By Mark Lamport-Stokes
INDIAN WELLS, California (Reuters) - Barely a month after considering quitting the sport, Russian Dinara Safina celebrated being back in the winner's circle at the Indian Wells WTA tournament on Monday.
The former world number one dominated from the baseline as she stunned fourth-seeded Australian Samantha Stosur 7-6 6-4 in the third round of the elite event, and was all smiles after wards as she savored the victory.
"Definitely it's a nice feeling to get it back," Safina, 24, told reporters after winning three successive matches for the first time since last year's Australian Open.
"It's been a while since I had these feelings, after winning a match and you really can smile and enjoy the win. Many things have happened, so I really want just to enjoy the moment."
Safina became the 19th woman to reach the top of the rankings in April 2009 but has since plummeted to 108th after being troubled by a back injury for much of last year.
At the Australian Open in January, she suffered the embarrassment of being beaten 6-0 6-0 by Kim Clijsters in the opening round and soon after she contemplated quitting.
"After Australia, it was tough," she recalled. "I said to my mom: 'I'm retiring'. I said: 'I don't want any more of this'. For me it was tough because I knew that I'm gonna start from the next week with a new coach.
"It was a moment that was going in my mind, like: 'Will I be back?' But there is a saying that you never give up."
Safina stayed on the tour, playing two matches in Malaysia before returning to welcome surrounds of Indian Wells where she reached the quarter-finals in 2006 and 2009.
"Two days ago was pretty good," she said, referring to her 7-6 6-4 victory over former champion Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia in the second round.
"And going out today, I started to get at least the rhythm of the matches. At least I started to know what I expect from myself."
Asked how long she had been pain-free from her lingering back injury, Safina replied: "I guess from the beginning of this year. After the vacations I took last year and then I had the practice, basically this year I can say like pain-free.
"It still can get the muscle tight, but it's nothing to compare like how it can be like."
Safina will take on fellow Russian Maria Sharapova in the fourth round on Tuesday when she hopes to keep her on-court renaissance alive.
"She's a great player," Safina said of the former world number one. "She's a great competitor. Tomorrow I'm gonna go out there, do my best and I'll fight like I do."
(Editing by Ian Ransom)