10/22/2012 11:03 EDT | Updated 12/22/2012 05:12 EST

Canadian women's tennis star Rebecca Marino enjoys success after extended break

VANCOUVER - Rebecca Marino never lost hope that she could resume her tennis career, and now her decision to take a seven-month break is paying off.

The 21-year-old Vancouver native heads into this weekend's National Bank Women's Challenger tournament in Saguenay, Que., fresh off a victory in a USTA event in Rock Hill, S.C. It was Marino's first title since she took a self-imposed hiatus in February because she was suffering from mental and physical fatigue.

"Mentally, I feel very good," Marino said Monday on a conference call. "And on the physical side of things, I just feel like it was bang on."

Marino beat Toronto native Sharon Fichman 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in a rare all-Canadian final. The Vancouverite survived three match points after she battled her way into the tournament's main draw and final through the qualifying segment.

Marino is hoping to use the Saguenay event and tournaments during the rest of this year to earn her way into the Australian Open. As a result of her time off, Marino's 115th world ranking is protected for a year.

The victory in the Rock Hill Challenger came in the fifth tournament on her comeback trail. Marino estimated she kept her rackets packed away for a total of four months before she returned to the court to train.

"I knew I was coming back at some point," she said. "I started missing it a lot."

Last year, the former Canadian junior star rose as high as 38th in the Women's Tennis Association rankings before her woes took their toll.

The break has changed her perspective, because she now competes mainly on the lower-level Women's Tennis Federation tour instead of the WTA circuit that features the world's best players.

"That was a bit of a difference — for sure," she said.

Marino credited her recovery to a decision to move back to Vancouver about a year ago from her former Montreal training base. She now trains at the University of British Columbia under coach Alex Korch, a former top Canadian junior who also competed professionally for about four years before getting into teaching.

"I have a really good network of friends and family back home, and they're really supportive of me being on the road," Marino said.

The move back to Vancouver has also allowed her to do simple things like spend time with her dog and cat and "go for coffee."

When asked how she will deal with the grinding travel on the women's circuit, Marino said it's something all players have to get used to. The fatigue factor is not unique to her, either.

Marino's break began after she lost in the first round of the Australian Open in January and withdrew from the Federation Cup Americas Zone Group I event in February.

She returned at the Memphis Open, where she had reached her first WTA final in 2011, but lost in the first round, and then withdrew from WTA Premier events in Indian Wells, Miami and Charleston before Tennis Canada announced in March she was taking a rest from competition.

Although the decision to take time off from competition early in the year was difficult, Marino felt it was necessary.

"I was at the point where my body was telling me it needed a break," she said.

Note: Other Canadians taking part in the Saguenay event include Fichman and reigning Wimbledon junior women's champion Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que.