ACAPULCO, México - Talented and hard-working, competitive yet down to earth - now unstoppable, too. A few years ago she was one of the fast-rising young players on the WTA and now, after being derailed for 10 months by a foot injury, Timea Bacsinszky is making her way back, step by step.
Bacsinszky started knocking on the door of major success when she was still in her teen years, reaching the quarterfinals on home soil in Zürich as a 17-year-old and coming within a game of beating Dinara Safina at the US Open two years later. In 2009 she won her first WTA title at Luxembourg and by 2010 she was firmly planted in the Top 40, seemingly ready to take it to the next level.
In the spring of 2011 it all came to a screeching halt as she injured her left foot. The last tournament of the year she played was Miami in late March.
"In my first operation they put some metal pieces to hold my bones together and stitches. They took them out in October," the now-22-year-old Bacsinszky said. "Before I got operated on they told me there was a 30% chance I could play professional tennis again. Then there was a 30% chance I would be able to play sports, but not professional tennis. And there was a 40% chance I wouldn't be able to play any sports at all. It was really tough to hear them say that.
"The 10 months that followed were frustrating in a certain way. It was hard work, going to the physio every day, starting to put all of my weight on my foot, then my toes, eventually learning how to walk again. I never imagined before how tough it was... It was difficult to deal with, because my foot was improving really slowly, and there were times I felt I couldn't do what I could do before.
"But still I always tried to look at the positive side. My coach, my physio and everyone around me were really great, and I learned a lot. I wanted to show everyone I was fighting and trying my best to get back on track."
Despite the fact that even just walking was still painful, Bacsinszky began hitting lightly again in August, just an hour every other day - the stitches were removed in October and she began playing more in early December, about two hours a day. She made her return to competition at Fed Cup in February.
"It was great. It was really great to play against Sam," said Bacsinszky of her 62 75 loss to the US Open champion - she actually won five of six games at one point and held leads of 3-0 and 4-2 in that second set before falling.
Bacsinszky made her return to WTA competition at Acapulco last week, pushing No.4 seed Irina-Camelia Begu to the limits before losing a three-hour, one-minute marathon, 76(3) 36 64 - she again showed flashes of brilliance, winning seven straight games from 3-1 down in the second set to go up 2-0 in the third, but eventually fell short to 2011's WTA Newcomer Of The Year.
"I didn't know what to expect from my first WTA match back. For sure I was a little tight, but it was a tight match with a lot of tension. I fought really hard and she played really well. But it showed me I can last three hours on the court again. I just hope to move forward and play more and more from now on.
"Ten months away is a long time. Thinking of all the work I've done to come back helps me. It keeps me fighting... I broke those percentages."
The lifestyle of a professional tennis player is very busy, so what happens when injury strikes and they miss an extended period of time? They keep busy in various other ways. "I was reading a lot during the break, every kind of book," Bacsinszky said, "I have a dog now too, a chihuahua, he's only seven months old and really cute! He really helped cheer me up when I was off the tour. He's too young to travel so he's not with me on the road, so they're looking after him back home. I also started to learn a little bit of Brazilian Portuguese."
And what about her goals from now? "I haven't set any goals for 2012 because it depends on how my foot feels. I would like to see how it feels when I'm playing a lot of tournaments in a row. I have more goals for 2013 - I want to get back to Top 100 and if that goes well then maybe even more, why not Top 50 again?"
Right now Bacsinszky wants to get that train back on the tracks and enjoy the ride - although the competitive fire has already started burning again.
"The best thing about being back is competing. Tennis is great, but the thing I really love is competition. Any kind of competition. I could do any other sport and it would be the same. Obviously my tennis is okay, so that helps!"