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Morariu back in Final after chemotherapy

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Corina Morariu made it back to a Grand Slam doubles final four years after her last one. A lot has happened in between.

"It's been such a long, tough road for me," Morariu said.

Back in the 2001 Australian Open, she won the mixed doubles title with Ellis Ferreira and reached the women's doubles final with Lindsay Davenport. Not long after leaving Melbourne Park, Morariu began getting nosebleeds and noticing unusual bruising.

A few months later, she was diagnosed with leukemia, then spent three months in the hospital while having chemotherapy. Less than 1 1/2 years later, she was back on one of tennis' biggest stages, facing Serena Williams in the 2002 U.S. Open.

There were more obstacles to overcome: shoulder operations in November 2002 and May 2003, a right-knee injury and shoulder tendinitis later in 2003.

And yet there she was, still in remission, back on court Friday with singles finalist Davenport, losing the Australian Open doubles championship 6-3, 6-4 to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova and Australian Alicia Molik.

Before the match, Davenport, nursing a minor thigh injury, said there was no way she would miss playing with Morariu again.

"Four years ago, I was in the finals here with Corina. Three and a half months later, I got a call from her family saying she was in critical condition in the hospital with leukemia," Davenport said.

"If someone had told me at that time four years later we'd have another opportunity to play in the finals of doubles here, I would be forever grateful."

Davenport repeated the comment at the trophy presentations Friday, when she and Morariu had tears in their eyes before hugging each other.

"I was going to try to not get emotional, but I guess that's not possible," said Morariu, wiping tears away. "Three and a half years ago, I wasn't sure I was going to see another day yet alone another Grand Slam final."

Molik hugged Morariu when Davenport was making her comments.

Before her illness, Morariu's highest singles ranking was 29th and she was No. 1 in doubles for part of 2000. In 1999, she won the Wimbledon doubles title with Davenport.

But the series of injuries all but forced her out of singles; she no longer has a ranking. In doubles, she finished last season 24th.

"With all the injuries, I've barely been able to play 10 tournaments a year. But I feel if I can stay healthy and get some more matches under my belt, get more comfortable out there, it will be a good year," said Morariu, the WTA Tour's comeback player of the year in 2003.

"My arm has been struggling even just to hold up for doubles. I would love to have made another run in singles. Maybe my body has weakened a little bit with everything it went through. I just don't heal as fast — or maybe I'm getting older."

In 2001, she and Davenport lost the Australian Open final to the Williams sisters on Morariu's 23rd birthday. On Wednesday, the night she and Davenport won their semifinal, Morariu turned 27.

"That was the best birthday present I could have got — making the final," she said.

Williams, who was off the tour for eight months after left knee surgery, called Morariu's return "inspiring."

"She has shown so much courage after what she has been through," Williams said Thursday. "I don't really know if I could do what she's done — to come back from that kind of adversity."