now, if you would see, stronger than the past four or five years,” Sabalenka said. “I really hope this is the start of something good.”
Asked if she will play again before the U.S. Open, she replied, “If I am healthy, yeah. I’m already there, so let’s go.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.