The frustration, at times, was palpable on Sania Mirza’s face on court on Wednesday. The physical struggles for a 35-year-old competing in gusty, challenging conditions of Melbourne showing up ever so slightly.
Moments after losing her women’s doubles Australian Open first-round match partnering Nadiia Kichenok in straight sets, Mirza revealed the end of her pioneering professional tennis journey was nigh.
“I’ve decided that this will be my last season,” Mirza said in the post-match press conference after the 12th seeded Indian-Ukranian pair lost to Kaja Juvan and Tamara Zidansek 6-4, 7-6(5).
Mirza outlined several factors behind the decision: the body wearing down – she said she woke up with pain in her wrist a couple of days ago even as her right knee continued bothering her – the perils of travelling in a pandemic with a young child and having days where she just doesn’t feel up for it at 35.
“It’s not as simple as ‘okay, I’m not going to play’. I do feel my recovery is taking longer. I’m putting my 3-year-old son at risk by travelling so much with him; that’s something I have to take into account,” Mirza said. “Also, my body is wearing down. My knee was really hurting today (Wednesday) and I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost, but I do think that it is taking time to recover as I’m getting older,” she added.
Turning professional in 2003, the Hyderabadi took Indian tennis to heights no woman had ever before. Breaking into the top-100 in 2005, she reached a career-high singles ranking of world No. 27 in 2007. Shifting towards doubles, Mirza got the first taste of Grand Slam success at the 2009 Australian Open as the mixed doubles champion. She added five more Slams to the bag, the last one also coming at Melbourne Park in 2016 with Martina Hingis. She scaled the peak in the doubles rankings in April 2015, and ended two consecutive seasons as the world No. 1 in 2015 and 2016.
Making a comeback in January 2020 post her maternity break from October 2017, Mirza won a title immediately on return. But it’s been a stop-start ride since then due to Covid and injuries, her last title coming in Ostrava in September last year.
“For me to find that motivation every day to come out, the energy is not the same anymore. Right this minute, it’s there but there are days where I don’t feel like doing that. I’ve always said that I will play until I enjoy that grind, the process and not just winning… I am not sure I’m enjoying it anymore.
“I am enjoying it enough to play this season. I’ve worked very hard to come back, get fit, lose the weight and try to set a good example for mothers, new mothers to follow their dreams as much as they can. Beyond this season, I don’t feel my body doing it. It’s beat,” Mirza said.
Mirza, ranked 68th currently, still believes that she is playing at a good level, adding that she will have to take it week by week from hereon. “I want to finish the season, try to play until US Open. That is my goal,” she said.
Mirza will be back on court on Thursday for her mixed doubles opener with American Rajeev Ram. On Wednesday, Rohan Bopanna also lost his doubles first round with Edouard Roger-Vasselin, going down to wild cards Treat Huey and Christopher Rungkat 6-3, 6-7(2), 2-6.