It was a victory Pablo Andujar might, in his most despairing moments, have thought would never come.
But after more than two years, the 32-year-old Spaniard posted a singles win on the ATP Tour.
Andujar defeated Gerald Melzer of Austria 7-5, 6-2 in the first round of the ATP 500 tournament in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday.
And with it, he ended a streak of frustration and futility due to a persistent elbow issue.
To say the least, Andujar was emotional.
Who wouldn’t be? It’s been a long and rutted road back.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) February 20, 2018
Three surgeries in 13 months
Andujar reached a singles career high of No. 32 in the summer of 2015.
He’s a super-solid player, especially on clay – somewhat in the mold of David Ferrer but without quite the same top gear.
But it wasn’t long before the elbow became something Andujar could no longer manage.
After winning his season-opening match in Doha in 2016, he lost in the second round.
Then he lost in the first round at the Australian Open.
And then, he again went out at the first hurdle at each of three tournaments on the South American clay-court swing.
A couple of weeks later, he had his first elbow surgery.
He returned six months later, made a couple of Challenger semifinals on clay without beating a top-100 player, but lost in the first round of the four ATP Tour events he entered to finish the season.
Then, in November, a second elbow surgery.
And in April, 2017 – a third.
More rehab, and a return to the court for a couple of late-season Futures events on clay in Spain.
In the interim, there were a couple of big-time life positives as Andujar got married, and became a father for the first time.
Back on the ATP Tour
With a protected ranking at No. 105, Andujar began the 2018 season at the ATP Tour level. But he lost his first-round match in Pune to Nicolas Jarry, at the Australian Open to Ernesto Escobedo, and in Quito to Stefano Travaglia of Italy.
Andujar missed the cut for the main draw in Buenos Aires last week, even with the protected ranking.
So the victory against Melzer was, incredibly, his first ATP Tour win since that first-round win over Paolo Lorenzi in Doha, the first week of January 2016.
His next challenge is significantly more difficult. Andujar will face No. 2 seed Dominic Thiem in the second round on Thursday.
But considering all that he went through – on the north side of 30, no less – just to have the opportunity to step out on a stadium court against one of the best players in the world, it likely will be a win regardless of the outcome.