Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Janko Tipsarevic may have come up a second-round loser in Houston this week, but it was a victory of sorts for the Serbian veteran who got to play his first ATP tennis in almost 18 months.
The former world No. 8 star from Belgrade first started to experience pain in his left foot at the beginning of 2013, a problem that forced him to pull out of a fourth-round match at the Aussie Open.
An MRI showed what doctors thought was inflammation, and he continued to play almost the entire '13 season with the help of injections and painkillers.
But in the spring of last year, "Tipsy" decided to have surgery, and that's when the doctors found the cause of all the pain: a benign tumor.
Tipsarevic had a relatively injury-free existence from the time he first picked up a tennis racket at the age of 6. But he wound up bedridden and was then forced to get around on crutches for about three months.
The Serb, obviously, wanted to get back on tour as quickly as possible, but while giving everything he had to his rehab ... the pain returned.
The tumor returned.
Doctors decided to excise about 80 percent of his plantar fascia, the thick connective tissue that supports the arch on the bottom of the foot and connects the heel to the toes.
The surgery was a success, but the 30-year-old was told that if the tumor were to return for a third time, it would probably end his tennis career.
Despite the birth of his daughter, Emili, and the support of his family, Tipsarevic was beset with feelings of anxiety and depression.
"I wasn't myself. I wasn't happy even though everything else in my life was going great; everybody was healthy and we had a lovely daughter," he said. "I honestly didn't know that tennis meant so much to me until I wasn't able to play."
In 2008, Tipsarevic stunned the crowd at the Australian Open when he took the great Roger Federer to a dramatic fifth set in a the third-round match, all the while sporting his trademark look, complete with glasses and tattoos.
In 2011, he would become a Top 10 star instead of a Top 50 fixture. He reached no less than five finals that year and corralled the first two titles of his career.
As has so often been the case in recent years, Tipsarevic is a player who didn't hit his stride until his late 20s. Perhaps players feel a sense of urgency at that stage.
A host of foot surgeries may have a way of increasing that sense of urgency.
During a second go at rehab, Tipsarevic spent several hours on the court hitting forehands and backhands while sitting in a chair.
His determination allowed Tipsy to make a comeback to the doubles court in Miami last month, as he paired with current world No. 1 great and fellow Serb Novak Djokovic.
"I didn't even ask him to play," Tipsarevic said. "I told him, 'I'm not even asking you because I see you are very tired.' He told me, 'No, we're going to play -- you're going to need it.'"
Unfortunately, the pair lost its opening match at the Miami Open, but it helped Tipsarevic immensely knowing that he had the support of the top player in the world.
"Not many No. 1s in history who won in Indian Wells the week before would agree to play doubles the week after," Tipsarevic said.
He finally made his long-awaited singles comeback this week, and it was a success. He beat Brazilian qualifier Guilherme Clezar in a third-set tiebreak in Houston to get his feet (or bad foot) wet once again.
And fans and fellow players are glad to see him back, as JT hadn't played a singles match since October 2013.
"I'm aware that I'm turning 31 this year," said the four-time ATP titlist. "I don't have many years left. My goal and dream would be to come back to the Top 10, and I don't have many weeks to waste."
So Tipsarevic is back! Whether he will return to the Top 10 remains to be seen.
With a protected ranking and upcoming wild cards at a bevy of ATP events, he hopes to enjoy a full season of tennis.
So do we.