Darko Grncarov was the happiest he had ever been.
It was the first week of December 2016. He was looking forward to December 19, he had circled that day on his calendar. The 20-year-old was going to feature in his first ever tournament as a professional. Preparations were in full swing and Grncarov had packed his bags. There was still a week remaining for the F51 Futures to begin in Antalya in Turkey but nervous energy had conquered him. The organisers had given him a wildcard into the main draw and he was determined to repay the faith shown in him.
Ticks were made against all items on the checklist. Flights were booked, strings on the racquets were strung and clothes were pressed. Grncarov felt like a kid asked to own a candy store. The happiness, though, would not last long. It was replaced by an indescribable emptiness a few days later.
Back home after visiting a gym, he felt something. Soon enough, a blood vessel in his brain burst. A stroke followed. He became unconscious. After briefly regaining consciousness, he again blacked out.
This time into a coma.
Hours became days. Weeks became a couple of months and Grncarov still showed no sign of coming back. Then, as if revived by stuff used at Hogwarts, Grncarov slowly showed signs of progress. After being under for more than five months, the Macedonian recovered. Doctors were thrilled but asked him to be super cautious. Getting back to playing tennis, he was informed, was going to be a pipe dream that would remain unfulfilled. Be thankful that you do not have a machine strapped to you to aid your breathing process, he was told. His family, a sporting one but never into tennis, endorsed the opinion. Forget your kit bag, the closest you are getting to playing tennis is when you watch the sport on TV, they said.
A childhood dream, it seemed, was dying a slow, painful death. Grncarov, though, did not listen to any ‘expert opinion’. He knew he had one powerful ally — will power. Consultations with the medical men for months after coming out of coma would end with only one assessment, you might not be able to walk again. He knew the doctors were wrong. He had already started exercising, routines the doctors had declared he wouldn’t be able to do.
That belief kept him in good stead and he is now planning another tilt at making a professional debut — a Challenger in Rennes early next year. Rewind to the time when he had just gotten out of coma. That was, according to Grncarov, the worst period. “I was very shocked and disappointed (about what had become of me) after waking up,” he tells Express. “I so badly wanted all of that to be a very bad dream but obviously it was all real life.” The first few days of him trying to comprehend his new reality made him depressed. “It was very bad. I was mentally down, just crying and being depressed. When I saw I couldn’t walk, that got worse.”
How then did he motivate himself when wallowing in self pity would have been the natural reaction for most humans? “I am so grateful for my sister and her husband who made me feel better and helped me through the whole process. That’s when I realised that I wanted to come back as a better player... as a champion.”
The irony in all of this is he took to tennis by accident. “Macedonians aren’t really known for their tennis culture,” he points out. “I didn’t know whether I wanted to become a professional. I was going to academies only because a few people were convinced there was the makings of a tennis player inside me.”
He was already 17 when he made the decision to try and become a full-time player. “Two years ago, I gave a try because the organisers of many tours got to know about me from my coaches. Having hit with a couple of pro players, word travelled fast and a few directors were willing to give him a couple of tryouts at their tournaments.”
Like the opportunity in Antalya late last year. He, understandably, doesn’t remember much. “It happened three-four days before I was scheduled to travel. I was in the midst of my final preparations and then BAM. Next thing I know is waking up in a room of doctors all treating me. I lost consciousness because of the stroke. The blood supply to my brain stopped and a thromb popped and nearly died. The next day I was conscious for two hours before sleeping again. I didn’t wake up again for the next five-plus months.”
It was obviously a life-turning experience.
“I lost my hearing in the right ear because of the stroke.” Medical technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the last decade but he has no hope of recovering what he lost. The scars are so seared into him he has problems even looking at his old photographs. “I can send you some pictures but I don’t have that many because I don’t even use my old ones. I am not comfortable enough looking in the past.” The future, though, is his oyster. Starting at the Rennes Challenger in January. “Fingers crossed. I will be the happiest I can ever be if that happens.”
Future course of action
Now that he has staged an almost full recovery, he is planning to feature at a Challenger in Rennes. There are also plans to play the qualifiers in Sofia, an ATP 250 event in the second week of February. The big thing he is looking forward to, though, is the potential of teaming up with Viktor Troicki at Miami in March.
DOB May 28, 1997
- Favourite surface Grass
- Backhand & Forehand Right-hander, two-hand
- Favourite player Andy Murray
- Hit with Viktor Troicki & Robin Haase among other professionals
- Family A few members have dipped their feet into football but none have gone on to play at the professional level
- Ranking Does not have one
- Debut Hasn’t played a competitive game. Is planning to break that duck at the Rennes Challenger next January