'Sania 2.0': Baby steps and a comeback bonus

Sania Mirza says she has been playing 2.5 hours of tennis a day in preparation for her comeback. FRANCOIS XAVIER MARIT/AFP/Getty Images

A year ago, Sania Mirza didn't have her mind firmed up on a return to competitive tennis. Now, with a little over three months to go for the Australian Open, she's counting down the days. The former world no. 1 doubles player, who became a mother a year ago, spoke to ESPN on her comeback, regaining fitness, and what she calls, 'Sania 2.0'.


On her comeback

The idea right now is to be back for the Australian Open in January next year. Prior to it, I might play a couple of tournaments on the hard court leg in Hobart and Auckland. It has been a long journey since I turned mother a year ago and if you'd asked me then I wouldn't have known if I'd be back on court. I do miss being out there and now that I'm feeling good, I can't wait to return and have my son Izhaan travelling with me.

On finding a partner

I'm in talks with a few players, let's see how it turns out. There's still time. It's a new process. Almost like starting all over again.

On regaining fitness

Giving birth is a huge trauma on the body. It's only half the job until nine months, and then the other half follows. Since I had a C-section, the recovery was expected to be slow. But surprisingly, my body responded pretty quickly and I was starting to return to fitness in 4-5 months.

I try to get around 2.5 hours of tennis training in the morning before my son wakes up at 9am. My days are planned around him. For fitness, I do pilates or some running, cardio or stability training for a couple of hours. I've lost 24kg in the last four months but the larger focus was on becoming stronger and athletic again. It's not enough to lose weight. Had I not been returning to competitive tennis I would have taken it slower and maybe spaced out my return to fitness over a year, rather than four or five months.

On fighting any self-doubts

The first time I got on to a treadmill after the delivery, I could barely walk without pain for six or seven minutes. I was like 'gosh! how am I ever going to play?'. It's natural to think that way. I didn't know any better. Maybe if I have a second child, I'd be better placed in anticipating changes. The body does get slower. It's also because I'm two years older now than when I last played competitively. I did have these fleeting pangs but none of it was enough to overwhelm me.

On goals ahead

It's going to be baby steps in Sania 2.0. I don't want to set myself any goals. I've already achieved so much through my career, so whatever comes now is going to be a bonus. I'm not going to be devastated if I don't have great results. My return is more a way to prove to myself that I can compete again.

On 2020 Olympics

It's not so much of a goal as a vision. It's definitely something I want to tick off my list. I think it will be pretty amazing if I get around to doing it.

On the Indian women's tennis scene

We need to step up. I've been answering questions on 'who after me' for a decade now.

The men's scene seems to have more potential and results. We have a player in the top 100 and a few others getting there. We can't say the same for the women. Of course, there are players like Ankita [Raina] and Karman [Kaur Thandi] who've been doing well. Karman has had an excellent support system in Mahesh [Bhupathi], but she's been struggling with injuries I believe. Ankita has been traveling without a coach. So, they're both dealing with different things.

In the larger picture, tennis in India lacks a system. We can learn lessons from badminton. Today, parents don't know what to do or where to take their son or daughter if they want to take up tennis.

We need a change in attitudes too. I run an academy here in Hyderabad and often I've seen youngsters believing they know everything and even telling you how things are done. They're reluctant to take in advice. If you want to grow, you have to be willing to listen.

On fellow tennis moms on the tour

It's hugely inspiring to see someone like a Serena [Williams] do what she does after childbirth. Kim [Clijsters] did it remarkably almost a decade ago (winning the 2009 US Open). My former partner Cara [Black] too was travelling with her young son when we were playing together so I do have some experience, even if second-hand.

I think it's no more about career or motherhood. You can do both. It's not an either-or scenario.

It's also the reason I often post my training videos following motherhood on social media. If I can, I'm sure anyone can. Even if I wasn't getting back to playing tennis, I'd still want to be healthy and fit.

On the two years away from tennis

During pregnancy, I wasn't even thinking of tennis. I was just doing a lot of yoga and going for walks. It's perhaps silly now that I think of it, but I just didn't want to watch any tennis at all these past two years since I couldn't play myself. I'd just turn off the TV if I saw a tennis match on it.

The only exception was probably Wimbledon this year, for which I was doing broadcast commentary. It felt so familiar and comfortable. I could bring a certain perspective to the role. These were guys I'd known and played with so it almost felt effortless.

It also made me realize how badly I wanted to get back on court.