Three weeks ago, Flavia Pennetta was asked by her physio whether she felt she could ever reach a grand slam final, let alone win it.
“I said ‘No,'” explained the 33-year-old Italian.
On Saturday, Pennetta has the chance to prove herself wrong when she plays the US Open championship match as the oldest first-time finalist at a major in the modern era.
“I mean, for a lot of reasons I think my answer was no, but like you always say you never know,” said Pennetta, who has made the final in her 49th grand slam appearance.
“You just have to play and try your best, and the good things come when you never expect.
“When you want too much something and you really like say this is the moment I have to do this and that, always it’s gonna be a big mess.”
Pennetta, the winner of 10 titles in her career, has got used to dealing with the “big mess.”
The biggest of all was off court when her private life fell apart eight years ago.
She had been dating Spanish tennis player Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, but their three-year relationship ended in 2007.
Pennetta was devastated by the end of the affair.
She lost 10 kilos and penned a searing memoir about the break-up, Dritto al Cuore (Straight to the Heart).
“Perhaps the one I lost was not Carlos, but me. He’s a bastard, what more can I say, but if I made a mistake it was in dedicating myself too much to him, at the loss of myself,” Pennetta wrote.
These days, she is happy on the court and off it, linked romantically to fellow player Fabio Fognini, the wild Italian who sent Rafael Nadal crashing out of the US Open in the third round.
If she wins the title at Flushing Meadows, pennetta will break Marion Bartoli’s record for grand slam patience – the Frenchwoman won her first and only major at Wimbledon in 2013 at the 47th attempt.
Pennetta will also rise to eight in the world.
It’s a staggering achievement for a woman who was close to quitting last year because of a crippling wrist injury.
“Really close,” she said. “But it’s easy for me doing this kind of life because it’s nice life.
“Sometimes I have a bad moment like everyone. I mean, I’m a tennis player, but I’m also person. The moon, is going up and down, no?”
The US Open is by far Pennetta’s most successful slam – she was also a semi-finalist in 2013.
A run to the 2014 Australian Open quarter-finals was the only other time she made it beyond the fourth round at the majors.
Furthermore, this year had not been promising – first-round exits at the Australian Open and Wimbledon bookended a last-16 spot at Roland Garros.
Her US hardcourt campaign was just as underwhelming, with losses to Serena Williams in the second round of Toronto and Cincinnati followed by a woeful opening-round loss to Magdalena Rybarikova in New Haven.
“In the last three years I just keep playing because, for me, it’s something I really love to do,” said a pensive Pennetta.
“I don’t see myself without tennis. It’s not easy for a player to I think take this decision and say it’s over.
“It’s like a new life completely. So sometimes it is the more scary thing, no? Because life, it’s going to change, but most of the time it changes for the better. I hope so.”