Ross Hutchins is completing an extraordinary circle as he prepares for his tennis comeback at the place where a year ago the word cancer unexpectedly came into his life.
Hutchins and partner Colin Fleming had finished their 2012 season among the top ten doubles teams in the world and were at La Manga Club in southern Spain preparing for what they had hoped would be an even better campaign in 2013.
However, Hutchins was struggling with back pain that had been affecting him for 18 months and for which he had not found a cause.
It was a physio at La Manga who first suggested it could be a symptom of something more serious, and when Hutchins headed home for tests, it was discovered he had Hodgkins lymphoma.
The cancer had already spread throughout his body but in July, after six months of intensive chemotherapy, he was told he was in remission.
Now Hutchins is back at La Manga alongside Fleming, preparing to make his comeback at the ATP Tour event in Brisbane in two weeks.
Hutchins first came to La Manga with his family as a ten-year-old and he had no hesitation about returning this year despite the association with his illness.
He said: “I’ve come here for 18 years and it’s an absolute gem for me. I absolutely love it.
“I actually look at it favourably because it’s the place that almost made me realise that I had the cancer. I will never think of this place with any negative thoughts. It’s the place that fixed me.”
Fresh from a training camp with best friend Andy Murray and top British prospect Kyle Edmund in Miami, Florida, Hutchins is tanned and back to full health.
He goes for scans every three months to check his cancer is in remission but believes physically he is almost back to where he was before chemotherapy.
Tennis-wise, Hutchins puts himself at 60 per cent but hopes that will be close to 90 per cent by the time the season starts, and higher still for the Australian Open in four weeks’ time.
The 28-year-old will not allow his ordeal to affect the ambition he has for himself and Fleming, central to which is qualifying for the end-of-season Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in November.
“It’s nice to have a second chance,” said Hutchins. “I never thought I’d need a second chance. I knew I’d get injuries but to have to stop and go through a different sort of recuperation and what I’ve had to do the last year, it’s been an experience for me.
“Looking back now a year later I’m pleased and very proud of myself and of the team around me that we’ve been able to get to a stage where I feel I’m able to prepare flat-out and be going to Australia fully fit and raring to go.
“I do feel I’ve got that chance now to try to achieve more than what we did before. We want to make the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and we feel like we’re a good team.
“Just because we’ve had a year off, it doesn’t mean we can’t pick up where we left off across the whole of 2014. We expect to do well, we don’t want to take baby steps.”
Fleming spent 2013 playing mostly with 2012 Wimbledon doubles champion Jonny Marray and is ranked 27th in the world.
Hutchins is now unranked following his absence but can use a protected top-30 ranking to enter 12 events during the season, starting with Brisbane.
Fleming also has high hopes for the coming season but insists he is committed to the partnership however long it takes for the pair to regain their position.
The Scot said: “It’s amazing that he’s back and on the court. I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s playing great, it’s almost like he hasn’t been away.
“As soon as Ross was diagnosed, I think it was that day that he called me and I said then, ‘When you get back to the court, we’ll play again’. It wasn’t even a decision for me to make.
“It might be a difficult year for us but that’s life and I’ve got full belief that the people we are, the players that we are, even if it takes a year or two years, we will get back to where we were before, and that’s definitely worth fighting for.”