PARIS • Two months ago, Petra Martic was playing qualifiers at a pocket-money clay-court tennis tournament on sub-standard courts in Italy where ball boys were non-existent.
But the 26-year-old's determination not to surrender to a potentially career-ending back injury, which sent her ranking outside the top 600 in April, has now been rewarded with a fourth-round place in the French Open.
"When I got injured, my only hope was that I would get a second chance so I can play some of my best tennis again," said Martic, the world No. 290, after needing just 48 minutes to ease to a 6-1, 6-1 win over 17th-seeded Latvian Anastasija Sevastova.
The Croatian was once a top-50 player before a back injury sidelined her for 10 months after Wimbledon qualifying last year.
She made her comeback at a US$25,000 (S$34,000) event at Santa Margherita di Pula in Italy in April, entering qualifying before winning the title.
"The courts were incredibly bad, so many bad bounces ... and the umpires. You don't have ball boys, nothing," she said. "It was like, I have to really start all over again. But I was so excited to be out there.
Men's 4th rd: Pablo Carreno-Busta (Esp) bt Milos Raonic (Can) 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (6-8) 6-4 8-6, Rafa Nadal (Esp) bt Roberto Bautista (Esp) 6-1 6-2 6-2.
3rd rd: Gael Monfils (Fra) bt Richard Gasquet (Fra) 7-6 (7-5) 5-7 4-3 ret, Karen Khachanov (Rus) bt John Isner (USA) 7-6 (7-1) 6-3 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-3).
Women's 4th rd: Jelena Ostapenko (Lat) bt Samantha Stosur (Aus) 2-6 6-2 6-4, Caroline Wozniacki (Den) bt Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) 6-1 4-6 6-2, Timea Bacsinszky (Sui) bt Venus Williams (USA) 5-7 6-2 6-1 .
3rd rd: Veronica Cepede Royg (Par) bt Mariana Duque (Col) 3-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-3, Elina Svitolina (Ukr) bt Magda Linette (Pol) 6-4 7-5, Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Carina Witthoeft (Ger) 7-5 6-1, Petra Martic (Cro) bt Anastasija Sevastova (Lat) 6-1 6-1.
"To me, it felt like a Grand Slam the first time I went to court to play an official match after this injury."
That obscure tournament in Italy was just the start of her recent dramas. At Roland Garros, she almost did not make it out of qualifying when she found herself two points from defeat in her final match before taking her place in the main draw.
"I still can't believe that I'm sitting here," said Martic, who reached the last 16 in Paris in 2012 before falling to current world No. 1 Angelique Kerber.
"Once I arrived here and once I got on the court for first time, I just got a flashback of 2012 when I played my best tennis.
"It's obvious on the court to see how much I actually enjoy and have no pressure. I think it helps a lot."
She said that during her absence from the Tour she was inspired by the comeback success of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 35.
Her compatriot made the Australian Open semi-finals in January, 18 years after she was in the last four at Wimbledon. In between, Lucic-Baroni had spent years away from tennis, rebuilding her life away from her abusive father.
"That was an amazing story and my big dream was to be that story one day," added Martic, who will face Ukraine's Elina Svitolina for a place in the quarter-finals.
Fifth seed Svitolina defeated Magda Linette of Poland 6-4, 7-5.