Dubai: “Last night was a rough night and I didn’t get to sleep until 4am. And then I have a child who wakes up for food a couple of times during the night. After that, to come out here and get that intensity going is a tough ask. Mentally, I think I can do it but I think it is more the body. It is really day to day.”
That, in a few words nearly summed up what India’s greatest women’s tennis player Sania Mirza is putting herself through as she makes a comeback on the WTA Tour.
Way back in November, Sania announced her plans to join the likes of new mothers Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Mandy Minella. The comeback was a winning one indeed as the 33-year-old Indian teamed up with Ukrainian Nadiia Kichenok to claim their first title together at the Hobart International in the first half of January.
Personally, Sania – who will turn 34 later this year – is ready for the varied challenges ahead, but she literally has to take things one day at a time. “I have to take it day by day as my body really reacts very differently now. It could be just age or it could be the child birth. I really don’t know,” she admitted.
“I am a few years older than the last time I played and I know my body doesn’t recover as well now than compared to before.”
And yet, the Indian wants to continue doing what she feels is the best for her, simply because of the winning moments. Such as last weekend, when India joined China as the two nations to play against Latvia and the Netherlands in Fed Cup play-offs presumably to be held on April 17-18. At this moment Sania – who left Dubai in the early hours of Sunday for Indian Wells only for the tournament to be cancelled due to the coronavirus around the time she landed – doesn’t know what lies in store for her.
After skipping the first two ties against China and Uzbekistan, Sania teamed up with Ankita Raina to win crucial doubles on the remaining three days against South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Indonesia to assure India ended with a historic first-ever entry into the Fed Cup play-offs. India’s previous best was in 2006 when they ended up as runners-up in the Asia/Oceania Group I. And now, in her “second innings”, India are literally two ties away from competing in the 2021 Fed Cup Finals scheduled to be held in Budapest.
“I am here for moments like these. This is why I made a comeback - to try and feel these feelings and these are feelings that you can’t replace in normal life as you are not winning tennis matches. We are so privileged to do what we are doing,” Sania said.
“It’s great to be able to see this historic moment in my second innings, and I am glad that I was able to play my part in this success,” she added.
In 2005, Sania became the first Indian to win a WTA tournament singles title when she defeated ninth seed Alona Bondarenko in the final of the AP Tourism Hyderabad Open in 2005. She continued this fine form while upsetting fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova before losing to Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Women’s Open. She peaked at No. 27 in the singles, but then followed a wrist injury wherein she admitted that she found it difficult to even lift a fork at the dinner table.
Sania went through a regimen of physiotherapy after which she focused entirely on doubles. Success was quick as she teamed up with some high-profile partners such as Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Liezel Huber, Elena Vesnina and former world No. Martina Hingis in whose company she won 14 titles – including three successive Grand Slams - starting in April 2015.
In 2017, Sania married former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik and that was also the last time she played at the China Open. A year later in October 2018, their son Izhaan was born and life has never been the same again for India’s best tennis player. “I am like the elder one now,” Sania said. “I still have a lot more competitive tennis left in me.”