RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - 2009 French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea looked primed to crack the Top 20 in 2013 following a run to the final of the Rogers Cup, but a shoulder injury stunted her progress for the last 18 months - causing her to fall out of the Top 240 late last fall. Now fit and healthy, the Romanian roared into the quarterfinals of the Rio Open with a 7-5, 7-6(3) upset win over No.5 seed Polona Hercog.
"It has been a year and half that I was struggling with the shoulder," Cirstea said after the match. "It was a frustrating time. But I'm very happy it's over. I changed my team, a Romanian one from back home. I'm trying to settle everything down. I was able to practice very hard in the off-season; I was healthy and that's the most important thing for me.
"This injury was also a lesson; I'm enjoying my time on the court more, being pain-free and being able to play on a high level."
Cirstea began the year by reaching back-to-back finals on the ITF Challenger level, but her two wins in Rio are her first in a WTA main draw since last summer in Bucharest; by beating Hercog, the wildcard reaches her first WTA quarterfinal since 2014 (Tianjin).
"Playing the final in Guaruja and winning Bertioga three weeks and two weeks ago was a plus for me. I think everyone knows last year I was injured in my shoulder, so at this moment I'm trying to play a lot of matches.
"I was very happy to play ten matches before coming here and I already have two this week, so I'm quite pleased with the way things are going."
Armed with a new philosphy and more positive perspective, Cirstea could next play No.3 seed Danka Kovinic, who first has to face Sílvia Soler Espinosa in her second round match.
"First of all, I'm trying to stay healthy. That's the biggest thing; I'm still doing my shoulder rehab, so that will be my main key for this year. I also want to play a lot of matches, get that confidence from winning some.
"I'm seeing things from a different perspective; I'm enjoying traveling more and playing and I'm just trying to focus on the practice and getting better every day, and not on the results because if I practice well, the results will come.
"The objective is to get back to the Top 100. That's the plan, and I like to go step by step."
Earlier in the day, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone survived a tough three setter against Mariana Duque-Marino, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, while resurgent American Shelby Rogers took out Veronica Cepede Royg, 7-5, 6-4. Cindy Burger won the battle of qualifiers by taking out Elitsa Kostova, 6-3, 6-0.