Vera Zvonareva's rehabilitation took a massive step forward yesterday when she won the DFS Classic at Edgbaston Priory and claimed her first title for 16 months.
The Russian 21-year-old took two tie-breaks to subdue the challenge of Jamea Jackson, including a marathon 26-point decider in the first set, but in the end her bigger serve and powerful forehand proved too much for her American opponent.
Although it was nervy at times, Zvonareva spurned five opportunities to close out a seemingly interminable 79-minute first set, the tournament got the Russian winner it always expected, though perhaps not the one everyone wanted.
Jackson's shocking defeat of double-defending champion Maria Sharapova in Saturday's semi-final meant the showpiece event had something of an unfamiliar lineup, both to supporters and participants.
While it was the first senior final of 19-year-old's fledgling career, Zvonareva was appearing in just her second since she claimed a tournament of similar status in Memphis in February 2005.
That statistic alone tells the story of how far a young woman once ranked ninth in the world, has fallen in the last couple of years.
She arrived in Birmingham last week having lost more matches in 2006 than she had won and having endured a three-month sequence in which she failed to get through a single first round.
But this week the power of her ground-strokes has been too great for Anne Kremer, Martina Sucha, Anna Chakvetadze and Francesca Schiavone and so it proved yesterday against Jackson, the world No 82.
However, there were times when it appeared that even the Muscovite wasn't sure her brute strength would be enough to subdue an opponent who never stopped snapping at her heels. In fact even when she'd won, she didn't realise.
As Jackson went long on match-point in the second set breaker Zvonareva retreated from the baseline and prepared herself to receive once more. It had, after all been a while since she won a tournament.
"I did not know what the score was," she giggled. "I remembered the tie break from the first set and knew that if I counted I would not be able to put any balls in.
"I thought I had to win one more point but when the chair umpire said 'Game, set and match,' and I had won, it was great."
She felt as much relief as elation. Her progress in the first set was interrupted by two medical time outs for a nosebleed - a condition she has had since childhood.
Although the stoppages did not have any lasting legacy they hinted at a fragility that was both mental and physical.
Zvonareva botched her first set point at 6-5 and then, proceeded to establish supremacy at 6-6 only to waste another four chances. Eventually at 13-12 Jackson went wide with a routine backhand to give Zvonareva the set.
That put the Russian on her way and she reeled off the first four games of the second stanza only to buckle when Jackson threw off the shackles and went for her shots to win the next five. Two breaks of serve followed at 5-5 and we were in a tie-break once more.
This time though, Zvonareva claimed it 7-5 as Jack-son's desperation to hit the lines ultimately cost her.
The manner of the victory was significant for Zvonareva. "It means a lot to feel you can go through so many matches in a row, show great fight and come out as the winner," she said.
"This tournament could not have ended any better. I have won six matches in a row and I am playing really great."
She is, however, unsure whether she is approaching the level that saw her break into the top ten in August 2004.
"I am getting close to that but there are still a few things I can work on," she continued. "My confidence was not at its best because I had to play some tough matches all the time and I was not always coming out a winner. But I am feeling better now and improving a lot."
Jackson meanwhile, is hopeful the progress she has made this week will be maintained: "The goal is to sustain this standard," she said.
"This week has been incredible for me. I was not able to pull through in the final but I have gone up quite a few levels."
Indeed. The Atlanta-born player, like Sharapova product of the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida, devastated the top half of the draw through the course of the last few days.
Before knocking out Sharapova, Jackson had done for last year's finalist Jelena Jankovic and No 4 seed Elena Likhovtseva in consecutive games.
"Those matches were draining," she admitted. "The players I played were tough opponents, not just physically but mentally. I had to fight for every point."
The doubles event was won by Jankovic and Na Li who beat Jill Craybas and Liezel Huber 6-2, 6-4.