MELBOURNE – It seems like only a blip in time since Rebecca Marino hit the courts at Melbourne Park.
In fact, it has been six eventful years, during which the 28-year-old Canadian left the game, and returned.
And now, a year into a comeback that started literally from scratch, she’s back at a Grand Slam.
It’s a full circle sort of thing; Marino’s last two Grand Slam appearances came in Australia, in 2012 and 2013.
Barely a month after that 2013 appearance, a 6-3, 6-0 loss to Shuai Peng, Marino had retired.
On Tuesday, she’s back, in a first-round qualifying match against another big hitter, No. 19 seed Caroline Dolehide of the U.S.
Here’s what Marino looked like Monday during a practice session with Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.
Back issue scuttles off-season prep
Marino dealt with a herniated disc the second half of 2018. It was something she first felt playing her hometown Van Open in early August.
She still won two matches at the WTA event in Quebec City. And then she won a $25,000 ITF tournament in Lubbock, Texas. But Marino played just two tournaments after mid-September, losing in the first round in both.
She shut it down in early October.
The issue now isn’t the back, Marino told tennis.life. She’s symptom-free. But the problem put a big hurt on her off-season training plans.
She didn’t play any tournaments heading up to this return to Grand Slam action.
But it’s definitely worth giving it a try, despite the rustiness.
After Canadian Rebecca Marino’s impressive return this year, after five years away, she should be in Australia in January to play in her first Grand Slam tournament since … the 2013 Australian Open.
Marino’s ranking was down to No. 426 at that point, and she lost 6-3, 6-0 to Shuai Peng in the first round.
A month later, after losing in the first round in Memphis, she was out of the game until returning earlier this year.
It’s been a huge effort that began at the lowest levels of the ITF Futures circuit.
And in the opportunities we’ve had to watch her, it brought bank memories of some of the great matches she’s played, and why she was in the top 40 despite the struggles that became public a few years later.
Grand Slam debut in NYC
Marino’s first attempt at qualifying for a Grand Slam level was the 2009 US Open, when she was 18. She lost in the second round to Vesna Dolonc of Serbia.
Then, in 2010, she lost in the first round of qualifying at each of the first three Grand Slams.
In the first round of the Australian Open, the 19-year-old was beaten 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 to Angelique Kerber. (Whatever happened to her, anyway?)
But it was coming along. At the home-country Rogers Cup in August, Marino reached the final round of qualifying, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Ekaterina Makarova.
And then, in New York, it came together.
Marino was ranked No. 179 going in.
She was barely tested in winning three qualifying rounds, the last over countrywoman Sharon Fichman, to reach her first Grand Slam main draw.
There, she played Ksenia Pervak, a feisty Russian.
(We managed to rescue some video from an old Photobucket account. It didn’t survive that well, and luckily now that we shoot for TV the videography skills have improved. But it’s still fun to see).
Marino won 7-5 in the third set.
And that’s when she first began to open some eyes.
Big time on Ashe vs. Venus
Her second-round match game against Venus Williams, on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
The big time.
While Williams won it, 7-6 (3), 6-3, Marino gave as good as she got. And her serve and big forehand definitely got her noticed.
After that, she went on a roll.
Marino reached the quarterfinals at the Quebec City WTA upsetting Marion Bartoli in the second round. And then she ruled on the fall women’s pro circuit.
Marino won the Saguenay Challenger. Look at the list of conquests.
Then she followed that up with wins at the Kansas City and Troy (AL) Challengers. After that, she reached the semifinals at the Toronto Challenger, where she defeated Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals.
By the time the season was over, Marino was one spot out of the top 100.
When she arrived at the 2011 Australian Open, the Canadian was straight into the main draw. And she played a crazy-good match against Francesca Schiavone in the second round, which she lost 9-7 in the third set on a steamy hot day.
MONTREAL – It’s the quiet before the storm on site at the Rogers Cup.
The sound of hammering and drilling is far louder than the thwack of a tennis ball at this stage of the week.
Four days remain before the qualifying begins on the weekend, the hordes descend upon the Stade IGA site, and the excitement of the annual Premier 5 event begins.
And through the sound of the preparations, two Canadian players with starkly different storylines were out on Court 2 practicing against each other.
Both will try to get through the qualifying and reach the main event.
For Françoise Abanda, who received a wild card into the main the last four years, it’s an extra challenge.
Here’s what it looked like.
Crucial times for Abanda
For Abanda, still just 21, it’s an important week.
She had a couple of great results at Grand Slams in 2017, qualifying and reaching the second round at both the French Open and Wimbledon.
At Wimbledon, with a little more experience, she might well have dethroned former junio rival Jelena Ostapenko, who was fresh from her triumph at the French Open. And then we might be writing a completely different story. Because that’s the kind of result – a third round, or better, at a Slam – that can give a career serious momentum.
But this year, Abanda didn’t make it through either one, losing in the first round of qualifying in both.
She has consequently watched her ranking drop down to No. 193. That’s down from a high of No. 111 last October when it appeared she was going to finally jump into the top 100 in very short order.
Abanda hovered between No. 120 and No. 130 for nearly a year, from last July to just before the French Open.
But she has played relatively little since a fall on the warmup court before her scheduled Fed Cup match in Montreal, against Ukraine last April.
Tough times, and now it’s crunch time
When Abanda finally got to Europe to prepare for the French Open, she brought a case of bronchitis with her. She posted an impressive win over Yanina Wickmayer in the first round of a $100,000 ITF in Slovakia before Paris. But since then, she has played just five matches in seven weeks, and lost four of them.
Despite the relative ring rust, Abanda is a player who has had shining moments at home, at the Rogers Cup and in Fed Cup.
And this year, she’ll need one of those moments.
A year ago, Abanda qualified and reached the second round in Cincinnati. She reached the final round of qualifying at the US Open and then the quarterfinals at the WTA event in Quebec City.
That’s 270 points to defend over the next month and a bit – and Abanda’s current points total stands at 292. Without those points, she’s outside … the top 750. It is without a doubt the key moment in her young career so far.
Perhaps that why she pulled out of the qualifying at San Jose this week, to be at home and prepare the very best way she can.
For Marino, it’s all bonus time
The last time Marino, now 27, played the Rogers Cup was seven long years ago, in Toronto in 2011. She had just reached her career-best ranking of No. 38 and was a direct entry into the draw, losing in the first round to Ekaterina Makarova.
A year before that, she was ranked No. 174 and needed a wild into the qualifying – and lost in the third and final round to … Makarova.
Two years later, she was out of the game. She returns having started from scratch in February, and raised her ranking from … no ranking, to its current No. 310.
This weekend, unless she gets a crazy-friendly draw, Marino is likely to face the highest-ranked players she’ll have seen in the six months of her comeback.
Marino played (and defeated No. 100 Kurumi Nara and lost 7-5 in the third set to No. 101 Luksika Kumkhum during an early-spring tour of $25,000 tournaments in Japan.
Other than that, she has faced few players ranked even in the top 200.
Not that she doesn’t have the level to defeat a top-100 player. But she doesn’t have much recent match experience in that regard.
The players directly into the Rogers Cup qualifying are all ranked No. 131 or better. There have been a few notable withdrawals, including Taylor Townsend and Kaia Kanepi. But the quality is there.
It’ll be fascinating to see how she responds to her first top-level event in more than 5 1/2 years.
Could be some changes
Meanwhile, Abanda could well get into the main draw in the end. Two players who were announced as wild cards Wednesday are nursing injuries.
Carol Zhao is dealing with an elbow issue, and hasn’t played since losing in the Wimbledon qualifying.
Bianca Andreescu, managing a sacroiliac joint problem, withdrew from her semifinal match at the Granby Challenger last week. And then she pulled out of the Citi Open this week.
Andreescu reached the quarterfinals there a year ago, so that was a tough call to make.
If either player determines she’s not healthy enough to go next week, you would think that Abanda is next in line.
But if they are going to withdraw, they will have to do it before the start of qualifying. A player involved in the qualifying cannot accept a wild card into the main draw once it’s begun.
SHERBROOKE, Que. – When Rebecca Marino returned from a five-year retirement last February in the qualifying of an entry-level ITF event in Turkey, the former world No. 38 was starting from scratch.
As she looks to her quarter-final match against No. 1 seed Arina Rodionova Friday at the Granby Challenger, she has the top 250 within reach if she can win the title, in only her 10th tournament back.
It took a crazy number of matches at those low levels to even get a rankings number next to her name. Marino went 20-1 through four weeks in Antalya, Turkey and checked in at … No. 624.
After a break, she returned for a three tournaments at the $25,000 level in Japan – again, having to earn her way in through qualifying. And at end of that swing, she was on the books at … No. 436.
A planned swing through the Har-Tru circuit in the southern U.S. was cut short by a shoulder issue. But now, with opportunities in her home country to get into the bigger events, she can really make a move.
After six weeks off, Marino returned at the $25,000 Winnipeg Challenger, and won it. It was the first time she had played in Canada since 2012, the fourth tournament title of her comeback – and the biggest.
This week in Granby, it’s a $60,000 tournament, with proportionately more ranking points at stake. And Marino has done well through two rounds to get to the quarterfinals. She posted a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Maria Sanchez of the U.S. in the second round, and now takes on No. 1 seed Arina Rodionova.
At 28, Rodionova has been around longer than Marino, without the long break. Still, the two never met during Part I of Marino’s tennis career. They faced off for the first time last week in Gatineau, where the Canadian went after winning in Winnipeg and may not have been in full nick.
Rodionova won that one, 6-2, 6-4.
Here’s how the rankings picture looks for the 27-year-old.
Marino entered the Granby tournament ranked No. 329. Already, with her effort in Granby, she’s at about No. 310.
If she can beat Rodionova and reach the semifinals, she would break into the top 300 at about No. 292. If she can reach the final, she’d be at about No. 273. And if she can win the event, she likely would break into the top 250, or close.
With the Rogers Cup qualifying coming up in just over a week, and then her hometown Challenger in Vancouver (a big one, with $100,000 in prize money and the corresponding attractive bounty of ranking points), the time is now.
Doubles a mutual admiration society
On Thursday, Marino teamed up with fellow Canadian Leylah-Annie Fernandez, a 15-year-old who reached the semifinals of the junior French Open in her first appearance at the Grand Slam level last month.
Fernandez is playing just her fifth pro event of the season.
With the 12-year age difference, these two are quite the May-December pairing and Marino very much the big sister figure. And with Marino training regularly in Montreal with the Tennis Canada staff alongside Fernandez and her coach Francisco Sanchez, they’ve struck up a bit of a mutual admiration society.
I’m flattered! Honestly the feeling is mutual; she’s such a hard worker, and a genuinely kind person. So happy she’s kicking butt 👍
No changes in the top 20, except for Bucharest champion Anastasija Sevastova jumping back into it, as the top guns take a post-Wimbledon break.
There’s an extra little bonus clay-court swing in Europe, just before the North American summer hard-court season begins. And a new Premier-level clay-court tournament in Moscow this week.
Many of the players are in Florida (and elsewhere) training.
Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys played an exhibition at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, in conjunction with the annual inductions and the ATP Tour event.
The only two top-20 players this week at the Russian national championships (also known as the Moscow River Cup) and the Chinese national championships (also known as Nanchang) are Julia Goerges and Daria Kasatkina, the top two seeds in Moscow.
The tennis nation of Canada had an excellent day on Sunday.
And the more well-known names – Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov, Denis Bouchard – weren’t even involved.
On the down side, the understaffed Fed Cup team was no match for Romania in Cluj-Napoca over the weekend. Carol Zhao, Bianca Andreescu and Katherine Sebov – all but Andreescu making their singles debuts at the World Group level – won just one set in three matches.
The Canadians did salvage a point in the dead doubles rubber on Sunday.
But everywhere else on Planet Tennis Canada, there was hardware.
First up on Sunday was Rebecca Marino, who is returning to pro tennis after a five-year absence.
The 27-year-old followed up her victory at a $15,000 ITF Pro Circuit event in Turkey last week with another title on Sunday, in a similar event.
Marino won three qualifying matches in the first title run. So she has now gone 13-0 in her return (including one walkover) and hasn’t lost a set.
Pospisil wins second straight
Later Sunday, Marino’s fellow British Columbia native Vasek Pospisil won his second straight title on the Challenger circuit.
Pospisil won the Open de Rennes two weeks ago without dropping a set.
In between came the four-set loss to Borna Coric of Croatia in Davis Cup, and some physical woes.
But Pospisil bounced back in Budapest, managing to put together five victories even if he wasn’t feeling 100 per cent.
He won this title after getting through back-to-back-to-back three-set matches in three days in the final rounds.
In the final, he defeated promising teenager Nicola Kuhn 76 (3), 3-6, 6-3.
Kuhn returned to court a little while later, and helped Canada to a third trophy on Sunday.
He and fellow 17-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime upset the No. 1 seeds, Marin and Tomislav Draganja of Croatia, 2-6, 6-2, 11-9 to win the doubles title.
The kids had a roller-coaster ride in the match tiebreak. They were up 6-2 and serving. Suddenly, they were down 7-6, with the Croatian brothers about to serve the next two points.
But they took both those points, and finally converted on their third match point.
Auger-Aliassime was immediately headed to the big tournament in Rotterdam, where he has a wild card and will make his ATP Tour main-draw debut against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia.
When the 24 ranking points she has earned over the last two weeks finally hit the computer, Marino’s ranking will have gone from zero – or infinity, depending on how you look at it – to approximately No. 732.
(A few years ago, before players like Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin made comebacks, you needed to have earned points in three tournaments before you could get a WTA Tour ranking. That was amended.
Now, if you earn 10 points in any one tournament, you qualify. But points from $15,000 ITF tournaments take a minimum of one extra week to show up).
Pospisil’s singles ranking of No. 85 might, at best, move him up one spot because of the points he was defending from the San Francisco Challenger a year ago. But on the plus side, he didn’t lose any ground.
Pospisil would have made the Rotterdam qualifying, and given himself a chance to earn more. But his success in Budapest meant he couldn’t get there in time.
Auger-Aliassime’s doubles ranking will vault from No 1092 to inside the top 500. He’s a fine modern-classic doubles player (a junior US Open doubles champion with fellow Canadian Shapovalov when he was just 15). He just hasn’t played much.
As it happens, Roddick officially retired four days before Marino did, on Feb. 16, 2013. In his case, a three-month period on the anti-doping program was required, and there wasn’t enough time.
Eventually, Roddick did apply for reinstatement, which became effective July 16, 2015.
Why Marino didn’t know about this or didn’t make sure she completed whatever paperwork was required is a question mark. Tennis Canada would not make her available to answer a few questions, not even on site.
The Vancouver native only began training again with an eye towards coming back to the game at the beginning of September. Even had she looked into all the details on the very first day she stepped on the court for real, she still would have been more than four months short.
Tennis.Life had contacted both the ITF and the WTA Tour this morning just to ensure that Marino had, indeed, completed the reinstatement process (sometimes you have an intuition …).
But with the WTA Tour having basically shifted operations to Singapore for the Tour finals, no immediate response was forthcoming. As for the ITF, well, it was … Friday afternoon. If either provides additional information, we’ll update the story.