It’s been eight years since Rebecca Marino participated in a Grand Slam, and the Canadian says she “feels like a different person.”
Marino, the 30-year-old from Vancouver, is set to play the main draw of the Australian Open after breezing through qualifying without dropping a set.
She reached a career-high 38th in WTA rankings in 2011, but by 2012, she retired from tennis, citing depression after battling abuse on social media.
“What I would tell other people is that that period of your life is not forever. And if you do the right things to get yourself into a better mental state, whether it’s talking or other different steps to take care of your mental health, it’s obviously very important. And I feel like had I not done that, I wouldn’t be in this position I am right now,” Marino stated on Wednesday.
Marino then enrolled at UBC and competed on the rowing team — her uncle won Canada’s lone gold at the 1964 Olympics in the sport — as well as teaching tennis on the side.
The same age as Milos Raonic, Marino reached the same Memphis tournament final as her fellow Canadian in 2011, sparking hope for a country not known for its tennis prowess.
Her retirement soon after caught many by surprise.
“I don’t think my game has changed all that much. I still have the big serve and big baseline groundstrokes. I think I tried to add a little bit more craftiness as the game has kind of changed a little bit, adding a little bit more slice. Occasionally I’ll come to the net to volley to finish points off,” Marino said.
“But I think the biggest difference would be just more in terms of competitive spirit and also how it’s like a determination or a grittiness. I feel like I’m a lot mentally stronger now.”
Marino’s comeback hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. It started with a delay when she was late to re-enter the WTA’s anti-doping program, pushing her return from late 2018 to early 2019.
That return was an emphatic one, with a victory at a $15K tournament where she didn’t drop a set. She repeated the feat at her next tournament, then won a third in a row.
However, later in the year Marino tore her plantar fascia, making even walking a difficult task for the tennis player.
“And by about September of last year, I was finally at a point where I felt I wasn’t having any pain on court, nor was I getting it after practice,” she said.
September 2020 also marked five months since the death of Marino’s father Joe to cancer at 59 years old.
She choked up Wednesday speaking about his influence in her comeback to tennis.
“His health battles and challenges were what inspired me. I tried to prepare myself for this. Considering that 2020 was probably the most challenging year of my life, I really tried to make it here with him in mind a lot through a lot of process,” Marino said.
Marino will play a warm-up tournament beginning Sunday before the Australian Open gets going on Feb. 8.