ADELAIDE, Australia -- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova's seven-month injury absence from the Hologic WTA Tour did not go unnoticed. The former World No.11 has been grinding away on the professional circuit since she was 16. In the midst of the best run of results of her career, the 2021 French Open finalist was forced onto the sidelines with a tear in her patella tendon last year.
After working with a knee doctor in Germany who also treats the players at Bayern Munich, Pavlyuchenkova got the green light in October to return in Australia. She played her first singles match since May at the Adelaide International 2 last week, taking a 7-5 6-4 loss to Jil Teichmann. She went on to make the doubles final with Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.
"I'm so happy and also overwhelmed with how the tour and the players reacted to see me," Pavlyuchenkova told WTA Insider in Adelaide. "The ATP players, the staff, the teams of other players, everybody.
"It's not like I care a lot about it, but it's just nice to have it. People respect you. I guess I didn't expect that."
Pavlyuchenkova 31, is keeping her expectations in check as she begins to plot her way back. She's played just six matches since the end of the 2021. The goal is just to be healthy.
"My goal is to be 100% healthy and get as many matches as I can under my belt and build the confidence back," Pavlyuchenkova said. "Then I'm sure that would help me to get back to where I want to."
Here's more with Pavlyuchenkova, who discussed the change in culture on tour, the details of her injuries and her uphill battle back:
WTA Insider: Why were you so surprised by the warm reception when you got back on tour?
Pavlyuchenkova: When I was younger, we always had role models like Sharapova, Serena, and most of them were very distant. And because they were doing so well, I thought that's the way I should be on the tennis courts and around the tour and everything. So I was actually trying to copy them. Some of my ex-coaches were also telling me you have to always be lonely, keep distance between players, you can't be friendly with anybody because you might play against her.
From juniors, then I was 16, 17 when I came on tour and I was honestly shocked and intimidated a lot. Kuznetsova was different, she was one of the only ones who was friendly on tour back then. But a lot of players -- Chakvetadze, Zvonareva -- I was so intimidated. When we would practice with each other I was afraid to miss the ball because I would get those looks like, What's wrong with you? I didn't feel right. I didn't feel accepted.
Now getting older and spending so much time around the tour, it's just not me. I'm very social. So why not be open?
With Daria and the guys, that generation, I can tell the difference. They always chat in the locker room, in the restaurants. They're super friendly on and off the court. I started learning a lot more from them and I also hang out a lot around them and it's just a totally different vibe. It's also easier to handle the stress and tension when you're at the tournament.
WTA Insider: How bad was the knee injury?
Pavlyuchenkova: I had the knee issue for more than a year, and I was playing the whole 2021 with pain. But because I had the groove rolling, good results, I didn't want to stop, guessing how hard it would be to come back to this rhythm playing tournaments.
I arrived to Australia last year, tested positive with COVID, stuck in my room, and I kind of felt like I was in really good shape to do well in those events and also very confident. But then my knee got worse. When I went out on the court, it was the worst time for the knee.
After that, I went to play St. Petersburg. I was taking a lot of painkillers during the tournament. It was stupid, but it was my routine to get through this. Then those were not helping anymore. It was painful regardless.
I just gonna leave it here … 🌚 pic.twitter.com/JHri4jTrWQ— Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) May 15, 2022
WTA Insider: Why did you decide to stop after Rome?
Pavlyuchenkova: I had 10 weeks off and they told me that should be enough to get back into quite good shape. I went to Madrid and the pain was the same as it was before. The doctor told me, just stay through this because you might still feel it, that's normal and don't worry. That's why I went to play Rome.
But then it was in my head, I was totally lost and confused and depressed because I thought I had done everything. Confidence level was zero. I just didn't feel in good shape.
WTA Insider: What's the toughest part about getting back on tour?
Pavlyuchenkova: It's tough, because of course I need to build my confidence, build up with playing matches. I need to get some wins under my belt because that's the only way. I'm trying to be smart with this and be as positive as possible with myself and give myself time and the chance to also enjoy. That's the main focus right now. I'm going to fight as hard as I can to climb back and grind because I know it's not going to be easy and it's going to take some time.
I was playing in November with Alize Cornet, a practice match, and I didn't have a chance against her in the first set I played. I felt the ball so good on my racquet when I hit or practice normal, but once you play a match or points, it's crazy how different it is. I'm talking to some ATP players who were away and coming back and we're talking the exact same language. I never thought about it and I wasn't ready for this.
When you watch a tennis match on TV or something, it just feels like it makes sense. Then once you step on the court it's just very hard to do.