Dubai: It’s not for nothing that the official biography of Sania Mirza, India’s women tennis legend, is called ‘Ace against odds.’ Right from breaking the glass ceiling in Indian sport to braving fatwas from fundamentalists for wearing ‘short dresses,’ the feisty woman from Hyderabad has taken it all in her stride to become the best Indian women’s tennis player ever with six Grand Slam titles in the bag.
At 33 years and with the adorable one-year-old son Izhaan tucked in her arms, Mirza has now decided to take up possibly her toughest challenge on the court — to stage a comeback on the WTA Tour after motherhood. Come January, she will team up with Ukraine’s Nadiia Kichenok, now world No. 38, to play doubles at the Hobert International and then Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year.
Speaking to the WTA website earlier this week, Mirza confirmed: “I am playing in Hobart, then I am playing the Australian Open. I’m planning to play a tournament in Mumbai, which is a $25k ITF event next month but I am 50-50 about it. Let’s see how my wrist behaves. We’ll see, but Hobart and the Australian Open for sure.”
This will be welcome news for her legion of fans in India and the diaspora abroad, who didn’t give her return much of a chance ever since the diva of Indian tennis last played in 2017 China Open, where she and Peng Shuai reached the semi-finals before being defeated by top seeds Latisha Chan and Martina Hingis. It’s been two years since then — and motherhood (ask Serena Williams) is not an easy hurdle to surmount and become the player that she once was.
Married to Shoaib Malik, the celebrated Pakistan cricketer, Mirza is setting up small goals for herself now. It’s the fitness that is playing heavy on her mind for the moment as she said: “There are a lot of changes when you have a baby,” before going on to add: “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.”
Her comeback plans, however, suffered a jolt with a viral attack three months back. “Three months ago, I got this virus Chikangunya, that was a setback because for two weeks I was sick,” she said. “I have left wrist pain out of the blue because of this virus and it can last three months to a year. All and all I feel good, and today I can tell you that I’m ready to compete again.
“Of course, it will take me time to get to the level that I was playing at before, but it’s a good start for me to feel good physically.”
Looking ahead to Tokyo 2020, Mirza said: “I’ve been to the Olympics three times and last time we were unlucky not to win a medal. 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.”
Mirza is a former WTA World No. 1 in doubles while in 2005, she became the first Indian to win a singles WTA Tour title when she picked up the crown in Hyderabad, her hometown event.