PARIS – There’s a lot of alliteration there, we’ll grant you.
But Rebecca Marino’s first trip to Roland Garros since … 2011 was as dramatic a comeback as she’s had in a long time – maybe ever.
The 28-year-old, who’s 15 months into a return from a five-year retirement, flew all the way from Japan to Paris not knowing if she would even make it into the French Open qualifying.
She was two out when she left Asia. And she squeezed in – barely, the last player to make it.
Even better, she got a friendly draw in French wild card Tessah Andrianjafitrimo.
Although the crowd on beautiful Court 14, other then friends, family and perhaps a few fellow Canadians, stood firmly behind the Frenchwoman.
Down and almost out
After losing the first set in a tiebreak and battling back to take the second set, Marino found herself, after more nearly 2 1/2 hours on the court, down 1-5 in the third and facing two match points.
She came all the way back to post a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5 win.
Marino will play No. 22 seed Elena Rybakina of Ukraine in the second round Thursday.
Here’s what it looked like.
From Japan to Paris in a day
Marino won the biggest tournament of her comeback to date in Japan on Sunday, at a $60,000 ITF in Kurume.
But she didn’t have much time to get to Paris, even if she was determined to go. She took a bus to Fukuoka, flew to Shanghai, waited around in Shanghai, flew for 14 hours and got to Paris Monday morning. And then, she had a long haul by train into the city from Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Luckily, the women’s qualifying only began Tuesday. And even more luckily, she didn’t have to play her first match until Wednesday.
Tired, jet-lagged and so eager to win she did herself more harm than good, Marino was was error-prone through the first two sets, thought it was over in the third – and then almost relaxed and began to play her game when it seemed all was lost.
Andrianjafitrimo served for the match at 5-1 and 5-3. She took a medical timeout for a calf strain that couldn’t have been anything but legitimate, given the score. And although she did stretch it out a lot at first after the taping, she still seemed to be moving reasonably well.
It was Marino who cleaned up her act, and even though she saved break point herself when she tried to serve it out at 6-5, was thrilled when she finally put it away.
Back on track after back injury
(We did an amazing video interview with Marino afterwards – with a brand-new, high end microphone. Unfortunately, even though it worked fine with Félix Auger-Aliassime the previous night in Lyon, one of the fancy switches … er, didn’t get switched. And there is no sound. Sigh. We’ll paraphrase what she said below, to the best of our recollection).
She looked great, though!
Marino said she was putting far too much pressure on herself early, just because she wanted to win so badly.
The logistics of the journey to get there meant she didn’t have the clearest thought processes, either.
She said it was “nostalgic” to come back to Paris after so long. And almost lost in all that was that Marino had a pretty good Roland Garros in 2011. Just 20 back then, she made the third round before losing to Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had won the whole thing just two years before and was the No. 13 seed.
It was, so far, her only main-draw appearance in Paris. Marino lost in the first round of qualifying in 2010 to Renata Voracova of the Czech Republic.
On Wednesday, she made 60 unforced errors (more at the beginning than at the end). But she also hit 49 winners.
And, in an evolution of her game from her first career, she came to net 32 times and was successful 22 of them.
Here’s what Marino looked like back in 2011.
Despite her previous appearance, the French Open website couldn’t dig up a mug shot of her. They did, however, give her a very fashionable … head scarf?
Marino and her “squash slice”
Asked if she thought she was a better player – brought more tools to the workplace – than she did back then, she allowed that her volleys were better – sometimes! – and that she had a better slice.
That’s a shot the Canadian rarely used before her retirement. She said it comes from her playing squash when she was off the Tour and studying in Vancouver.
Here are a couple of quotes from the interview the fellow from the French Open site (whose recorder was clearly working), did.
“It’s kind of nostalgic being here again, the facilities have changed so much, but I’m really pleased to be back, even if it’s just qualifying. I’m happy to enjoy every single point of every single match that I’m back. I hope people see that I’m loving being here – even if I’m struggling sometimes.”
“I just figure I had nothing to lose and I should just stay calm,” said Marino. “In a weird way, I was telling myself ‘don’t care’ which sounds really wrong but it was more just to get myself to relax. Then I started playing my game.”
The story has a few issues, but the use of “uninhibited thunderbolts” to describe Marino’s forehand makes it all good.
Healthy and back on the rise
Marino’s comeback was all on an upward trajectory, until the end of the 2018 comeback season.
The plateauing of her ranking wasn’t helped by the fact that she lost nearly 30 spots at the end of the season when all those great, early ITF results were wiped off the WTA computer with the installation of the “Transition Tour”.
But mostly, it was about the back.
Marino said she kept playing; that was the point of the comeback. But she realizes how that she was being hard-headed about it. And that she should have taken the time to make sure it was properly healed.
If there is a next time, it’ll be short-term pain, for long-term gain.
But everything is back on track now. The victory in Kurume finally put Marino inside the top 150, at No. 147.
She will move up more with every match she wins in Paris – even in the qualifying.