© Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour

Lucas Pouille on Tuesday earned his first ATP Masters 1000 win since Shanghai in 2019.

Pouille: 'I Doubted I Would Ever Play Normally Again'

The Frenchman will next play Popyrin

Lucas Pouille has reached great heights in tennis — winning five ATP Tour titles, reaching the 2019 Australian Open semi-finals and climbing to No. 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings among them. But now, an ordinary match win is an achievement for the Frenchman as he climbs back towards his best form.

The 27-year-old, who missed a year and a half due to a right elbow injury that required surgery, earned his first Top 100 victory since Tokyo in 2019 on Tuesday when he defeated World No. 48 Guido Pella 6-3, 6-4 at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

“It's a good victory for me, for my state of mind and for my game and for my confidence,” Pouille said. “It's only positive.”

In September 2019, Pouille began struggling with his right elbow. That October, he stopped competing. Following tests, the Frenchman received injections and took all of his doctors’ advice, but there were always complications.

“After a while there was a doubt that I would ever be able to play again normally,” Pouille admitted.

The 6’1” righty played one ATP Challenger Tour event last March the week before play was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In July, he underwent surgery and did not compete the rest of the season.

“Of course, the doctor was very confident. For them it was just a small surgery. But on an elbow, for a tennis player, we know it's always a bit difficult,” Pouille said. “It took a lot of time.”

This is Pouille’s seventh tournament of the year at all levels, and he is now 4-6 on the season. But he is practising patience and continuing to work hard, hoping the results will come.

“Of course, I see things differently. That long period off allowed me to think about what I had been doing all these years, what I wanted to do,” Pouille said. “After my loss in Marbella, I could have been down… it was another loss after a very tight match. I could have been discouraged. But I remained very positive. We remained positive in the team. We kept on working. We came here in a good state of mind.”

Perhaps the most important thing is that Pouille is healthy. He can fully focus on his tennis.

“Everything is fine with my elbow. I have no pain. I'm not afraid. I can serve normally. During more than a year, I was not able to serve 100 per cent, so that was a long time,” Pouille said. “This is the most difficult shot I have to adjust now. I have to find the rhythm, the whole movement, to be able to serve at my best level. This takes time, a lot of repetition. But now everything is fine. I have no pain at all. This is positive.”

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The World No. 86 is simply happy to be competing. While all players missed more than five months because of the pandemic last year, it was an even longer stretch for Pouille because of his injury.

“I spent a year and a half without touching a racquet on the Tour. I missed a lot playing tennis. I'm happy now the Tour is going on,” Pouille said. “We are able to play. I enjoy it. I'm happy the tournament is on and I can do my job and I can wake up every morning to do what I like to do and what I worked hard for.”

Pouille will play Australian qualifier Alexei Popyrin for a spot in the third round against Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who upset eighth seed Matteo Berrettini on Tuesday. The Frenchman is not thinking too far ahead, though.

“I’m just wanting to win match after match, trying to implement what I've been working on during practice and build up my confidence. This kind of match helps,” Pouille said of his win against Pella. “Now I have to do the same tomorrow and keep going.”

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