There are two sides to every comeback. Long layoffs may leave a player rusty and out of rhythm, but they have an undeniably refreshing quality that can sometimes lead to stretches of top-level tennis.
Out for over 22 months rehabbing multiple stress fractures and a bruised bone in her foot, former World No.42 Galina Voskoboeva makes her WTA return at this week's Abierto Mexicano TELCEL unranked and in search of the form that made her last comeback so successful.
"This is my second comeback, so in the beginning it's very difficult, but I didn't expect it to be any other way," she told WTA Insider from an ITF Challenger in Surprise, Arizona.
"The most difficult part of this comeback is not having a ranking; I'm playing small tournaments because I'm at zero, but it's very difficult to even enter tournaments, and you're always stressed because you don't know if you'll get in or not."
If anyone knows how to come back, it's the Kazakh, who made a major splash in 2011 following a seven-month shoulder injury. A qualifier at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Voskoboeva reached the quarterfinals with wins over Marion Bartoli, Flavia Pennetta, and Maria Sharapova. She cruised into her first WTA final later that fall in Seoul en route to a career-high ranking in 2012.
"It does give me some more confidence because my last comeback was really good. It was very difficult in the beginning; I probably didn't show my best tennis right away, but the second part of the year in 2011 was great.
"I don't know if I can expect it to be that good this time, but of course I already have some ideas of how it will be. I know it'll be very difficult in the beginning to show your game the way you used to play."
Ranked just outside the Top 50 in the spring of 2014, Voskoboeva had recently won a doubles title - in Acapulco of all places - but was starting to feel a pain in her foot that would take her on two-year odyssey of rehab and recovery.
"I had a surgery where they had to take one bone out because it had three fractures; the bone was dead and couldn't heal. Another bone was also fractured, but they left it in, because they can't take out two bones!"
She laughs. before adding, "Well, they can, and you could still run, but not fast, and you can't jump, so I definitely didn't want that. I have one bone left, and it's still fractured - it's not going to heal."
Arrived to Amsterdam! My next baby step is a start of rehab! ????????? ? ?????????! ????? ? ????? ????????????! pic.twitter.com/2XWXAmY9pd
She spent the summer doing physical therapy in Amsterdam, where the veteran took her time as a tourist in stride, enjoying the funny moments that occurred along the way.
"I came there one month after my surgery, when I was on crutches and in a cast. You can't walk for a long time on crutches; I don't have very strong arms, so it'd be like 10 minutes, and I'm dead! My mom bought me a wheelchair, and it was funny, because if we wanted to have a walk, I'd start on crutches and then move to the wheelchair! It was quite an adventure.
"I also got some benefits from that because there are a lot of good museums there, and there are huge lines. But when people saw me in a wheelchair, I was first in line and never had to wait!
"You should always take something good, even from the worst of days."
I think this painting will look better in my room! Feel sorry for Van Gogh's museum but I'am stealing it!??? pic.twitter.com/eLwKyNbCQX
Voskoboeva returned to her base in Florida to train through the fall, initially aiming to return at the start of 2015.
"I didn't expect to be away this long! I was thinking that it would be similar to the shoulder injury; this one was much, much longer and it was much more difficult.
"Everything was going well but suddenly I started feeling pain straight away during a practice and it swelled. I had another MRI, and we found there was a bruise on the bone. I don't know how it happened; nobody can say - even the doctors! It could have been from jumping or running, but the result was a bruise on the bone, and I needed to have a rest.
"I had to start from the beginning, like I never did rehab before. I was very disappointed with that, and for a long time, the injury didn't heal. I was working and working, but nothing was happening. I wasn't sure if I'd even be able to come back after that."
This second season away proved to be one of self-discovery for the Kazakh; she traveled to Indian Wells and Miami and enjoyed the game from afar, embracing the role of enthusiastic spectator.
"I wouldn't like to watch tennis while I was participating in the tournament and, let's say, I lost. I'd be frustrated and wouldn't want to see more tennis. This time, I hadn't seen it in so long that I took all the benefits from that. I found out that I'm a very active fan! I love to cheer and I was so relaxed.
"I could spend the whole day on-site; I saw so many friends there, talking, the things you can't do as a player. I saw so many different matches. I cheered for the girls, and I could be loud as a spectator. When you're participating as a player, you can't spend many hours watching in the heat and you don't want to get tired. This time, I could come from the beginning of the day and leave after the last match. I didn't feel bad at all. I was a fan, and it's really a cool part of the game.
"When you're outside, you're watching the player and ask, 'Oh my god, why are they so nervous? They should be more relaxed; it's just a game!' But once you're coming back on tour, those memories of why they're so stressed come back very fast!"
She took classes in Moscow and also successfully completed the WTA/ATP Professionals Course in Miami, a career transitions course where she earned USPTA and PTR Coach Certifications in preparation for a future coaching career, one that felt closer to coming to pass the longer she spent off the court.
"I had a lot of good coaches, and I took the best things from each of them. It was a little bit difficult because I was still trying to come back and so I was still doing my rehab, so I couldn't study full-time. In Russia, they have a new rule; before you could be a coach just by having been an athlete, but now you need a special education. In our group, I met another athlete. She was a retired runner, but I found out that we were at the same Olympic Games.
"There were good coaches and athletes in my group, and it was really interesting to be with them, learn something new by speaking with them. I'm still in touch with some of them, and it was a good time."
Voskoboeva retained her own international coaching team for this latest comeback, hoping the three of them can pick up where they left off.
"I have two coaches because neither of them can travel full time: Erwan Leridant - he used worked with Vania King. When I'm in Russia and that part of the world, I have a great coach there: Alexander Zlatoustsov. He used to work with Dinara Safina. I also have the same fitness coach, Liliya Nurutdinova.
"When the injury happened, I was in good shape and was very disappointed because my ranking at that time was No.64 but for a very long time - for maybe two-and-a-half or three months - I didn't have any points to defend. I was in position to, with a good result, make my best ranking. That's why I think there's nothing to change because I played well and I was satisfied with my team.
"It was actually quite funny that I didn't have any points to defend. At that time I was No.2 in Kazakhstan, Yaroslava Shvedova was No.1. After the surgery, I went to rehab one or two months later, and I logged onto the Internet and saw the headline: 'Galina Voskoboeva became No.1 in Kazakhstan!' So after two months and a surgery I became No.1; I said, 'Ok, not bad. I should be in the cast longer!'"
Out of the cast and back on the tennis court for a comeback she herself describes as a "miracle," Voskoboeva quickly earned her first WTA win in exactly two years playing doubles with former partner Anastasia Rodionova in Acapulco. Aware she will have to hit the ground running in Indian Wells and Miami, she plans to make her full-fledged singles return with high spirits and a sense of humor.
"This level of tennis, for the last two years, I saw it only on TV! When I'm at that level, I can talk about goals, but for now I'm not there. I've played so few matches after two years, it's like nothing, and every time, I realize something is missing: maybe a shot, or I'm not moving that fast, or in the wrong direction! There are a lot of things I have to improve. You can see them only when you compete; you can't really see them in practice because it's a completely different level of concentration.
"The main thing is to be healthy and to take care of my body, and not to be too crazy about playing everything in a row and forget that I was injured! I still have to remember to treat myself: my body, my foot. Between the foot and the shoulder, I have many parts of my body that I have to treat well!
"I came to Fed Cup, and hadn't played doubles the whole two years. When our captain was asking, 'Galina, are you ready?' I said, 'I don't know because I have no idea how I will play!' Can you imagine? I have no idea if the level that I played last time in 2014 will be there in Indian Wells. I know I will do my best and try to prepare.
"I feel like Scarlett from Gone With the Wind: I will think about this tomorrow!"
Follow Galina as she continues her comeback on Twitter @g_voskoboeva!
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.