ISTANBUL, Turkey - Petra Martic was ranked No.662 in the world almost exactly two years ago. The Croat hadn't played a match in 10 months due to a back injury, and even in healthier times, hadn't come close to the Top 50 since her breakout 2012, when she reached the fourth round of the French Open.
In the face of a daunting reality, Martic nonetheless saw a brighter future.
"When I got injured, I really believed that my best years were still to come for me," the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup champion explained on Sunday. "That kept me believing that I could come back, stronger than ever. I really believed that there were still so many good things on court waiting for me, and so I couldn’t wait to be back playing tournaments again."
The comeback began in earnest in 2017, as she tore through the ITF Pro Circuit as a prelude to an emotional return to the second week of Roland Garros, backed up with an identical run at Wimbledon.
"You have to believe because it’s all you have in that moment. Once you lose that, you’re basically done! I really love this sport and I couldn’t accept that it was going to be over when I got injured. I filled myself with good thoughts and kept believing. When you believe and work hard, things go your way."
Martic earned another milestone this week in Istanbul, surviving the longest match of the season against Kristina Mladenovic en route to her first career title, and rallying from a set down to defeat Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova.
I caught up with the Volvo Car Open semifinalist on what she called "the best day of her life" to discuss her big win, what makes her so comfortable on clay, and her close coaching relationship with Sandra Zaniewska.
David Kane: I have to ask, what was more shocking today: that you won or the confetti cannons? I think they both gave us a full heart attack!
Petra Martic: I’m happy I survived this part! It was really an incredible week. I can’t believe I managed to turn this match around today. I really felt hopeless at one point, especially after the first set. She played so well, dominating, and I wasn’t sure if I could come back. I’m so happy.
DK: What did you take from the first set that you were able to apply in the rest of the match?
PM: At the end of the first set, I was trying to find more of a rhythm so I could fight from the second set on. In the first set, I made too many unforced errors and she basically made none. She was so steady, and it was a one way street! But from the second set, I broke her in first game and I started believing a bit more. I started playing longer rallies and I wasn’t afraid to stay there with her, and I think that’s what made the difference.
DK: This was your third WTA final; what had you learned from past finals?
PM: I wasn’t as nervous than I’ve been in finals before. I just played one point at a time and didn’t look too far ahead. I managed to control my nerves more, stay pretty disciplined on the court, and focus on my game plan. That was the biggest difference in this final.
DK: It feels like each time you come back from injuries, you're better than ever. How do you explain that?
PM: I’m more mature. When I got injured, I really believed that my best years were still to come for me. That kept me believing that I could come back, stronger than ever. I really believed that there were still so many good things on court waiting for me, and so I couldn’t wait to be back playing tournaments again.
DK: How tough is it to stay that positive?
PM: You have to believe because it’s all you have in that moment. Once you lose that, you’re basically done! I really love this sport and I couldn’t accept that it was going to be over when I got injured. I filled myself with good thoughts and kept believing. When you believe and work hard, things go your way.
DK: What does it mean to you, winning your first title?
PM: It’s huge. I have no words, still. I’m full of emotions and I can’t believe I even managed to turn this match around. Winning my first title is incredible, and it’s the best day of my career. I hope it’s going to give me more confidence in the rest of the season, and maybe win another!
DK: You've played well on all surfaces, but what is it about clay that brings out your best?
PM: I love this surface. It suits my game really well. I like to play with spin, drop shots, and all of these things that work really well on clay. I love hardcourts as well, but I was really struggling with my body at the beginning of the season and I couldn’t get any rhythm in my practices, and so the matches weren’t going my way either. From Charleston on, things really started changing and I’m living the best days of my career now.
DK: Your coaching timeouts have attracted attention for how positive they are? How important has that relationship been in your career?
PM: She’s a huge support to me. She believes in me like no other, even when I think I can’t win some matches. She’s still there, convincing me that I can do it. If I’m struggling with my body, she’ll massage me, make a fitness plan if the physio isn’t around. She’s there, 24/7, really giving her all for my career. I’m so grateful to have her by my side.
DK: How will you celebrate this win?
PM: To be honest, I have no idea! I haven’t looked into flights or anything, so I have to organize so many things. In between all that, I’ll try to celebrate, get out of the hotel, and go for a nice dinner or something like this.