Sania Mirza says comeback win was greatest satisfaction of all
When she lifted the Hobart International doubles trophy earlier this year, the win meant much more to Sania Mirza than the six Grand Slam titles she had won.
It's because the veteran Indian tennis player was returning to court for the first time in more than two years.
Out of action, first due to injury and later due to pregnancy, Sania Mirza made a comeback to the sport after not only getting back in shape post-pregnancy but also looking after her infant son.
"I have won so many tournaments in my life and there’s so much that I have achieved and everything. But that feeling when I won in Hobart was irreplaceable," she tells the Olympic Channel from her home in Hyderabad.
"Because I knew that I had earned it. I earned it for myself and for my son and I earned it after a huge battle with so much more that went through it.
"It was not just about working hard and your talent, it was also about taking care of a baby while being on the road. That emotional satisfaction, I have never felt in my life."
She shook off her initial nerves and went on to clinch her career’s 42nd WTA doubles title alongside Ukrainian partner Nadiia Kichenok in Australia. But for the 33-year-old Indian, the tournament wasn’t just about the result.
“The first time I stepped on the court was probably the toughest match because you have so many doubts, you don't know if you will be able to play at a certain level. There's so much that goes on,” Sania Mirza reflected.
“But also, I was really happy. I remember having nerves but I also remember being really proud having put myself in this position, to be able to even compete at that level.
“Winning or losing was a secondary thing at that point,” she says.
Stepping into motherhood
The return to the court for Sania Mirza was fraught with challenges, particularly with changes to her body. During pregnancy, she had put on 26kgs and she needed to shed it before she could swing a tennis racquet competitively again.
“The most challenging phase was when I was feeding the baby and I had to train,” she recounts. “Also, emotionally it takes a lot out of you.
“You are dealing with the pain of the surgery and then dealing with the baby that’s hungry and not sleeping. And then, there's your own lack of sleep.
"It’s not easy to snap out of that and say that I want to take one hour out of the day where I am not thinking about anything else. That, for me, was tough.”
But her experience as an athlete made it relatively easier for Sania Mirza to bounce back and reach the fitness levels she needed. She credited the healthy lifestyle she had followed over the years that allowed her to get back in shape quickly.
The former Indian no.1 tennis player revealed that she had kept working out until she was 32 weeks pregnant and had stepped out of the house just six weeks after giving birth to her son.
“I was glad I was able to (get fit again) but it was always a question mark. I think I was very lucky that my body came back to being where it was pretty soon,” she points out.
Not giving up on her dreams
After staying away from training for almost two years, Sania Mirza jumped into an intensive regime that comprised a strict diet and rigorous training to return to her pre-pregnancy fitness and her body responded well.
“Being an athlete, the toned muscle and muscle memory came back soon enough. I think our (athletes’) body wants to spring back to it faster,” Sania Mirza reasons.
And it showed on court as well.
After making a dream comeback with the Hobart International title, Sania Mirza also guided the Indian eves to the Fed Cup playoffs for the first time in their history.
Sania Mirza had come close to clinching a medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where she, along with her mixed doubles partner Rohan Bopanna, lost their bronze medal play-off match.
However, she will aim to have another go at the Tokyo Games next year. Having retained her special ranking of world no. 9, given by the WTA owing to her maternity break, Sania Mirza is probably the tennis star most likely to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics.
With this, Sania Mirza hopes that all her efforts are one day recognised, by one individual in particular.
“One day when Izhaan grows up, I hope he understands the magnitude of it and when he does see the pictures, I hope he is proud of his mom, that she did not give up on her dreams after having a baby,” she signed off.