Petra Kvitova admitted she had to overcome mental barriers to return to a grand slam final for the first time since she was the victim of a knife attack in December 2016.
The Czech star was left fearing for her career after suffering severe injuries to her playing hand in the attack at her home and she has subsequently struggled at majors, having previously twice won Wimbledon.
But Kvitova reached the final of the Australian Open on Thursday – beating Danielle Collins 7-6 (7-2) 6-0 – and revealed that it had been a battle to find form again on a big stage after such a setback.
"The losses [at Grand Slams] felt pretty long," she told a news conference. "I had two highlights, when I reached the quarterfinal at the US Open [in 2017] and last year was OK in the US as well [reaching the third round]."
"But obviously, for the mental side, it wasn't really easy to deal with that every time, coming to the Grand Slams and losing. Maybe that's why this is probably sweeter than it should be."
Kvitova continued: "To be honest, I'm still not really believing that I'm in the final. It's kind of weird, to be honest, as well, as I didn't know even if I was going to play tennis again."
"It wasn't really nice time to be dealing with everything [after the attack]. It wasn't only physically but mentally very tough, as well."
Kvitova acknowledges that many people still doubted her ability to return to the top as she travelled to Melbourne, but she thanked those close to her for their belief.
"To be honest, I think not very many people believed that I could do this again, to stand on the court and play tennis and play at this level," she said. "There was very few of them, I think."
"I'm very happy to have those few around me, which is the best. It definitely feels great - hopefully for them, as well, for my family and for everybody who was there when I needed it."