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Neuman stuggles with mysterious wrist injury

It was supposed to be Christine Neuman's "Year in the Sun," as her coach put it.

She was going to play No. 1 singles for the Blue Devils, the fifth-ranked women's tennis team in the nation, and hopefully lead them to the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship. She was intending to earn All-America honors for the third consecutive season. She was going to prepare herself for life after college, hopefully meaning a career on the pro circuit.

Now, however, Neuman is just trying to get healthy after sustaining a wrist injury, the origin and severity of which have baffled her and all those around her.

Yet although her sun may be setting momentarily, if there is one player whose competitive spirit can make it rise again, it is Christine Neuman.

"I have my good days and my bad days," Neuman said of her psyche since the injury. "But I, more than anybody else, miss the competition so I want to get back as soon as I can."

Neuman and her head coach, Geoff Macdonald, have predicted her to return in late February or early March, but are tentative in pinpointing her exact return because of the uncertainty of her injury.

Neuman does not know exactly how she injured the left wrist -- her non-playing wrist -- and no doctor has been able to give her an definitive diagnosis of her injury.

The senior's frustration is evident when she speaks about her upcoming season.

"I have goals," she said. "But they are tough for me now."

Neuman's goals would be tough to achieve for any healthy player, no less an injured one, as she has given herself considerable standards to live up to.

As a junior competing for the Blue Devils at the No. 2 singles position, Neuman compiled a 30-10 record playing against highly-ranked players. Neuman's coach was impressed with her composure as she moved into the high singles position.

"Instead of becoming a player down low in the lineup, she became someone who had to step up her game at No. 2 because she was playing top-10 teams in the country day-in and day-out," Macdonald said. "And she did it."

In addition, Neuman finished with a flurry last season, winning 11 matches in a row. When she finally lost in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, her finish earned her All-America status for the second time.

This season, the sooner she heals, her coach asserts, the sooner she will be a force to be reckoned with in the Atlantic Coast Conference and nationally.

"If she can get healthy and back to playing again and get a month of matches under her belt, I think by the NCAAs I would not want to be playing her," Macdonald said.

Both Neuman and Macdonald agree that what makes the senior so difficult to beat is her mental abilities on the court. Neuman can adapt to play different styles of tennis depending on her opponent's strengths or weaknesses, and this separates her from lesser players.

"A lot of it out there is your head," Macdonald said. "There are a lot of people out there who can strike the ball brilliantly. But [Neuman] can hit the ball well and think."

Certainly, a large part of Neuman's mental toughness stems from her extensive tennis background.

Neuman, who grew up outside of Chicago, was immersed in tennis from childhood as her entire family was heavily involved in the sport.

At age nine Neuman began playing in her first summer tournaments, a practice she would continue for each of her following summers. Unlike other young players who overdose on tennis at an early age, Neuman viewed playing as enjoyment rather than a chore.

"I really liked it," Neuman said. "It wasn't like I was forced into it. You hear a lot of horror stories, but it wasn't like that for me."

It was this constant reassurance from her family to which Neuman attributes her accomplishments on the court.

"I think I'm the lucky one," Neuman said. "There are a lot of kids out there who don't have that encouragement in sport."

Neuman used that encouragement to make a resounding splash on the pro circuit this past summer. After falling in the qualifying round of her first tournament, she achieved great success in her next three tournaments, winning one in Columbia, S.C.

The result was a jump to No. 239 in the world computer rankings to go along with her preseason NCAA ranking of No. 8 last fall.

Neuman's success last summer might be an indication of things to come as the senior prepares for life after Duke. The 21-year-old wants to attempt a pro career, and her coach believes she can handle the life of a professional player.

"Her best strength is that she's tough enough to deal with that lifestyle," Macdonald said. "She can play. She's going to get better when she gets out into that competition.

"There are very few people out there with her brains and sense of tactics. A lot of people out there hit the ball better, but the neat thing about tennis is that you can figure out how to neutralize them and make the match your match. She can do that."

Neuman has lofty aspirations for her future, as she would love to play on the U.S. Open Center Court where her idol Chris Evert once reigned.

Momentarily, however, Christine Neuman is just trying to get healthy.

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