Unseeded and coming into her first tournament after maternity leave, Sania Mirza, partnering Ukrainian ace Nadiia Kichenok in her first ever tournament in two years, won the hard-court title at the Hobart International — her last tournament prior to the Australian Open this year.
If anyone is familiar with the hard courts of Australia, it is Mirza. The Indian ace, a former World No 1 in doubles, has won the title in both women's and mixed doubles. Moreover, the majority of her Grand Slam finals, across both disciplines, have come on hard courts.
Mirza, jubilant and looking in fine form this year, made clear her intentions of returning to professional tennis after taking a break for motherhood and to represent India at the Tokyo Olympics this year.
Despite having not competed for two years, particularly on this scale, Mirza looked fitter than ever. Her classic forehand, considered one of her most powerful weapons, was on display for all to see as the pair of Mirza and Kichenok systematically dismantled their rivals, Zhang Shuai and Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-4 for the title.
Mirza herself is no stranger to a title or two or three, having won 41 tour-level titles, the last of which came in Brisbane in 2017 when she was playing alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Was today’s final easy for the Indo-Ukrainian pair? Perhaps not as easy as they may have liked. Having held serve quickly, they dropped a service game just as quick to their Chinese rivals. In the end, despite some pushback from the Chinese pair, it was Mirza and Kiichenok who held their own, mentally and physically.
That isn’t, however, to say, it was smooth sailing through the tournament at all. Indeed, in the earliest stages of the Hobart International, the pair were struggling against the Japanese-Georgian pair of Miyu Kota and Oksana Kalashnikova, trailing 2-6, when the pair decided to change tack and let Sania take charge.
Perhaps that performance helped their confidence. Perhaps it was that confidence held together with an all-too-familiar, all-too-powerful Sania forehand, which won them the tournament.
Far from surrendering crucial breaks in their first match, Mirza and Kiiichenok in the final broke Zhang Shuai and Shuai Peng when it mattered most. The spirited Chinese pair may have put up a solid fight in the end, but it was one that ended up being no match combined for the confidence of the Kiichenok-Mirza pairing, and the groundstrokes of Sania Mirza herself.
The Sania-Kichenok game today had all the markers of not just a skilled or confident pair, but a pair who knew exactly when to strike. Far more successful at capitalising on breakpoints as they were in earlier matches, the Indo-Ukrainian pair looked in phenomenal touch as they played to their strengths.
Did Mirza look good in her movement during the course of this tournament? Perhaps not, but there was no mistaking the classic Mirza forehand, the forehand Mirza had once been ‘suggested’ to change for fear of aggravating an injury, the forehand that has downed many a foe during her career.
Mirza has now joined an increasing tribe of No 1 players who have chosen not only to come back to a full-time playing career after childbirth but do it with immense success and commitment.
While one often cites Kim Clijsters as its prime example, let us not forget Australia’s very own Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who had her daughter in 1977 and proceeded to win the Wimbledon singles title in 1980.
Today, in 2020, there is no dearth of mothers already coming back to the circuit. Incidentally, Clijsters herself announced a comeback last year, while Victoria Azarenka is yet another example.
But perhaps no better example exists than another recent title winner, the 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who, like Mirza, is accompanied by her child to the courts on occasion. The American, now gunning for an all-time record of 24 Grand Slams, has herself just won a title at the Auckland Open, in the singles discipline.
For these two women to be able to not only return to court after giving birth but declare just how ready they are to compete, is the real victory. The physical game is crucial, but the confidence and knowledge that the comeback will happen is the real game-changer.
Sania’s Hobart win is important not just for her own game, but for her confidence, something we saw happened in leaps and bounds during the course of the tournament.
In November, Mirza had said she “did not really have any expectations” of making a comeback. Perhaps, in the style of a certain Professor McGonagall, she has truly exceeded expectations. That too, her own.
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Updated Date: Jan 18, 2020 19:08:47 IST