Tennis players are, by definition, intense individuals. Driven by a single desire at the start of each week, small victories are, at best, swiftly savored in the face of an ever-shifting goal post. Throw in external stressors and self-doubt and indeed, only the strong survive.
Ten days into 2016 and some of that doubt has already begun to surface among the game's best, a caution that has kept them from completely committing to the very tournaments meant to ready them for the major glory they seek.
Two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist Tamira Paszek has had to overcome much adversity, yet remains among the few standing strong to start the season. Once a fixture in the Top 30, Paszek took six months off from the end of 2014 to heal an adductor injury, one that was wreaking havoc on an already injury-addled career.
She refused to return until she was fully fit, starting slowly by playing Challenger tournaments once she was.
"I feel very grateful and I'm very thankful for being healthy again," she told WTA Insider as she prepared for Australian Open qualifying. "Once you've experienced such a low and such a struggle, you start appreciating and enjoying everything a lot more. I'm just trying to be in the moment, have fun out there, and do my best every day that I can."
Reuniting with former coach Andrei Pavel - a former Top 15 player himself - after playing her home tournament in Linz, Paszek added Iulia Moldovan as her full-time physio in September, and established relationships with two training facilities in her home town of Dornbirn - the Olympic Center and Tennis CAMPUS - all in the hopes of maintaining the physicality needed to unlock her potential and powerful ground game.
"I think I really found my base now. With Andrei, I have a great coach. He helps me a lot, and kind of leaves me my own instincts on the court, which I've always loved to deal with by myself.
"I spent the off-season at home in Austria, which was really nice, and had a great fitness preparation the first couple of weeks at the Olympic Centre back home. Last year was all about having the rehab done and starting from zero. Now I was actually starting from a fit base, so I think that's a really big part of why things are running smoothly at the moment."
A run to the semifinals of an autumn $100K Challenger as a qualifier set the stage for an even bigger result just one week ago in Auckland, an event where she first made the final four back in 2008, at just 17 years old.
"I've loved the tournament since I was a very young player. I think the tournament director does an amazing job at making a great tournament, bringing out all the best players. Auckland is a beautiful city as well; they're really lovely people there. So I think the whole combination of everything attracts the players a lot."
Paszek fought through qualifying once more to find a pair of former major champions in Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova - along with 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens - waiting for her in the main draw. Edging out Schiavone and cruising past Kuznetsova, the true test came against Flipkens, who forced her to face the self-doubt that kept her from closing out their quarterfinal encounter in straight sets, and overwhelm the Belgian with definitive intensity in the decider.
"I really had to work for those matches. We had long rallies and tough points; there were a few really tough battles out there, but that's rewarding after a tough pre-season, knowing you're healthy and that you're ready to compete against top players."
The semifinal finish puts Paszek in position to reach the Top 100 for the first time in nearly three years, but the Austrian will have to make it through another three rounds of qualifying in order to play the first major tournament of the season.
"The good part about playing qualies is that you get a lot of matches, and you get a good rhythm, which is especially important at the beginning of the year. I've always been the type of person that tries to see the positive aspect of things, so I'm really looking forward to it.
"We arrived in Melbourne on Sunday, so we had a good day off, recovering from all the tough matches in Auckland. It has been pretty good, a lot of workouts, getting 'back to the business' and we've had good practices, playing a lot of points and I had a good fitness session yesterday, so I'm getting ready for Thursday."
After a short winter spent in the Dornbirn mountains, Paszek has one more hill to climb in Melbourne, where she will need every ounce of strength earned over the off-season - and her signature intensity - to take her to the summit of her 2016 goals by returning to the Top 50.
"I'm trying to keep my expectations as low as possible, but I'm ready, I'm happy, and I'm playing well, so anything can happen."
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.