For Martina Trevisan, her march to the French Open semifinals is much more than her five wins during the last fortnight. Instead, for the #59 ranked Italian, this match is the next page in a comeback story that she has been writing for more than a decade.
Before this tournament, the 28-year-old was hardly a household name, generally unknown to all but the most dedicated tennis fans. She is already well on the way to changing that, with her big hitting and constant smile marking her out as one of the tournament’s must-watch players.
However, it is her backstory that stands out most. To get here, she has had to overcome a devastating eating disorder which threatened to force her out of the game for good.
Martina Trevisan: A Comeback Story for the Ages
In 2010, a then-teenage Trevisan was diagnosed with anorexia, a disorder which stalled her tennis career for more than four years. In a 2020 blog for The Owl Post, she explained how her illness was prompted by a combination of her father’s degenerative disease, familial friction, and a resentment of her own muscular frame. The situation became so severe that she would eat just one piece of fruit and half a cup of cereal a day, her mother picking peaches off trees in an attempt to feed her.
Desperate to seek help, Trevisan then underwent medical treatment. In her blog, she recounts how, on her first day at the clinic, she was placed in front of a plate of meat and peas. As the allocated time to eat expired, Trevisan’s doctor asked if she had finished, to which she said yes. As she got up, the cutlery lay untouched on the table. But she went back for the next day, and the next. And it paid off.
Recovery was a thorough process. In her own words: “I was re-educated to eat, to make peace with my wounds. To appreciate my new body, to forgive those who made mistakes and to find my time to do things.”
When she next picked up a tennis racket, it was to become a coach at her local club. Despite her physical recovery, a return to professional tennis was realistically a long way off. While she had enjoyed a fruitful career as a junior – making the semi-finals of Wimbledon and the French Open in girls doubles in 2009 – she had never made a splash in the women’s game. Really, she never had the chance.
Return to the tour
It was not until 2014 that Martina Trevisan returned to the world rankings, down at #590. Since then, the slog to the upper echelons of the WTA has been tough. Primarily playing on the ITF circuit, she did not make her full WTA debut until 2017, falling in the first round after qualifying for an event in Gstaad. She was a regular feature in qualifying stages for Grand Slams, but time and time again, she could not find her way into the main draw.
Amid the chaos of the COVID-afflicted 2020 season, it was at Roland Garros that the big-hitting lefty made the long-awaited breakthrough. After spending months in a locked-down Italy, doing workouts via Skype, Trevisan suddenly found herself in the very unfamiliar surroundings of the French Open in October. There, she progressed through qualifying all the way to the tournament’s quarterfinals.
There are some parallels between that event and this 2022 edition. Who did she beat in the second round on her way there? Thursday’s opponent, Coco Gauff.
And who did she eventually lose to? A certain Iga Swiatek, who of course went on to win her maiden Grand Slam that year.
Two years later, those same two women are with Martina Trevisan in the final four, each just two wins away from the title.
Does Trevisan have the game to go all the way this time? The eye test suggests she does, certainly on clay. She has never been past the second round at any other Grand Slam, but her heavy ball striking and speed around the court have proved to be vital weapons on this surface.
She is peaking at the right time, too. So far, she has lost just one set in this tournament, in the fourth round against the preciously talented Leylah Fernandez. Entering this contest against Gauff, she has won ten matches in a row, running back to her maiden Tour title at the Morocco Open two weeks ago.
Despite her previous victory against Gauff and her apparent clay court specialism, Trevisan is widely considered the underdog in this match. But after fighting for so long to get here, this astonishing comeback tale may well have another chapter written in the Parisian sun.
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