PARIS (Reuters) - Former French Open runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrated her return to Roland Garros with a dominant win over Czech Linda Fruhvirtova on Monday and said she had feared for her career a year ago due to a knee problem.
The 31-year-old enjoyed her best run at a Grand Slam at the 2021 tournament before losing to Czech Barbora Krejcikova in the final and skipped last year's edition as well as the second half of the season to nurse an injury that limited her playing time.
Pavlyuchenkova said she was forced to go through extensive rehabilitation and stopped playing tennis completely for around five months, with the lack of physical activity during the process leaving her out of shape.
"It was a rollercoaster of emotions because I was sad. I was close to crying, but also sad because I wasn't sure what (comes)after," Pavlyuchenkova told reporters after her 6-2 6-2 victory over the 18-year-old Fruhvirtova.
"There were also thoughts, like 'OK, what if I never come back? Or if I skip that long, because I've never done it... what if I never win a match or never be back in good shape? What if that's it?'
"There were a lot of doubts, but all I knew for sure was that if I were to continue, that was the only way because I was completely out of shape also because I couldn't work hard at all because of pain.
"I barely could jog, walk or sit down. It was painful all the time. So that was definitely not a knee for a professional athlete. I had to make that decision. I had to go for it."
The former world number 11, who has slipped to 333rd in the rankings, stepped up her comeback with tour-level wins in Madrid and Rome before a run to the Strasbourg quarter-finals.
She said she was "super focused" on Monday to avoid an early exit at the hands of her young opponent.
"I just said to myself, 'OK, look, if I want to be back to my good form and winning, I have to have to work and show that, OK, I'm there'," Pavlyuchenkova said.
"I just focused on my game. I didn't want to lose the first round. I wanted to stay here as much as possible because it's a very special place for me."
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Paris, editing by Ed Osmond)