US Open 2020: Mother's Day Out at Flushing Meadows as Serena Williams takes on Tsvetana Pironkova

Serena Williams, making her 17th US Open quarterfinal appearance, takes on Tsvetana Pironkova, making her first, on Wednesday.

Tanuj Lakhina September 09, 2020 09:19:40 IST
US Open 2020: Mother's Day Out at Flushing Meadows as Serena Williams takes on Tsvetana Pironkova

Tsvetana Pironkova is playing just her first tournament in over three years. AP

Nine mothers entered the singles field at the 2020 US Open. On Wednesday, two will go head-to-head. Tsvetana Pironkova, 32, takes on Serena Williams, 38, on Arthur Ashe Stadium. Serena, making her 17th quarter-final appearance in New York takes on Pironkova, making her first. The Bulgarian is not new to the big stage or to facing a top player or, even, to facing a Williams. She is not new to all the three combined either.

A look at Pironkova's profile on WTA website might make you think something is amiss. Her 'latest' matches list those from Wimbledon with the most 'recent' being a straight-sets loss to a now-retired Caroline Wozniacki. A closer look and you realise that the match in question was played three years ago.

And yet, it is not wrong. Pironkova is playing her first tournament since the 2017 Wimbledon, having taken three years to return from giving birth. Her decision to return has plenty to do with the revised WTA rules post-pregnancy for players.

Her run this fortnight has highlighted that she may have been out of action but she's still got the weapons to bother players. Just ask Garbine Muguruza, Donna Vekic, and Alize Cornet.

"I haven't seen him (Alexander) in two weeks and it's very tough. It gets tougher every day. But I know he's watching, I know he's proud of me. And it's worth it," she said after beating Cornet in the fourth round.


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It’s a special day today! Our baby boy turns two! ❤️ #2yearsold #birthdayboy #happiestday #mamaandpapa

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“It means a lot to be here after three years of absence. And this being my first tournament, having this great result, is something very special.”

Pironkova missed the 2017 US Open in what would have been her 50th consecutive appearance at a Grand Slam. In the spring of 2018, she gave birth to Alexander. “I just needed to distance myself a little bit for about two years,” she said last week.

The Bulgarian, who turned pro in 2002, reached the semi-finals of 2010 Wimbledon, quarter-finals the year after, and the same stage at Roland Garros in 2016. She's won one title back in 2014 in Sydney. And yet her 'giant killings' include Venus Williams (thrice), Agnieszka Radwańska (twice), Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani, Li Na, Vera Zvonareva (twice), Elena Dementieva, and Ana Ivanovic. Phew!

Having made such a dent and progressed deep at two Grand Slams, her top-rank is only of 31 going back to 13 September, 2010.

What sets her apart is the variety in her groundstrokes such as the forehand slice that stays really low and zips off the court and a two-handed backhand that is completely flat and travels well on these faster US Open courts.

“Everything in mothering I guess it's helped me. Obviously you become a different person. You don't focus on yourself that much anymore, like your focus is primary on your child. And I guess that's a good thing (smiling). I'm a lot more organised, as well. Mentally more, I have more mental endurance, also,” she said earlier in the tournament.

When she takes on Serena, she would need plenty of mental endurance with the American unlikely to give away much. Much the way she did in the taxing match against Cornet where she was unable to convert a match point on her serve at 5-4 in the second set and then was a break down in the decider.

US Open 2020 Mothers Day Out at Flushing Meadows as Serena Williams takes on Tsvetana Pironkova

Serena Williams reacts after defeating Maria Sakkari in the fourth round of US Open. AP

The WTA rules were largely revised after Williams returned to tennis having given birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in 2017. She was on hand to cheer her mother on as she slogged it out with Sloane Stephens in the third round in a tough three-setter. On Monday, she was pushed all the way by Maria Sakkari in yet another three-setter. One of the points of discussion after the match was her daughter.

"She's a fan of tennis, she loves watching, she comes out and watches me practice," Williams said of Olympia.

"She loves when I practice on this court because she can sit and watch. She's three now. I'm like, 'I gotta put my career aside and get her a racquet in her hand.

"Seriously, that's what I told my husband yesterday. I'm like, 'We got to get a racquet in her hand," Williams added.

On court, however, Serena had to remind herself to keep fighting. Facing the probability of losing to Sakkari for a second time in three weeks, the 23-time Grand Slam winner yelled out "Keep fighting!" at herself.

Without the loud New Yorkers willing her on, Serena had to do the job herself. She needed all the energy and power at her disposal to keep the dream for a 24th alive.

When the match ended, with Williams winning six of the last seven games, she turned and yelled towards her husband, who stood at his front-row seat and yelled right back.

As they step up to the court on Wednesday, one mother will have her family cheering her on. Meanwhile, the other would be happy to be at this stage for what she admitted will be a 'very special' match.

Head-to-head: Williams holds a 4-0 record against Pironkova. Her wins came at the 2007 Roland Garros, 2011 Eastbourne, 2014 Beijing, and 2015 Cincinnati.

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