PARIS -- Sara Sorribes Tormo has carved out a reputation as a tenacious marathon player. Two years ago, the 26-year-old from Valencia was featured in three of the 10 longest matches of the year. She was also involved in two of the top five lengthiest matches last year.
Ultimately, her body relented. She cracked her rib in a match against Nuria Parrizas Diaz in Rome last year, which ruled her out of Roland Garros. When she returned in the summer, she began to feel pain in her left foot in Cincinnati.
"I continued to keep playing a few months," Sorribes Tormo said. "So it was totally broken when I got the MRI."
That pain turned out to be a fracture of the scaphoid bone in her foot. She was on crutches and a walking boot for three months. A tennis obsessive, all of a sudden Sorribes Tormo couldn't bring herself to keep up with the sport.
"That was very difficult because I really love what I do," she said. "But I was interested in other things."
Instead of spending hours watching tennis, Sorribes Tormo, who Saturday advanced to the fourth round of the French Open when Elena Rybakina withdrew, reveled in her time with friends and family. She found that she loved going to concerts, watching her brother's football practices and sitting in the passenger seat on aimless drives.
She began to confront the existential question that most tennis players work desperately to avoid: Who am I without tennis?
Sorribes Tormo found out quickly.
"It was nice to know there is life outside tennis," she said. "People are playing in Australia but people are still working on the streets in Madrid. Nobody knows that the Australian Open is going. But when you're playing the Australian Open and you lose you think the world stops. But the world continues. This really helps me now."
The fiery competitor who ate, drank and slept tennis learned she could breathe without it.
"Sara is a very normal person that loves family, loved ones, who likes to have fun, who likes to talk about life, who likes to smile," she said. "I don't need recognition or fame. That is something that is not moving me. The thing that moves me is that my family is OK, my friends are OK, and I can have fun with them."
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But can a healthier, more content version of Sorribes Tormo still compete as though every point is life or death? Does she return with the competitive fire that drove her to grind down player after player in protracted duels? Could she even rediscover it?
Just two years ago in Guadalajara, she won her first career title and powered her way to a career-high ranking of No.32 in February of 2022.
"What do I need to do today?" she said. "OK, 1.5 hours of fitness and we go to the court for 20 minutes and that's good. Next day and next day and next day.
"And then one day, you have the thing you need inside. It's coming back. I feel like I need to compete. I feel like I need to stay on the court and be a bit more brave and not just go and play. It's coming again."
That slow process has paid off at Roland Garros. Sorribes Tormo has not lost a set in her the two matches she played, defeating Clara Burel and Petra Martic. Along with her good friend Marie Bouzkova, she's also in the third round of doubles.
"When I compete, I compete 100 percent," Sorribes said. "I go full to every ball, I go full to every step, and I don't know how to not do that. I don't know how to practice without going full.
"Yesterday I was warming up for doubles and I was 200 percent because I was super happy I was playing with Marie again and I want to win. My physio was like 'Sara, you're playing in two hours. You need to calm down.'"
So how will Sorribes Tormo manage the new Sara and the old Sara?
"They are trying to be one because the normal Sara is trying to tell Sara the tennis player, 'Stay here, stay in the moment, life has more things, just work and enjoy, stay with your team, listen and have fun.'
"Tennis Sara is saying, 'OK, but I'm going to compete.'
"When they mix, I think these two Saras are very good. But if they are separate ... oof."
In that vein, Sorribes Tormo isn't letting tennis dominate her life anymore. And with that attitude, she's equaled her best performance at a Slam to date.
"When I finish the day, I finish," she said. "In another time, I would be watching tennis all day. Now I'm watching movies, I go with my mom to get a coffee, I talk to Silvia [Soler Espinosa, her coach] about other things. When I'm at the physio I'm not checking my phone.
"I think you need to grow. When you are younger you only watch tennis, tennis, tennis. When you're getting older, maybe it's something that would happen with the years, but I think these injuries helped me see this sooner."