At the age of 18, Darko Grncarov had it all. He was preparing to make his professional tennis debut at an event in Turkey after training with familiar ATP Tour hitters, Viktor Troicki, Gilles Simon and Robin Haase.
He was tipped to become the next best thing but disaster struck just a week before his big day.
Now aged 20, Grncarov is set to make his return to tennis at a Challenger event in Rennes just 13 months after suffering a stroke.
The Macedonia-born player was in a coma for six months and is now deaf in his right ear.
Grncarov, returned to full training in September but he did it in secret – away from his family – and has proven everyone wrong.
After consulting with specialists, Grncarov was told a full recovery could take up to seven years and there would be a risk of suffering another stroke.
Now he is preparing to make his first appearance on a tennis court since 2016 and has already confirmed he will partner Troicki in the Masters 1000 in Miami.
“I proved everyone wrong”
Grncarov was told he wouldn’t be able to walk for seven years but he was back on his feet after just four months and told me he is keen to keep proving people wrong.
“It was only a few days before my first ever tournament that I suffered the stroke. It happened because I had been training long and hard every day and my body couldn’t take it.
“I just finished my practice, went home and the next thing I remember is waking up in a room full of doctors around me. I thought it was a dream.
“I couldn’t feel my legs. I couldn’t move my head. Then I fell in a coma
for eight months. The blood supply to my brain was interrupted and a blood vessel burst off. It was a Thrombotic Stroke.
“I didn’t have any operations because it was too risky to do it. My family were left to pray I would wake up and the chances were not that big. When I woke up and was told what had happened, I couldn’t believe it and I became depressed.
“I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk properly for six or seven years and maybe never. I lost my right hearing but I don’t see any of that as a big deal because tennis is all that matters to me.
“I couldn’t accept that I wouldn’t play tennis anymore so I went off and exercised on my own. I visited specialists all around the world and after only four months I proved everyone wrong and now I’m even better than before.
“My game, condition and health is all better.”
“I had this fire inside me”
Grncarov believes his story will inspire young tennis players all over the world and he hopes to become a star on the ATP Tour after he makes his return in Rennes.
“My aims are always positive and ambitious. I know I will be a fighter on the court.
I just want to have fun now. I want to make lots of memories, make new friends and most importantly, stay healthy.
“I trusted my family and friends and I always believed in myself. I told myself to keep going every day before I went to bed and when I woke up.
“Nothing is impossible. I had this fire inside me and I was 100% certain I would make it.
“Life is a surviving game. You need to fight no matter how badly life is throwing stones at you. In the end, everything happens for a reason.
“Tennis is the most important thing for me. It is my happy place and I think it will be forever. I forget everything when I’m on the court. Tennis is my power, my strength, my motivation and it’s the thing that keeps me going.
“One day, maybe I will be the world number one. That would be inspirational wouldn’t it?”
Grncarov’s story has shocked the tennis world and everyone has been keen to show their support.
Among them were American actress AnnaLynne McCord, best known for her role in “90210”, and 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.