Marino pulls off amazing comeback

 - Ian Chadband

"Comeback Kid" Rebecca Marino lives up to her nickname at Roland-Garros.

Rebecca Marino Roland Garros 2019 qualifying©Julien Crosnier / FFT

We already knew that Rebecca Marino is a fighter. The Canadian, who quit tennis with mental health issues in 2013 but is now enjoying a hugely inspiring comeback after a five-year absence, was all smiles again on Wednesday after producing an astonishing rearguard action to win her first match at Roland-Garros for eight years.

In a rare display of resilience, the 28-year-old came back from 5-1 down in the final set of her qualifying first-round clash, saving two match points when trailing 5-3, before finally subduing the challenge of Tessah Andrianjafitrimo 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-5 and silencing the packed partisan crowd on Court 14 who found a new heroine in the 20-year-old French wildcard.

It was an emotional afternoon for Marino, who reached the third round here in 2011 as one of the rising stars of the game with a rosy future ahead.

Yet after soaring to No.38 in the world, she was completely burnt out by the age of 22 and had lost her passion for the game to the point where “my own health and happiness was being affected.”

So she decided to take a break, which lasted until the start of last year when she felt she was ready to give her first love another chance and in the 15 months since, she’s risen back from scratch to No.147.

Yet nothing in her comeback so far could quite top this.

“I don’t know how I pulled that out but I’m really happy,” she smiled after her two and three-quarter hour epic.

“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.”

Rebecca Marino Roland Garros 2019 qualifying©Julien Crosnier / FFT

The crowd were too busy to notice Marino’s struggles, screaming “Tessah, Tessah!!” as they got behind the girl from Montpellier who needed a medical time-out in the final set to have her left calf strapped but still seemed in total control as she served for the match at 5-1.

“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.

“I was thinking I came so far to get here from Japan (she had only arrived on Monday following an epic journey from Kurume where she won an ITF tournament last week) and I really had nothing to lose and should just go and play on my terms, don’t worry about anyone was thinking and have fun. That’s why we all play right?”

Right. So, taking more risks than her young opponent, she produced uninhibited thunderbolts to save her match points, and it seemed to sap Andrianjafitrimo’s spirit.

Victory was just another delightful chapter in Marino’s comeback after she had found a new life outside tennis when she took up rowing at the University of British Columbia.

“I think everyone at some point in their life has hardships and mental illness does affect everyone in some aspect. The story with me is I want to show you can get through those hard times with perseverance and you can still enjoy everything in your life,” she explained.

“I want to go through my life not having any regrets which is also why I came back to my tennis. I want everyone to remember me as this happy person that I am now and not that headline I was when I retired.”

Swan leads the British charge

Katie Swan and her compatriot Heather Watson made it a notable day for the British challenge at Roland-Garros as they made it into the second round of qualifying in contrasting fashion.

Watson, seeking to make it into the main draw for the eighth time, had a struggle before serving trouble for Dutchwoman Bibiane Schoofs saw the Guernsey player prevail 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

More surprising, though, was Swan’s emphatic defeat of the No.2 seeded qualifier Jil Teichmann 6-4, 6-2 in just 69 minutes.

The Swiss Teichmann has been in fine form, having recently won her first WTA title in Prague, but she was outplayed by the 20-year-old Swan, who has long been touted as one of Britain’s brightest young hopes.

Katie Swan Roland Garros 2019 qualifying©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

“Jil’s a great player who’s come in with a lot of confidence, but I’m so happy with the way I played, I really believed in myself right from the start,” said Swan, who was particularly pleased since she has had such little experience on clay.

“I’m definitely more comfortable with the expectation now. It’s tough, especially transitioning from the juniors. I was much more comfortable there; I had a lot of kids around who I was friends with and it’s a tough transition to the pros but I think I’m doing a good job. 

“I think it’s great that a lot of us (Britons) are coming up. Katie (Boulter) has done so well over the last couple of years, Jo (Konta) is playing amazing and being part of a winning Fed Cup team has been really inspiring.”