Five months after breaking her back (literally), Paula Badosa was still feeling pain.

“Oh, my God,” she told last week. “I’ve been seeing so many doctors, physios, it was a very long process. You cannot control it; it has to heal itself. You’re thinking, 'More hours of treatment, more hours of everything.’

“But in the end, it’s patience, patience.”

Which isn’t one of Badosa’s many virtues. Eight months after cracking her L4 vertebrae in Roma and six months after exiting in the second round at Wimbledon, Badosa finally stepped back on the court. She lost in three sets to qualifier Bernarda Pera at the Adelaide International but pronounced herself ready to compete in the Australian Open.

On Monday night, in front of packed crowd on Court 6, Badosa showed why she has been ranked as high as No.2 in the world. The Spaniard was nearly flawless in a 6-1, 6-3 win over Taylor Townsend. She struck 23 winners to just seven unforced errors against the crafty American, and saved all three break points she faced. She notched eight aces, to boot. 

Badosa will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second round. Pavlyuchenkova knocked out 21st seed Donna Vekic 6-4, 6-4 in the first round.

Badosa, who only 20 months ago was ranked No.2 among Hologic WTA Tour players, hasn’t exactly cornered the market on the comeback narrative. It’s a crowded field, which is a source of happiness for astute tennis fans.

A quick list of prominent Who’s Who players in addition to Badosa who are returning to action after hitting the pause button: four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, three-time major winner Angelique Kerber, 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu, former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova and Amanda Anisimova.

“Women’s tennis, really, is just like any other workplace,” Hall of Famer Pam Shriver said. “The reality is -- whatever the reason -- there are times when you have to step away. You go on a sabbatical.”

Last year’s return of Elina Svitolina had to be encouraging for those now involved in the process. Six months after she and French star Gael Monfils welcomed daughter Skai into the world, Svitolina reappeared in Charleston. She won the title in Strasbourg, reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and surprised World No.1 Iga Swiatek to advance to the semifinals at Wimbledon.

Former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, a winner on opening day in Australia, gave birth to Olivia and James and, after nearly four years away from the game, returned last year at the age of 33. She won more matches than she lost and is set to play a full schedule in 2024. In a nice piece of symmetry, Wozniacki played Svitolina last week in Auckland, with Svitolina winning on the way to the final.

Shriver, who is in Melbourne as an analyst for ESPN, thinks this recent run of successful comebacks makes it easier for players to step away, whether it’s for pregnancy leave, rehabilitating injuries or nurturing mental health.

“In philanthropy they’re called leadership gifts,” Shriver said, “and there have been some really strong examples in the past 10 years. Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters  come to mind, Serena Williams, for sure. To see her get to four major finals after a difficult childbirth … that was impactful.”

In 2016, Federer struggled with a knee injury and failed to win a title for the first time since 2001. He fell out of the Top 10 for the first time in 14 years. After six months off, he returned to win the 2017 Australian Open at the age of 35 -- and later won two more majors.

After giving birth to daughter Jada, Clijsters came back a year later to win the 2009 US Open, following that up with titles at the 2010 US Open and 2011 Australian Open. As Shriver noted, Williams reached four major finals in 2018-19 after giving birth to daughter Olympia. She actually won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant.

For Badosa, the break was a blessing of sorts. She spent a lot of time with her family and traveled the world with boyfriend Stefanos Tsitsipas, a Top 10 player on the ATP Tour.

“I’m not going to lie to you -- I was always with a physio by my side if I was traveling somewhere,” Badosa said. “Now that the season has started for both of us, we will have less time to spend together so I think it was nice getting to know each other better. Being there for each other. 

“I had a normal life, I could say, enjoying that different style life, that different Paula also. Since I’m 7 years old, I’ve been a tennis player. It’s been fun.”

She started practicing in October, for only 20 minutes at a time, and the pain persisted until early December. Her goals for the season: stay healthy first and being in the final rounds of tournaments. She knows her form will return when she starts getting more matches against top players.

“One day you are in Australia, next day you are in California -- so it’s extremely intense,” Badosa said. “But I get it that some of us need to stop mentally. In my case, it was an injury.

“Seeing all these comebacks, I have faith that I can do it also."

Other notable comebacks 

How motherhood has inspired Naomi Osaka

Naomi Osaka: By the age of 23 she had already accumulated four Grand Slam singles titles. After giving birth to daughter Shai, she played her first match in 18 months, defeating Tamara Korpatsch in Brisbane. She lost to Karolina Pliskova in three sets, but displayed some impressive groundstrokes. 

Australian Open first-round opponent: Monday against No.16th seed Caroline Garcia

Karolina Pliskova: The 31-year-old from the Czech Republic ended her 2023 season early to cleanse her palette, both physically and mentally. She reached the quarterfinals in Brisbane, losing to Jelena Ostapenko and fellow Czech Katerina Siniakova in Adelaide.

Australian Open first-round opponent: Tuesday against No.3 Elena Rybakina, winner of the Brisbane International earlier this month

Angelique Kerber: At the age of 35, 18 months after giving birth to daughter Liana, Kerber helped Germany win the United Cup crown in Sydney. Her first win came against Ajla Tomljanovic, and she also pushed Garcia to three sets.

Australian Open first-round opponent: Tuesday against Danielle Collins

Emma Raducanu: Recovered from three surgeries, she took the court for the first time since last spring at the ASB Classic in Auckland. After defeating a qualifier, Raducanu ran into Svitolina and, despite losing 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-1, produced an encouraging effort.

Australian Open first-round opponent: Tuesday against Shelby Rogers

Amanda Anisimova: A semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2019, Anisimova has struggled in recent years to match that kind of elite form. She took an indefinite leave of absence after losing four straight matches last spring and returned in Auckland, where she won her first match over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before falling to Marie Bouzkova.

Australian Open first-round opponent: Defeated Liudmila Samsonova on Sunday in straight sets