BIRMINGHAM, England - The No.1 doubles team in the world - Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond - looked as sharp as ever in their first match of the grass court season, rolling over Alberta Brianti and Alexandra Cadantu in the first round of the AEGON Classic, 61 62. But things haven't always been so easy - a few years ago Raymond was at a crossroads in her career, and through blood, sweat and tears, she finally clawed her way back to No.1 in the world in April.
Here are a few thoughts from the classy American.
On how it felt to get back to No.1 on April 23...
"It's definitely a lot more special this time than ever before. It has been a long road to getting back to this position, back to No.1. I had to make a lot of tough decisions, make a lot of changes in my life and put in a lot of hard work, on and off the court. But at the end of the day, when you do all of that and feel good about it, and feel good about yourself, you'll play good tennis. That's what has happened. And it's definitely more gratifying now at 38 - it feels amazing."
On her recommitment to fitness...
"I had to really try if I wanted to do this anymore. Once I finally decided I wanted to come back and achieve things at a high level, I made that decision, put in the time, got fit again - I'm actually the fittest I've ever been in my career.
"I was playing in Palm Springs two years ago and lost first round, playing with Rennae, and when we walked off the court she took me aside and said, 'What are you doing with your life?' She told me I was a shell of the player I used to be, and she was right. We're such good friends and I needed that - somebody who really cared about me to say that, to tell me to get back on track. I was crying hysterically during that conversation because I knew she was right. I knew I had to get it together, my professional and personal life too. That night I was on a treadmill at the hotel gym and I haven't looked back since.
"It's not a crazy formula, it's just all about choices. I prioritized fitness. Working out is a way of life now. The only thing I've really changed as far as what I do when I work out is I do a lot more explosive stuff, I do resistance bands, and core training. I'll go and randomly take a core class with a friend, just do things like that to keep it fresh and new. I like mixing it up. It's rare I don't work out on a given day - even on days off I'll do something, even if it's just 15 minutes of abs and resistance bands. And it's obviously about what I'm eating too - you can work your butt off in the gym and burn 2000 calories, but if you're putting 3000 in, it's not going to do anything. It's about making the right choices."
On having to be a better tennis player now...
"The game is so physical now and the girls are so good, hitting the ball so big and so heavy, that for sure I've had to become a much better tennis player too. I think I'm a better volleyer now than 15, 10 or even five years ago. I've worked hard on that. Liezel and I have worked hard in order to keep up with a lot of these girls and to stay ahead of them too. My first volley today has to be better than five or 10 years ago, because the returns are better. Lisa Raymond the player wasn't good enough five years ago to be the top doubles player in the world - I've had to get fitter, stronger and more flexible to get to here again.
"It's kind of a cliché, but I found the right partner too."
On Liezel Huber...
"Liezel and I have always said it's not about individual No.1, it's a team. Doubles is a team. You win together and lose together, and that's something very important for both of us. We're so different in so many ways, yet so similar too. I think we both work very well in these kinds of relationships, it's like a business relationship - we're friends, but we come to work every day and we're colleagues. She's my co-worker. We think of it like that. It's a good balance for us. It works. She has been extremely successful in the past too.
"Personally, I feel better when I'm part of a consistent team. It's one of the things I love about doubles. There's nothing better than achieving something with someone else, achieving a common goal. I loved playing college tennis. In my personal and professional life I like consistency. I don't like surprises. I'm a very routine-oriented person. I like that sense of comfort and familiarity that comes with a partnership. Weeks, months, years of playing together, committing to a common goal and achieving it, it's like a marriage! The more time you work together, you will hopefully gel and be successful."
On the future...
"I think both of us are looking at it one season at a time. I certainly don't see an end in the near future at all. For me, it's always about if I'm healthy and happy doing this, and performing at a high level and doing well. I'm too much of a perfectionist to not try to be the best. If we weren't competing at such a high level, I wouldn't be doing this. I think that's why we're both doing this.
"Even at our age, we're capable of a lot more. We feel we can achieve it. We've done some great things this year and we're hoping for even more - to do well at the rest of the Slams and obviously trying to get an Olympic medal. That's something neither of us has achieved and the one thing that's missing."