All Daria Saville wanted in 2022 was a chance to play.
After two years of frustration, injury and setbacks, her bold run to the Fourth Round at Indian Wells is proof that if given that chance, the ceiling is still high for the 28-year-old.
Coming into 2022, Saville had played only seven matches since August 2019 with a persistent Achilles injury threatening to derail her career.
The former world No.20 and two-time Australian Open fourth-rounder started the year simply looking for continuity, in the hope it would allow her game to naturally develop.
“I think where I’m at is that I really need to get back on court and get some matches under my belt and build from there,” she said after her first-round Australian Open exit.
“I’m really hoping to play a full season this year. The last two years I’ve played seven matches in 2020 and five matches in 2021, so a bit underdone, but yeah, I’m really looking forward to playing a full season.”
Saville lost a tight semifinal last week against America’s Sloane Stephens in Guadalajara, having defeated US Open champion Emma Raducanu along the way.
She backed that up with a strong week in California, claiming the scalps of world No.10 Ons Jabeur and world No.23 Elise Mertens during the tournament.
The win over Jabeur was her first over a top 10 player since 2018, and she defeated four consecutive top 50 ranked players, having only beaten one since 2019.
The Australian spoke with The First Serve’s Brett Phillips this week about trying to recapture her best form from a few years ago.
“I can’t really compare my level now to 2017 when I played my best.” She said.
“So, I’m just taking it one match at a time and showing a good attitude, but I’m certainly proud of my efforts though.”
Saville won five matches in a row for the first time since 2017 (when she won the WTA Newhaven title), but most importantly she is building trust in her body after it had failed her in recent times.
“I didn’t know before the tournament if I could play five matches in a row. But here I’ve actually played six and I’m confident with my body now.”
As well as finally being fit again, Saville has made some adjustments to her game coming out of her Australian Open campaign, with a focus on her court position and her backhand grip.
“I was trying to hold the baseline and I don't like that. I'm way too rushed, I don't have time. This is not working for me. The reason why we did that was because of my Achilles. We thought if I'm more aggressive hopefully I'll run less, but it just doesn't work for me. I didn't like it.” Saville told the WTA during Indian Wells.
“We looked at the Hawkeye data and I was standing way closer to the baseline. I was like, compare me to Halep and Barty and I was way closer to the baseline. I don't think that's good for me. So I was like, 'OK, I'm going back, let's just see how it works."
Saville also told WTA that her backhand and serve has undergone some tinkering as well in recent months.
“Now I have a gap with the way I'm holding my racquet. I have a longer racquet. When you have a longer racquet, it's harder to control with the left hand. But now that my left hand is a bit higher, I know where my racquet head is.
“I'm also double-faulting a lot less. I was double-faulting so much in Australia and it's nothing to do with my serve. Technically, my serve is pretty good, but I was thinking of my opponents, how aggressive they're going to be on their return, so I wouldn't commit to my patterns, and I would just be freaking out.“
Saville is scheduled to take on Greet Minnen of Belgium in the opening round at Miami this week, with a meeting with Simona Halep up for grabs if she wins.