Paris: Two months ago, Petra Martic was playing qualifiers at a pocket-money claycourt tournament on sub-standard courts in Italy where ball boys were non-existent.
But the 26-year-old's determination not to surrender to a potentially career-ending back injury, which sent her ranking outside the top 600 in April, has now been rewarded with a place in the French Open fourth round.
"When I got injured, my only hope was that I would get a second chance so I can play some of my best tennis again," said Martic, the world number 290, after needing just 48 minutes to ease to a 6-1, 6-1 win over Latvian 17th seed Anastasija Sevastova.
The Croatian was once a top 50 player before a back injury sidelined her for 10 months after Wimbledon qualifying in 2016.
She made her comeback at a $25,000 event at Santa Margherita di Pula in Italy in April, paying a $40 entry fee, entering qualifying before winning the title.
"The courts were incredibly bad, so many bad bounces ... and the umpires. You don't have ball boys, nothing," said Martic.
"It was like, Oh, my God, I have to really start all over again. But at the same time I was so excited to be out there.
"To me, it really felt like a Grand Slam the first time I went to court to play an official match after this injury."
That obscure tournament in Italy was just the start of her recent dramas.
At Roland Garros, she almost didn't make it out qualifying when she found herself two points from defeat in her final match before taking her place in the main draw.
"I still can't believe that I'm sitting here," said Martic, who went all the way to the last 16 in Paris in 2012 before falling to current world number one Angelique Kerber.
"Once I arrived here and once I got on the court for first time, I just got a flashback of 2012 when I played my best tennis.
"It's obvious on the court to see how much I actually enjoy and have no pressure. I think it helps a lot."
Martic said that during her absence from the tour she was inspired by the comeback success of compatriot Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
Her fellow Croatian made the Australian Open semi-finals in January, 18 years after she was in the last four at Wimbledon.
In between, Lucic-Baroni had spent years away from the sport, rebuilding her life away from her abusive father.
"That was an amazing story and my big dream was to be that story one day," added Martic, who will face Ukraine's Elina Svitolina for a place in the quarter-finals.
Fifth seed Svitolina defeated Magda Linette of Poland 6-4, 7-5.
Published Date: Jun 04, 2017 08:18 pm | Updated Date: Jun 04, 2017 08:18 pm