Sania Mirza and partner Andreja Klepac crushed 4th seeds Blinkova/Dabrowski 6-2 6-0 in the QF of the WTA 500 Doha Open. In a very detailed conversation, Sania talks about her comeback to tennis post covid, her future plans for this season, the Olympics motivation, & how she wants to continue to inspire women in India

Q) You missed the Australian Open. Were down with covid. Had an injury. How are you feeling fitness wise?

I feel okay, considering I haven’t played in a year. I have a little bit of muscle issue but it’s nothing serious. It’s expected because I am playing after so long, so my body is getting used to it

Covid-wise, I am feeling good. I didn’t start training until 8-10 days after testing negative as per my doctor’s advice. I was able to train for a few weeks before coming here, so that was good. I felt much better in the QF today tennis-wise, much closer to how I remember myself playing (laughs)

Q) Your thoughts on the win today. You guys beat the 4th seeds 6-2 6-0

It was a great win for us. We are playing together for the first time. So to beat someone like Dabrowski, who’s been playing really well lately, and Blinkova, who’s young and upcoming, was amazing!

Q) Serena spoke a lot about not being able to work on her fitness because of injuries in the comeback. You also struggled last year. You were down after your first tournament with a calf injury. Have you had time, in the lockdown following that, have you been able to work on fitness? Has that been a big improvement in your game?

To be honest, I have had time to train during the lockdown. But I chose not to train for the first few months, because everyone was so absorbed in staying virus-free and healthy. I was keeping myself active but not really doing pro athlete level fitness, which would be going out there and doing 4 hours of fitness stuff. I didn’t have enough motivation either, given I did not know when I would play next

With a child, it is tough to take out 6 hours of day, but I was able to train for 4 hours/day for three weeks before coming here. But it is nothing like playing a match. Your muscles react differently to a match situation as they are much tighter. Match fitness is something I need to work on. So if I get injured, it would not be because I did not put in enough work, but it would be because I did not have match fitness

Sania Mirza during her R1 match in Doha

Q) Does this feel like another comeback?

I worked really hard to come back last year, as I was literally coming back from zero. I had to lose weight, get strong, and be in a position to compete again. And then the pandemic happened, but I am not going to make it about myself and say that “it affected me the most”. But it definitely was not an ideal situation for me because I had worked hard for a year to get back to the game. I was very close to playing at my best level and then the pandemic happened

This time around, it was easier physically to put in that effort. Emotionally and mentally it was much harder. We have all gone through a lot in the last year or so

Q) You have been World No. 1, have won Grand Slams. What is your motivation to play Tennis now?

I still believe that I have a good couple of years of Tennis left in me, and that I can win tournaments and the bigger events, even the Grand Slams. It is too early to talk about it as it is just my first tournament back. But the fact that I am able to compete and win matches at this level is one thing

The other thing is something that is really close to my heart. I feel that a lot of women look up to me and us. Look at Serena playing after becoming a mother, and so many others now. And specially in our side of the world, the mentality is a little bit like – “once you have a child, your life’s over”. But that’s not true. You don’t have to crush your dreams after giving birth. You can still find a way to chase them if you have a good support system around you. And I feel that my son is a good motivation, and I hope that he will proud to see what I am trying to achieve after having him

And the Olympics is also something that is at the back of my mind. So these are the few reasons to keep playing

Q) Do you plan to Klepac for the whole year?

Actually we were supposed to play together in Abu Dhabi, but then I got covid. So I had to pull out. She asked me after that if I wanted to play, and I said yes. So we are doing these two weeks(Doha and Dubai) for now

I am not ready to play week after week as my body requires me to ease back into it. But we are playing well, so why not. We’ll see how it goes in the future!

Q) Then beyond this week and Dubai then, have you mapped out any sort of a schedule for the next few months or is it too early to tell?

 It is a bit early to tell. I am thinking of going to the States to try and play. Probably Miami and Charleston. But I do know I have Fed Cup after that. We play Fed Cup in Latvia in the middle of the April.

So that’s a solid sort of three weeks already of my next couple of months. So after that I think I’m going to maybe take a few weeks off on the clay.

Yeah, it really depends on also my ranking, also depends on how many times I need to use my special ranking. If we win this week, then who knows what my ranking is going to be. So there is a few sort of things that I have to kind of go day by day with.

Q) And you kind of touched upon it I think earlier, but how has starting a family changed your outlook on being a tennis professional?

I think being a mother has made me a better person. I think that as professional athletes maybe we are slightly self-centered. It’s all about ourselves, about our warmups, about our matches, about our food, and, like, it’s all about where we want to do what we want to do. That’s something that’s been throughout all our lives basically.

Then you have a child, and, boom, everything changes. Nothing is really about you anymore. That’s the most natural progression sort of that happens. It’s not that you have to try to be selfless or anything. It just sort of you become that. I guess that’s what maternal feelings are.

For me, I think it’s made me a better person. I think that I never knew I had it in my me to love someone so much that, you know, I want more for that little baby than I want for anybody else in the world, including myself.

So I think that a tennis match, at the end of the day, remains a tennis match. But being a mother, to me, is something that cannot be replaced. That feeling is never going to be replaced no matter how much I won or how much I will win in the future.

Q) I’m just wondering, you mentioned the Olympics there. Is that a burning ambition for you to still compete in the Olympics? What’s the process of that, given the uncertainty around Tokyo?

I mean, it was definitely one of the reasons that I said that I would like to put myself in that position, to be able to compete at my fourth Olympics if I do make it.

We came really, really close to winning that medal last time. You know, we lost the bronze medal match, but I feel like when I sort of close this chapter of my life, which is tennis, I feel like if I look back, probably then an Olympic medal is something that I would have loved to win if I was supposed to close my chapter today.

So I want to give myself another shot at it, sure. Whether I can be or will I be able to, time will tell. But, yes, that is something that is important to me. It’s something that I have thought about, and it was one of the motivations for me to come back.

Q) It’s been well documented that you have achieved an awful lot of success. Do you almost feel like you’re starting turning over a new leaf, a new book and a chapter, trying to prove yourself all over again and even match some of the feats you have matched so far in your career?

 I feel like the biggest competition to myself is myself. I feel like I’m competing with myself, whether I — how I play, I mean, even today when I was playing, I feel like I always kind of go back and I say, Oh, this is how I used to play when I was playing my best and this is how (garbled audio) past versus the present, so to say.

I don’t think it’s anything to prove to anybody or to anything or to myself even. It’s almost — I love playing tennis. I love competing. I missed it. I miss the feeling of competition. I miss that feeling of coming out and feeling that win and feeling that victory.

I miss the hard work, as well. So I think it’s really not anything to prove to anybody. It’s more of something what I really want to do.

Q) You mentioned some of your plans for later on in the year and some events you plan to participate. I know there was one not mentioned there, but is it on the radar, Wimbledon? Is Wimbledon still very much a goal for you?

Yeah, most definitely. It’s one of my most special Grand Slams. I have won juniors there. We have been able to win the women’s doubles in a very historic match. It holds a very special place.

I think most tennis players definitely have it in mind. That’s something I like playing on the grass, so that’s definitely something that’s on my mind.

Q) How do you combine motherhood with playing? Will you be traveling with your son to tournaments?

Yeah. I mean, he’s not here this week. I actually — it was my first week back, so I kind of just wanted to understand how the whole bubble works.

I have been in a couple of cricket bubbles with my husband and my son, but this was my first tennis bubble. I just wanted to see how it’s working and so I just wanted to be familiar with everything.

So he’s actually flying with my sister tomorrow morning to Dubai, so he’s going to be in Dubai obviously. And if I go to the States, yes, the plan is to take him along.

I think he’s at a stage of his life, he’s two and he really does need me. I think he’ll actually be fine. It’s me that’s the problem (smiling).

So I think, yeah, so the majority of the time I’m going to try to travel with him, yes. I luckily have a good support team around me, but there will be some weeks like this week where I will just need a week off or something.

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