CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Charleston loves Patty Schnyder and Patty Schnyder loves Charleston. It was 10 years ago that the former Swiss No.1 made her second final in Charleston in 2006. Seeded No.3, Schnyder put together an inspired run that included a though three set win over top seed Justine Henin before losing to No.2 seed Nadia Petrova 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. The run came four years after her first romp to the final, where she beat Amelie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce, Serena Williams, and Jennifer Capriati before losing to Iva Majoli in the final.
Those seed-thrashing runs like endeared Schnyder to the Charleston crowd. The Swiss reached a career-high No.7 and won 11 titles in her career before hanging up her racquet after the 2011 French Open. Then came the announcement last year that she was embarking on a tentative comeback, entering a $25K ITF tournament in Darmstadt, Germany in July.
Schnyder remained on the ITF circuit until this week. Now 37 years old and ranked No.455, Schnyder returned to Daniel Island for the first time since 2011 after receiving a wildcard into qualifying at the Volvo Car Open. She lost in three sets to Samantha Crawford, but her return was more about relationships than results. She came back to see all the familiar faces who she befriended over her many visits to Charleston, from volunteers, to tournament staff, and of course tournament director Bob Moran.
"Patty Schnyder has been playing in our tournament since before we relocated from Hilton Head Island," Moran said. "She's a part of our family, and we are thrilled to welcome her back to our tournament."
? Volvo Car Open (@VolvoCarOpen) April 2, 2016
WTA Insider spoke to Schnyder by phone this week.
WTA Insider: You have such a long-standing relationship with this tournament in Charleston. What has it been like coming back?
Schnyder: It's very special, and it was just great. Getting to see people again after five years and so many volunteers, even Eleanor Adams, the tournament manager. We're really close and spent so many years together, but it's been emotional and lots of fun to be around them again.
WTA Insider: Why did you make the decision to retire back in 2011?
Schnyder: Everything was frustrating me and I was stressed too much. You need a switch. It was really frustration; I didn't want to be around anything anymore. I didn't want to travel, be on the court, compete. The stress made it all enough. It's not that it was an easy decision but I just couldn't handle it anymore.
WTA Insider: What brought you back to tennis?
Schnyder: I was kind of having fun playing matches [in the Swiss league], enjoying the competition. I was also working hard and I was on court again, so I thought - because I was winning those league matches and I wanted to try to get some real competition. So that was the thought, and I was having fun, and I was in the sport but not traveling, and I just love to travel. It's a great combination and that's always been the lifestyle I like, so why not try it?
WTA Insider: Your last tour-level tournament before this week was the 2011 French Open. What did you do during your time away from the sport?
Schnyder: I really wanted to be away from tennis. I didn't play for one and a half years. I really needed a rest from everything.
I did some studying with animals. I was an acupuncturist for dogs. I was spending more time at home with that. Then, I started being in tennis, with some juniors again. I was coaching a bit, and I started to really enjoy being around tennis again. Those are some of the things I was doing until they wanted me back for the club team and I was hesitant. I wasn't sure, but it was nice to be competing again.
WTA Insider: Are you in a position to be thinking about goals right now?
Schnyder: No, not yet. Maybe now, I'm thinking more about goals but not really setting goals. Now, these thoughts are coming back of maybe setting something, but so far I was just trying to get my game back. It hasn't been so easy to get the concentration back.
For so many years I wasn't on the court and to have to focus and concentrate for over two hours is not easy and I'm realizing that's one of the hardest parts. I also have a few injuries. Nothing bad; some players who play 15 years like me wake up with pain everywhere. I'm not like that, but I have a few injuries, which keep me off the court and from working out.
The whole thing is really about being healthy, getting the concentration and the mental stuff, but it's fun to try to get it back at this stage of your life. It's a challenge and I just like it.
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.