Kim Birrell lets herself peek at the rankings more often lately – and she likes what she sees.

The Gold Coast-raised baseliner is back inside the tennis world’s top 200 for the first time in three years after winning a title in Adelaide last Sunday.

The period in between is best described as hellish, with a serious right elbow problem stalling a career that looked set to take off in 2019, the year of her giant-killing run to the Australian Open’s third round.

It took triple grand slam champion Angelique Kerber to stop Birrell, but not before she bundled out two familiar names in Paula Badosa and Donna Vekic.

Birrell even earned a Fed Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) call-up from Alicia Molik.

But the 24-year-old sunk as low as No.742 on the WTA computer this year, so it’s been quite a journey back to this point, one that saw her playing in far-reaching places like Monastir, in Tunisia.

That was the first stop on a lengthy five-month trip overseas – not helped by her contracting Covid in the first week – only months after she reached the final round of Australian Open qualifying at Melbourne Park.

“Coming back from an injury, you want it to happen really quickly, where you have a really good week and bounce back, but that’s never the case,” Birrell told News Corp.

“I’ve had a couple of experiences now (after injuries) and playing on a protected ranking, so I feel like I have a bit of knowledge on how to schedule … so I’m really happy with the way that my year has gone.

“It was amazing starting the year playing the AO, then after that I went back and played some ITFs in Tunisia and it was a bit of a shock to the system at the beginning.

“But if you love tennis, you’re going to have to play in some not great places and it’s all part of the journey.”

Birrell advanced to the NSW Open semi-finals on Friday – her last tournament of the year – and will surge to a new career-high ranking of about 146 if she goes on to win a second-straight title.

That would make her Australia’s third-ranked women’s player and as good as seal an Australian Open wildcard, although she has almost certainly done enough already.

“I haven’t let myself think too far ahead,” Birrell said.

“But I know that my ranking is inside the cut-off for (AO) qualies, so I’m really stoked that I know I can at least plan to be playing there, and who knows where the wildcards are going to land?”

Her final matches of the year will be played for Royal South Yarra in Tennis Victoria’s Premier League, which began on Friday and concludes with the grand final at Melbourne’s National Tennis Centre on Saturday week.

The grand final will be broadcast live on Kayo Sports from 5pm AEDT.

Other top Aussies playing are Jason Kubler (Royal South Yarra), Maddison Inglis (Royal South Yarra), Wimbledon doubles champion and Davis Cup representative Max Purcell (Royal South Yarra), Jaimee Fourlis (MCC Glen Iris) and Marc Polmans (Kooyong).

“I had five months overseas at one point this year and some weeks are great and there were loads of girls around that I knew and it was super fun – but some weeks were on my own,” Birrell said.

“So any chance we have to play in a team environment; we always jump at the opportunity. I played back in 2017, so I definitely have fond memories from that year.

“I remember there being music and loads of people around and we all know each other so well. It’s still going to be competitive but we’ll have a lot of fun, too.”

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