Pune: Steve Darcis doesn't know when to give up. In the semi-final of the 2019 Maharashtra Open, the 32-year-old Belgian was up against Croatian giant Ivo Karlovic. At 6’11’’, Karlovic stands a foot and an inch taller than the diminutive Belgian. Yet whenever he got the chance, Darcis tried to lob Karlovic whenever the Croatian approached the net and each time Karlovic smashed the ball back viciously. Darcis' persistence finally paid off when in the 12th game of the first set, he finally managed to successfully lob Karlovic.
That dogged spirit has been the hallmark of Darcis' game and also the reason behind his successful comeback from a career-ending injury. Though Darcis eventually lost the semi-final 6-7, 6-4, 3-6, he has already scripted one of the comeback stories of the sport.
In 2017, Darcis had the best year of his career after reaching his best-ever ranking of 38 in the world. However, a serious elbow led to Darcis not playing a single match in 2018. With many in the tennis fraternity calling it the end of his career, Darcis had other plans.
"I didn't want to finish with an injury," Darcis said. "2017 was the best year of my career. I was World No 38 and got injured. I told myself that I wanted to try one more time to come back and right now, it is working well."
It is indeed working well so far for Mr. Davis Cup, as Darcis is known. In his first match in nearly 400 days, the Belgian beat sixth seed Roberto Carlos Baena in the first round in Pune. He followed that up in the second round by beating rising American star Michael Mmoh in the longest match of the tournament so far. In the third round, the Belgian defeated fourth seed Malek Jaziri to set up a semi-final clash against Karlovic to cap off a memorable return from injury.
"400 days without playing was tough especially mentally. I played four matches in a row in five days and played three long matches. So I’m happy that I’m still in good shape and I also feel good on the court," Darcis said.
While he spent 2018 out with injury, Darcis couldn’t bear to watch any tennis on TV and instead chose to spend time with his kids and focusing on coming back on the tour in 2019.
"I was just watching TV but no tennis. I focused on doing what I had to do (to get back to tennis). A lot of gym, a lot of physical stuff to come back. I had a lot of time. I have two children, so I spent the time with them. Even if it was a tough year, it was good to be home."
From Pune, the Belgian will travel to Melbourne for the Australian Open and hope to continue his good start to the year. Despite reaching the semi-final in his first tournament in more than a year, Darcis does not have lofty goals in sight.
"After what I had last year, the goal is to enjoy maximum and we'll see where I go from there. Right now, I want to enjoy because I finally can," Darcis said.
For a fighter who nearly saw his career end prematurely, every match from here on is one to savour.
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Updated Date: Jan 05, 2019 14:44:28 IST