Photo : Martin Sidorjak
September 1st, 2010. Arthur Ashe Stadium, New York City.
Third seed and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams is being given all she can handle in the second round of the US Open by a big-serving 19-year-old from British Columbia.
Despite losing the encounter, expectations were high for the young Rebecca Marino.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case in life, things did not go according to plan.
That duel with Williams would stand as the high point in Marino’s career, which appeared to come to an abrupt end in 2013 when the Canadian unexpectedly took an indefinite break from tennis at the age of just 22, citing burnout. At the time, she was ranked 418th in the world having reached a career-high of No. 38.
However, it was not the end.
After several years battling mental health struggles, Marino returned to the game in 2017 and has been working her way back towards the top ever since.
On Monday, she reached a new milestone, re-entering the Top 100 at No. 99 in the WTA rankings for the first time since Feb. 19, 2012.
The road back to the Top 100 started in 2017, when Marino announced her return to the sport.
It was not until 2018 that she stepped foot on court, at a $15K event in Antalya, Turkey, for her first competitive match since the 2013 Australian Open. Her road was all downhill to start, as she not only won her first event back, she won her first three, winning 19 matches in a row to kick off her comeback.
In total, Marino won five titles out of six finals in 2018. Having started the year at 917 in the world, she finished at 215, even re-entering the Top 200 for several weeks.
The following year, she made her first stab at Grand Slam play, entering qualifying at the Australian Open and Roland-Garros, reaching the second round at the latter, although her main draw return would have to wait.
Also in 2019, she claimed the $60K title in Kurume, Japan, her biggest win since October 2010.
From 2019 to early 2021, her ranking was stuck in the high 200s and low 300s and an inability to get matches in due to the COVID-19 pandemic slowed Marino’s ascent.
But when the calendar flipped to 2021, the Canadian got back on track, not dropping a set in three matches to qualify for the main draw at the Australian Open. In her first Grand Slam match in eight years, Marino defeated Kimberly Birrell in straight sets to reach the second round of a major for the first time since the 2011 Wimbledon Championships.
Since the start of 2021, Marino has appeared in the main draw at five of the six Grand Slam events she has entered (having skipped Wimbledon in 2021), coming through qualifying four of five tim.
Playing on the ITF circuit and going through qualifying for majors is critical to gain ranking points to get into the big events, but it does not provide the opportunity for players to test their mettle against the best of the best in the game.
When Marino has had that opportunity during the second phase of her career, she has acquitted herself well.
The Billie Jean King Cup has provided multiple opportunities for Marino to face off with players she does not get the chance to meet on a regular basis, and the Vancouverite has proven that she has the game to hang with the best of them.
At the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Prague, she pushed Roland-Garros runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to three sets. She also teamed up with Gabriela Dabrowski for a critical doubles victory over the defending champions from France.
Playing on home soil in the qualifying round in Vancouver earlier in 2022, she came out victorious in a critical singles match against the Latvians to give Canada a stranglehold on the tie, which they would eventually win.
Perhaps the biggest moment of Marino’s comeback came last summer, also on home soil this time in Montreal, when she went on a run at the National Bank Open.
She was the last Canadian standing in singles at the 1000-level event, reaching the third round after a pair of major upsets.
In the first round, she took out 16th seed Madison Keys in straight sets.
Next up was Paula Badosa, who while unseeded in Montreal, was a young player in the ascendancy and would finish 2021 ranked No. 8. But despite taking the first set 6-1, it was to be Marino’s day on home soil as the Canadian fought back to take the next two sets to reach the third round.
Her run ended in the last sixteen at the hands of top seed Aryna Sabalenka, but reaching the third round of a WTA 1000 event was the best result at that level in Marino’s career so far.
Wimbledon this year was the final step on the B.C.-native’s way back into the Top 100.
As an indicator of how far she has come, Marino received direct entry into the main draw for The Championships, the first time she entered a major without having to go through qualifying since 2013, and even then that was with a protected ranking.
Ironically, Marino was one of the few players who actually benefitted from Wimbledon not having ranking points in 2022. Because she had none to defend, her ranking was not hurt when the points from the 2021 event dropped.
However, players around her did suffer from the loss, allowing the Canadian to sneak up and re-enter the Top 100.
It may have been a strange way to reach the milestone, but it was well-deserved. And, given the steady progress she has been making since 2017, inevitable.