Daria Saville wasn't sure if she was ready for her first overseas trip since 2020 Roland Garros, but the 28-year-old Australian is now into her first Round of 16 at a WTA 1000 since 2018 with back-to-back wins against Ons Jabeur and Elise Mertens at the BNP Paribas Open.
Saville (née Gavrilova) was a Top 40 staple over four seasons from 2015-2018, reaching a career-high No.20 after winning her first title at 2017 New Haven. Trying to play through the pain from both an Achilles injury and plantar fasciitis, she shut down her season after the autumnal edition of Roland Garros in 2020. When she began her season in Australia three months later, Saville said enough is enough and opted for surgery.
On the sidelines for 10 months for rehabilitation, Saville played her first competitive match at Billie Jean King Cup last fall and returned to the Hologic WTA Tour in January at the Adelaide International I. Ranked No.421, she successfully qualified with wins over Caty McNally and Katie Boulter, before losing in the first round to Iga Swiatek, 6-3, 6-3.
"I was a bit nervous before this trip because I haven't [traveled overseas] in two and a half years," Saville told WTA Insider at the BNP Paribas Open. "Because even when I came back the first time, I only played in Australia and then I had the surgery, so I didn't really travel.
"I wasn't feeling confident at all. I didn't play well at all in Australia. So I was like, 'What am I doing? Why would I even go anywhere now?'"
Saville's decision to play the North American spring hard-court season paid immediately. She has made the Round of 16 at both tournaments she played, in Guadalajara and Indian Wells. She has tallied her first Top 10 win since 2018 Beijing, defeating Jabeur in the second round of Indian Wells and ousted US Open Champion and top seed Emma Raducanu from Guadalajara.
WTA Insider sat down with Saville to discuss her comeback and ambitions for the 2022 season.
WTA Insider: How are you feeling being back on tour right now?
Saville: I'm really enjoying being here. Even in Guadalajara, I felt like, 'OK, this is fun.' This is cool. I love just being at tournaments. Even this morning, I was warming up before the match and I was really enjoying it. This is cool, I'm getting ready for a match.
WTA Insider: How did you do that? What did you tell yourself?
Saville: My coach Jay Gooding, we were sharing him with Storm and another player, Alex Vukic. I was really looking forward to some continuity, to have something reliable, because it was a bit all over the shop in Australia. Nicole Pratt was helping me with rehab and he couldn't come early for pre-season. So we kind of started at a tournament.
But now this is exciting. I was looking forward to it. He said we're just working on your attitude. Just fight.
WTA Insider: Did you make any changes to your game while you were coming back?
Saville: I was playing around with my technique. I changed my backhand three times in pre-season and then it didn't hold up. Then I changed where I was standing, my court positioning.
Because I said to Nicole, I was trying to hold the baseline and I don't like that. I'm way too rushed, I don't have time. This is not working for me. The reason why we did that was because of my Achilles. We thought if I'm more aggressive hopefully I'll run less, but it just doesn't work for me. I didn't like it.
We looked at the Hawkeye data and I was standing way closer to the baseline. I was like, compare me to Halep and Barty and I was way closer to the baseline. I don't think that's good for me. So I was like, 'OK, I'm going back, let's just see how it works.'
WTA Insider: When did that conversation happen?
Saville: That conversation happened right before Guadalajara.
Daria Saville had not traveled overseas in 2.5 years.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) March 14, 2022
Results so far:
d.  Raducanu 57 76 *43 (ret.)
d. Dolehide 61 63
l.  Stephens 46 63 62#IndianWells
d. Rakhimova 75 63 (Q)
d. Frech 60 36 63 (Q)
d. Zhang Shuai 63 62
d.  Jabeur 75 67 64
d.  Mertens 63 46 63 pic.twitter.com/e65oEKnjrs
WTA Insider: You mentioned changes to your backhand?
Saville: Now I have a gap with the way I'm holding my racquet. I have a longer racquet. When you have a longer racket, it's harder to control with the left hand. But now that my left hand is a bit higher, I know where my racquet head is.
I'm also double-faulting a lot less. I was double-faulting so much in Australia and it's nothing to do with my serve. Technically, my serve is pretty good, but I was thinking of my opponents, how aggressive they're going to be on their return, so I wouldn't commit to my patterns and I would just be freaking out.
And also the other thing is with my Achilles. It's never going to be great again. It's never even going to be good. It's going to be OK.
But everyone is managing something. Look at Nadal with his injuries.
WTA Insider: Is it exhausting to have to manage?
Saville: I've had this injury for six years, since 2016. It did get exhausting. But now I've done everything. I had surgery. That's it. I'm either going to do it and just deal with it, or I can be like, 'Oh, poor me.'
I have a name for it. It's a her. She's communicating with me. She's like, OK, fine, I'll be good to you. She can be very moody, but she's been fine.
WTA Insider: What's her name?
Saville: Kealia (laughing). I don't know.
Surgery went well last night! And I’m already home. @DKasatkina came to visit me before her flight! (mainly to eat blinis and take my puffer jacket for her trip back to Russia ❄️) 1 week couch rest = means Tofu cuddles + dashlets 🤍 pic.twitter.com/YfJEYgGycP— Daria Saville (@Daria_gav) February 20, 2021
WTA Insider: Did you watch a lot of tennis while you were off the tour or stay plugged in with your friends to get a sense of what was happening?
Saville: I watched a bit of tennis. When Ash won Wimbledon I had mixed feelings. I was really happy for her, but at the same time I was jealous, but good jealous, meaning I want to be there. I wish I played Wimbledon.
It's so exciting to see so many new faces. When Emma won, I was like, what? I think it's cool.
But at the same time, I do think the whole WTA Tour thinks, well I can do it. I think so many girls are putting extra pressure on themselves, thinking, well, if she can do it then I'm going to do it. They create that extra pressure. But no, just play.
WTA Insider: So what's the goal for this year?
Saville: I just want to play a full schedule, obviously build my ranking. I don't want to look at the live rankings because then I will create that extra pressure. Now I take it one match at a time.
I obviously want to play the Slams and I can't use my protected ranking for a Slam. It was never really a goal to make the French Open qualies, but in my mind I really want to. But it's almost overachieving. Before coming here, we said, 'OK, let's halve your ranking.' So from 600 to 300. So hopefully I'll make the French Open, but that's overachievement.