By James Ogletree
Special to The Tuscaloosa News

For the first year after her graduation five years ago, Alabama tennis alumna Alexa Guarachi battled shoulder injuries that delayed the onset of her pro career nearly a year. Once she recovered, she won nine International Tennis Federation titles in the next 16 months, leading to a career-high singles ranking of No. 347.

Two days after those rankings were released in late 2015, she reached to return a shot while practicing for a tournament in Waco, Texas. As she changed direction, she felt a pop in her right knee. She screamed, immediately suspecting the worst. Her fears were confirmed by an MRI: She had torn a ligament in her knee.

“I really thought my career was over then,” Guarachi said. “… I was thinking then, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’”

Thinking it over, she realized the rehab would be necessary to have a healthy life whether that included tennis or not. So, she reasoned, if she had to go through the rehab anyway, why not try to resurrect her career?

She walked with crutches and sported a brace that stretched from her ankle to her thigh for the first month. She was back on the court by the six-month mark.

The road to rehabilitation didn’t come without bumps, however. Eager to regain tournament form, she worked herself too hard, causing her knee to swell and delaying her rehab two weeks.

Eleven months after the injury, she at last returned to competition. And returned to winning form.

The Fort Walton Beach, Florida, native has won 12 titles since returning from injury, but competing at Wimbledon this summer with her former Alabama teammate Erin Routliffe might trump all of them.

The duo was the last team to sneak into the qualifying draw. They beat the odds by not only winning two matches to qualify for the main draw before forcing a third set in a loss to the tournament’s No. 3 seed and eventual champions earlier this month.

Instead of letting the grandeur of the tournament and the All-England Club overwhelm them, they played like they had nothing to lose, reminding each other they weren’t even supposed to be there.

Guarachi’s dream month continued last weekend when she won a doubles tournament in Switzerland, her first career title in the Women’s Tennis Association, the highest level of the women’s game. It was also the first WTA victory by any Alabama alum, and she became the first to ascend inside the top 100 in the world rankings. She is currently ranked 85th in doubles.

The hard work to recovery from the knee injury has given her a different perspective.

“It makes you think how quickly something that you love can be taken away and to not take it for granted,” Guarachi said. “I don’t ever get nervous anymore, because I’m just enjoying being out here and having this opportunity.”