Playing in her first Montreal main-draw appearance in a decade, Canadian wildcard Rebecca Marino tallied back-to-back wins over Madison Keys and Paula Badosa to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2021 Omnium Banque Nationale. She will face top seed Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday.
On the heels of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles' high-profile withdrawals from competition, mental health has been just as much a part of the sporting discourse in 2021 as wins and losses. That wasn't the landscape a decade ago when Marino made her splash on the WTA Tour. The big-serving Vancouver native reached a career-high No.38 in 2011 before quitting the sport in 2013 due to depression, which she had been struggling with for six years.
"I think it was the right decision at the time for me to step away from the game," Marino said after her first-round win over Keys. "I know some people didn't understand it at the time, but I'm really proud of the decisions I made because it made me feel like a completely whole individual, and it made me rediscover my love and passion for the sport. I think it shows when I play.
"I think it also shows that I'm in a completely different headspace now because I did take that time to sort of make sure that I was taking care of myself, staying healthy mentally, physically, then come back into the game when I was ready."
After retiring at 22, Marino enrolled at the University of British Columbia, joined the rowing team - her uncle won gold for Canada in 1964 - and studied English Literature. In 2017, she put her studies on hold to give tennis another go.
Armed with a booming serve and flat power from both wings, Marino won the first tournament of her return, coming through as a qualifier to win an ITF 15K in Antalya, Turkey, in January 2018. Then she won the week after that. And the week after that. In fact, Marino won the first 30 sets she played and a total of 19 consecutive matches on the ITF Tour. By September of that year, playing as a wildcard in Quebec City, she was into her first WTA quarterfinal since 2011.
Marino's comeback stalled in 2019 due to injury, but her 2021 restart saw her return to the main draw of a Slam for the first time since her retirement. After successfully qualifying for the Australian Open, Marino tallied her first Slam win since 2011 Wimbledon.
"In a sense, I feel like the past is the past. Like mental health and the depression, that's not even something I think about in terms of my every day. I feel like I've worked really hard to get to this point.
"But I always do find it funny when people mention the mental health thing because I'm totally in a different place than where I was before, which I'm really proud of. So it is a new chapter in a sense.
"But it's a pretty cool story overall. So I think it's all sort of a continuation. I want to keep seeing what cool things I can do in the future."
On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon at the IGA Stadium, the 30-year-old rallied from a set down to defeat Badosa 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 to secure her fifth career Top 50 win and advance to the biggest Round of 16 of her career. Marino's best run at a WTA 500 level or higher came a decade ago, when she bowed out to Mario Bartoli at 2011 Stanford.
"The first win [over Keys] of course is very exciting because it's like, 'Wow, I got a Top 50 win, a Top 30 win,'" Marino said. "To back it up with another win today sort of demonstrates it wasn't a one-time sort of thing. So it's nice to get that back-to-back win. I feel like I'm no longer a surprise; everyone sort of knows who I am.
"At least it demonstrates to me I belong back at this level. I really believe that. Now I have the evidence."
Watch Marino's 2013 TED Talk on mental health in sports below: