"Thank you very much my team for supporting me", Sara Errani said smilingly as she accepted her trophy for winning the Indian Wells Challenger playing against Kateryna Bondarenko. It's been a few years ago that Errani had won her last title at the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Tournament, a very happy time.
But it's been a difficult few years that Errani had to overcome upheavals and this title has been a welcomed light at the end of a darkened tunnel she once endured in her career. A while back she and her doubles partner Roberta Vinci had dissolved their playing relations after winning many titles together and soon afterwards her ranking in singles had sunk.
Then last year it was a retirement during the second set of the 2017 Australian Open opposite Ekaterina Makarova with a leg ailment and months later a withdrawal from the 2017 Dubai Duty Free with hip injuries sustained from her play at Fed Cup with Slovakia.
After that it was her having a failed drug test that nearly tore apart her tennis career. "I feel very frustrated", Errani had said sadly when the routine urine sample tested by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in February of 2017 came up positive for 'letrozole', a chemical used in the treatment for breast cancer which Errani's mother was taking at the time for the disease.
It was difficult to believe her reason for the positive reading, saying that her mother left the pills near the kitchen workspace while preparing a meal and it accidentally fell into the food's sauce of which she ingested.
Since Errani's history of urine samples and playing regimes were always within proper guidelines, she received only a two-month ban from tennis. This suspension took a toil on her finances, playing capacity and rankings from August through October of 2017.
Sara Errani's rankings once in the top 10s and then 20s had slipped down into the top 100s and this 2018 tour she intended to have a turnaround season, but the ASB Classic in Auckland, she lost at the opening round and the Dubai Duty Free of which she missed last year, she'd bowed out in the second round to Angelique Kerber.
It was coming into Indian Wells 125K Challenger, that turned out to be a good thing. She had lasted throughout the tournament playing and staying healthy. The opening round with Jennifer Brady, she took hold and won in straight sets.
The second round with Kristie Ahn and the third with Danielle Collins, Errani showed mental toughness and stamina to win both rounds as she headed into the final of a Challenger she never though to do so well. The last round was with the Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko, ranked no.
84 who the Italian knew could be a tough opponent. The final match wasn't going great for Errani as she had a slow start and seen herself down 1-4 as Bondarenko played aggressive, calling all the shots. But somehow winning the second game after going the deuce-ad status many times, gave the Italian the drive and determination she needed to win the next four games and the set 6-4.
The win was a great confidence-builder for her as she started playing with a fury then advanced to 2-0 in the second set. There was a few nervous moments and unforced errors that followed giving Bondarenko a few games, but it must have been a vision for Errani of her title win in Dubai in 2016 that caused her to play well and focused to win the set, match and title.
Errani was relieved the match was over and the result 6-4, 6-2 was in her favor as she gave credit to Bondarenko for playing a good game and happily was given her trophy to pose for pictures. This has to be the start of better times to come for Sara Errani who has went through trying times personally and professionally.
As she posed with her trophy she probably felt that her great times were really starting and hopefully will continue throughout the 2018 season.