How Daria Saville overcame chronic pain to score an Australian Open wildcard

Daria Gavrilova has a new surname – Saville – and renewed hope about her career as she prepares to contest another Australian Open

Daria Saville is recovered from Achilles tendon surgery and ready to again take the WTA Tour by storm. Picture: Michael Klein
Daria Saville is recovered from Achilles tendon surgery and ready to again take the WTA Tour by storm. Picture: Michael Klein

Daria Saville remembers throwing her shoes – not in anger, but pain – after her second-round loss to Ash Barty at this year’s Australian Open.

It was a crossroads moment for the former top-20 star, in what was then already a five-year battle with a right Achilles issue that cut her down in her prime.

With her Achilles still warm from taking it up to the world No.1, Saville (nee Gavrilova) played doubles alongside close friend Ellen Perez then broke the news to her team about what was happening.

“I told them my pain was probably a 10 out of 10,” the 27-year-old told News Corp.

“All my team were like, ‘That’s not good. Are you sure? You’re probably overreacting’ but I just said, ‘I can’t keep doing this’.”

What happened next helped set in motion Saville’s comeback, which will continue at next month’s Australian Open, where she has scored a main draw singles wildcard.

Countrywomen Storm Sanders and Maddison Inglis are the other wildcard recipients so far, with more still to be announced in the coming weeks.

Daria Saville (left) was in severe pain in her right Achilles after her second-round Australian Open match against Ash Barty. Picture: Michael Klein
Daria Saville (left) was in severe pain in her right Achilles after her second-round Australian Open match against Ash Barty. Picture: Michael Klein

“I was hoping I’d get one but it’s never a certainty,” Saville said.

“I obviously didn’t play much this year, but I showed my good level at the Billie Jean King Cup tie, had a really good training week and had a pretty good win (over Greet Minnen).

“I was able to come back after a long time off and produce some good tennis, so I think that’s why I got rewarded with the wildcard.

“I think it shows that I’m not the only one who believes that I can get back to the top 50 – and that’s my biggest goal right now.”

It’s been a tough and at-times emotional journey to this stage for Saville, who married her long-time partner and world No.23 doubles player Luke Saville in Melbourne this month.

Post-Australian Open scans revealed a Haglund’s bump, which forms on the back of the heel bone, had swollen considerably and was rubbing on and causing severe pain in her right Achilles tendon.

Daria Saville married fellow tennis player Luke Saville in Melbourne in December. Picture: Sarah Matray
Daria Saville married fellow tennis player Luke Saville in Melbourne in December. Picture: Sarah Matray

On top of that, Saville was also still dealing with Enthesopathy – in simple terms, damage to the connective tissues between the bone and tendons – from overuse.

Everyone realised the time for surgery had arrived, after previously hoping extended time off would solve the problem.

“This was basically the last option, but I was like, ‘If I want to continue playing tennis and give myself the best shot, I have to get this done’,” Saville said.

“It was pretty frustrating for me, because from 2019 to 2021 I didn’t play much at all. I thought it wouldn’t get worse if I was conservative and built back up – but it did.”

Saville had to remain stationary while hitting balls for months afterwards, and otherwise stayed fit running and kicking in the MSAC pool before the Covid-19 lockdown.

She also paid a cobbler to insert wedges into the heels of her runners in another preventive measure.

Daria Saville made a triumphant return from injury for Australia at the Billie Jean King Cup in November, defeating Belgian Greet Minnen. Picture: AFP
Daria Saville made a triumphant return from injury for Australia at the Billie Jean King Cup in November, defeating Belgian Greet Minnen. Picture: AFP

Running, at least away from the court, is no longer part of Saville’s training regimen for fear of exacerbating her injury, which she concedes will need to be managed for the rest of her career.

There was a mental toll, too, being isolated in Melbourne while her tennis peers and closest friends continued on the tour.

Planning her wedding, developing a popular TikTok page with her sausage dog Tofu – @dasha_tofu has almost one million followers – and making bracelets kept her busy when she wasn’t training.

But fit-again Saville is determined to again scale the WTA Tour and has no doubt she can, even if it will take some time to recapture her best.

“I’ve had to manage this for so long and when I won the tournament in New Haven (four years ago), I was in a similar state with my injury,” she said.

“So many athletes have something they’re dealing with and it’s annoying but it’s kind of part of my career now.”

Originally published as How Daria Saville overcame chronic pain to score an Australian Open wildcard

Add your comment to this story

To join the conversation, please Don't have an account? Register

Join the conversation, you are commenting as Logout