ISTANBUL, Turkey - Former World No.40 Pauline Parmentier had won just one WTA main draw match heading into the 2018 TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup, and at 32 years of age, the French veteran considered calling it quits.
“To be honest, at the beginning of the year, it was really tough, and I was thinking ‘Okay, maybe it’s the last one,’ maybe I will retire soon," she told me on Sunday. "I was a little bit sad, but trying to enjoy the end."
What happened in Istanbul, then, was nothing short of a plot twist; Parmentier survived a second round marathon against Yulia Putintseva to win back-to-back matches for the first time all year, outlasted an injured top seed in Caroline Wozniacki, and played a two-hour epic against Polona Hercog to triumph, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to win the title - her first since 2008.
"I started really good, I was feeling good about my game. Then I was a little bit tired in the second set. She was playing better and I lost a little bit of rhythm. For the third set, I was like ‘Okay, you have to fight until the end. It’s a final, it’s not gonna be easy, so just fight until the end.’
"I mean, I was a little bit nervous at the end. My arm was a little bit shaking, you know? But I was just fighting, and tried to be focused on simple things of the game. Move, move, move, and hit the ball, make a big target -- and it worked.”
The wild week in Istanbul brought Parmentier to World No.76, her highest ranking since last May and, more importantly, back into the Top 100 as she aims to gaurantee herself a spot in the Wimbledon main draw.
"I was not thinking about winning. I came here, like, ‘Okay, I'm out of the Top 100,’ and I was thinking to take some points for the Wimbledon main draw, like, ‘Okay, I’m close, I’m close.’ After the second round, I was looking almost every day at the points.
"When you are like No.100 or close to this ranking, every time you'll have some issues to enter in the main draw of these tournaments. It’s really good to be back in the Top 100, but the better thing is to win this title. I mean, I’m back in the Top 100, but the best feeling I had this week is to win the tournament, the title.”
In place of expectations was a sense of encouragement earned from a week of Fed Cup practice with teammates Kristina Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse. Led by coach Yannick Noah, Parmentier pushed reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens and runner-up Madison Keys through two tough rubbers in front of a home crowd in Aix-en-Provence.
“I lost the two matches but I was feeling really good about my game. When the clay season started, I was feeling much better. It’s one of my favorite surfaces because I have more time to play, and I like to slide on the court. I play with a lot of spin on my forehand, so it’s especially good on the clay.
"I think the two good matches against Keys and Stephens were good for the confidence, even if I lost them. So I arrived here with good sensations."
Mladenovic was clearly watching Parmentier's victory over Hercog, retweeting the video of championship points within seconds of her victory.
"I have a lot of messages now. I didn’t check my phone yet, because there is so much. But we have a group on WhatsApp with all the Fed Cup team, and they have been amazing since the beginning of the week, they are making a lot of support for me. Also, the week during Fed Cup, we had the perfect week even if we lost it. It was amazing, you know, a lot of love, it was really, really nice.”
All that love - combined with the trophy from Istanbul - was enough to make her reconsider those nascent retirement plans.
"Now to win this title, for sure it makes a lot of motivation for the future. For the clay season, I can’t wait to play the next few tournaments and the French Open at home. It makes a big motivation for the rest of the season.”
Initially planning to play the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Rabat, Parmentier announced she would withdraw Monday morning citing a change of schedule - no doubt to rest and relax after the long week in Istanbul and a full schedule including, she hopes, a wildcard return to Roland Garros.
"There’s a men’s tournament here next week and Jeremy Chardy, the ATP player, a French guy, was here for my final, so I think we’re gonna have a drink tonight at the hotel and celebrate a little bit. I will also make some FaceTime with my friends and see them on the video, to enjoy."