[Editor's Note: This was written in advance of Petra Martic's quarterfinal match against Jessica Pegula. Martic won that match on Friday and advanced to the Rome semifinals, where she will face 2019 champion Karolina Pliskova.]
Petra Martic is putting together her best tournament in recent months at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, and she has a new coach by her side during her run -- former World No.4 and 2010 Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.
"From the second set on, I feel like I played my best tennis so far this year," World No.25 Martic told the press, following her 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 comeback victory over Serena Williams's conqueror Nadia Podoroska to reach the quarterfinals in Rome -- the Croat's first WTA 1000 quarterfinal since 2019 Wuhan.
It is a superb showing during her test run with Schiavone, which started mere weeks ago. Schiavone's clay-court bona fides include a return trip to the Roland Garros final in 2011, as well as six other clay-court WTA singles titles between 2007 and 2017.
"I called her up, and she was happy to take on this challenge, start working with me," Martic said. "So we started just before the clay-court season started. This is our trial period. But I really hope that we are going to continue throughout."
After winning two straight matches just once during the first four months of the year, Martic has now claimed three victories in a row in Schiavone's home country, culminating with a comeback victory over Podoroska to make the quarterfinals.
Martic hopes this marks a return to her peak form on the dirt from a couple of years ago, when she reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at 2019 Roland Garros, won her first WTA singles title at 2019 Istanbul, and rocketed to a career-high ranking of World No.14 in January 2020.
"I really struggled the beginning of the  season," Martic admitted. "I couldn't find my game from one day to another. I just felt like I wasn't improving, I wasn't feeling more comfortable on the court. It's a bad feeling, I have to say."
"After my loss in Miami, I had to rethink my situation," Martic continued. "I didn't play the way I wanted to. Things were not going my way. I really just started to think who I want to be my next coach.
"I wanted someone who was an ex-player, someone who fought, who was positive, who just maybe even played similar to me, can understand my game really well."
After partnering up with Schiavone, who clearly matches those requirements, Martic said she "started to work really hard. Not that I didn't work hard before that, but a different voice, different mind, different view on tennis -- I feel like it all kind of brought something, it woke me up a little bit.
"I started to feel my game a bit more. From one match to another, I really feel like my game is coming along again. That's really good news for me."
"She really believes in me as a player, she believes I can be even better than I am right now," Martic added. "Those things really mean a lot to you, especially when you struggle with confidence the way I did before prior to this tournament.
"She was there to really keep reminding me of: 'You serve really well, you do this really well, believe that, trust that, trust your game.' The first two tournaments on clay it was still a bit of a struggle. Looks like here things really started getting together."
The confidence is returning to Martic, as she feels that her play has improved. "It's really been a while since I felt this way," said the Croatian No.1. "I'm starting to feel like I felt when I played my best tennis."
Martic, who calls herself "a bit of a perfectionist," says that Schiavone "tries to calm me down, chill. 'You don't need an extra shot on the practice. Trust what you have, it's going to be fine.'
"She's on one hand very intense and she wants to work hard, and we do work hard, but at the same time she wants me to kind of steer away a little bit from that perfectionism that I have a tendency to.
"She's balancing me out. It's really nice to have that calm next to you when you feel like the nerves are getting to you. That's really big for me."
Martic, who will next face World No.31 Jessica Pegula for a spot in the Rome semifinals, has fond memories of her new mentor's eye-opening run to the Roland Garros title 11 years ago, when Schiavone became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title.
"I actually followed it back then, watched her matches," Martic said. "To me, it was just so impressive the way she fought on the court, how she played with her heart. That's one thing that's how I want to play.
"That was one of the reasons why I really wanted her next to me, wanted her to coach me and to guide me and to help me bring that out, to be as close to it as possible."
Do you think you might start kissing the court? Martic was asked, harkening back to Schiavone's famous celebration after her major win.
"That's what I'm working for," she responded. "I guess we'll see."