Rebecca Marino says her game hasn't changed much physically in the eight years since her last appearance at a tennis Grand Slam.
After overcoming numerous challenges in road back to the sport's biggest stage, however, Marino says she is in a better place mentally.
"I still have the big serve and big baseline ground strokes," Marino said in a video conference Wednesday from Melbourne, Australia, where she is preparing for next month's Australian Open.
"I think the biggest difference would be in terms of competitive spirit. I feel like I'm a lot mentally stronger now."
The 30-year-old from Vancouver qualified for the first Grand Slam of 2021 by winning all three of her matches at a qualifying tournament earlier this month in Dubai without dropping a set.
It was a promising start to the tennis season for Marino, once ranked in the top-40 on the WTA Tour, after years of setbacks.
Marino last appeared in a Grand Slam tournament at the 2013 Australian Open, losing in the first round to China's Peng Shuai. She took almost five years off from the sport shortly after that, citing battles with depression.
She worked on her physical and mental well-being during her time away, studied English literature, and competed on the varsity rowing team at the University of British Columbia.
"I think back to that period of my life and I feel like I was a different person," Marino said. "What I would tell other people is that that period of your life is not forever.
"If you do the right things to get yourself in a better mental state, whether it's talking or other steps to take care of your mental health, it's obviously very important. I feel if I hadn't have done that, I wouldn't be in this position I am now."
Marino returned to tennis in 2017, but her comeback was hampered by a severe foot injury. She didn't play a competitive match from June 2019 until the qualifying tournament in Dubai. During that time, Marino's father, Joe, died of cancer at age 59.
"His health battles and challenges were what inspired me," Marino said. "Considering that 2020 was probably the most challenging year of my life, I'm really proud to make it here with him in mind through a lot of the process."
Now ranked No. 312 in the world, Marino said she would love to win "at least a round" in Melbourne.
"I want to make sure I leave it all on the court," she said.
She hopes the fact she's already played some competitive tennis this year will work to her advantage.
"I at least had my qualifying matches to sort of get the rust off, so I feel like I might be a little bit more at an advantage than some players who might be coming in completely fresh in the new year."
Marino is one of seven Canadians in the main singles draws in Melbourne. Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., and Leylah Annie Fernandez of Laval, Que., are also in the women's draw, while Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., Vancouver's Vasek Pospisil and Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime are in the men's draw.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.
The Canadian Press