Barely a year after the birth of her son Izhaan last October, India’s former-doubles world #1 Sania Mirza has announced her intention to return to competition in 2020. Many had wondered whether Mirza would return to the game after her pregnancy with the 33-year-old, unlike fellow mothers such as Mandy Minella and Serena Williams, who both re-joined the WTA Tour in 2018 after maternity leave, not making an immediate decision on her future in tennis.
But speaking to the Press Trust of India about her comeback, Mirza said: “there are a lot of changes when you have a baby. Your routine and sleep patterns change. I feel fit, my body is where it used to be before I had the baby. It was only six or seven months ago that I thought about returning as a realistic possibility.”
Motherhood and Tennis Comebacks: Differences in Similarity
Mirza’s words underscored how difficult it can be to make a successful comeback to competitive tennis after becoming a mother. Making such a return has become increasingly common in the women’s game, with a number of mothers, including the aforementioned Williams and Minella, as well as the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Evgeniya Rodina and Kateryna Bondarenko, currently plying their trade on the WTA Tour. However, their journey’s have been far from straightforward.
Not since Kim Clijsters has a mother won a Grand Slam title and although Williams has reached four Grand Slam finals, even the great American has thus far failed to recapture her former glories. Inevitably, downturns in results have been dissected and analysed, with predictions made about the future prospects of the mothers on the WTA Tour. But what this perhaps fails to take into account is that players’ timescales and indeed objectives are liable to change after becoming a parent.
For some, including Williams, who endured a complicated and potentially life-threating pregnancy, and Azarenka, who found herself locked in a custody battle that prevented her from leaving California for nearly two years, returning to the professional game is in itself an impressive achievement. But Mirza’s announcement has nonetheless generated considerable excitement, particularly in her native India. All the more so because Indian tennis currently finds itself in good shape.
Although consistent success in singles has remained elusive, Indian players remain a real force in doubles. That said, Rohan Bopanna remains the last Indian to have lifted a Grand Slam title, winning the mixed doubles at Roland Garros in 2017 alongside Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski, and as such the return of six-time Major winner Mirza to the sport will surely give her compatriots of both genders a real boost. Particularly with Tokyo 2020 now fast approaching.
Focus on the 2020 Tokyo Games
In 2016, the fourth-seeded pair of Mirza and Bopanna lost in the semifinals of the mixed doubles in Rio to the United States’ Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram. They then fell just short in the bronze medal match, with the Czech pair of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka winning in straight-sets. But although hopes of an improvement on that will surely be high in India, Mirza is not looking too far ahead as she prepares for her comeback.
“I’ve been to the Olympics three times and last time we were unlucky not to win a medal,” she said. “If I’m able to put myself in that position to be able to compete at the Olympics again for the fourth time in my life, I’d be really honoured and privileged. But I’ve got three slams before the Olympics and for me, it’s week-to-week and day-to-day.”
That practical approach is evident in her refusal to make a premature decision about playing a $25,000 ITF event in Mumbai later this month. Mirza has been struggling with pain in her wrist caused by Chikungunya, a virus carried by mosquitoes that can led to joint pain, which she was diagnosed with three months ago, and the likelihood of her participation in Mumbai is only around 50-50. Still Mirza remains certain that she will be in Tasmania for the Hobart International before returning to the biggest stage at Melbourne Park for the Australian Open.
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