HOBART, Australia -- In her first event after a two-year absence, former doubles World No.1 Sania Mirza will already get to contest a championship match.
The Indian star, who has three Grand Slam titles in women's doubles and another three Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles, paired with Ukraine’s Nadiia Kichenok to win their Hobart International semifinal over Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek, 7-6(3), 6-2, and move into Saturday’s doubles final.
"It feels amazing, especially to me, for someone who’s not played for so long," Mirza said, in her on-court, post-match interview. "I’m really excited to be in the final with Nadiia. I think today we weren’t playing our best, but we still came through."
Mirza, who has spent 91 weeks as the top-ranked player in the WTA doubles rankings over her career, had not played on the WTA since a semifinal run at the 2017 China Open. During her time away from the tour, she gave birth to her first child, Izhaan, who has been on site in Hobart this week.
"My son’s team is bigger than mine!" laughed Mirza, who also thanked her parents for helping her as she returns to the tour.
"Obviously, I think my son really inspires me to be here," Mirza continued. "As a woman, with such great athletes being mothers and coming back, I just feel that women can really have it all, and I hope this inspires a few women out there, especially in my side of the world."
Mirza and Kichenok defeated Bouzkova and Zidansek after one hour and 24 minutes of play, putting Mirza into her 62nd WTA doubles final, as she seeks her 41st title. Doubles World No.34 Kichenok is into her 11th doubles final, and her first since she won her fourth WTA doubles title alongside her sister Lyudmyla at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai at the end of the 2018 season.
Mirza and Kichenok had 15 break points in the clash and converted just four of them, but they were only broken twice in the match, to garner the straight-set victory.
At 2-2 in the opening set, a return winner by Kichenok pulled her team to deciding point after staving off two game points, and she and Mirza claimed the first break of the match after a Bouzkova forehand found the net. However, Mirza quickly dropped serve in the next game, culminating in a double fault, to put the set back level at 3-3.
Mirza and Kichenok had four more break chances in their next two return games, earned by the Indian’s putaways and pinpoint hitting by the Ukrainian. Nevertheless, the sturdy groundstrokes by Bouzkova and Zidansek, both Top 70 players in singles, carried them through those turbulent games, as they maintained parity with their opponents.
The teams advanced to a decisive first-set tiebreak, where a 3-1 lead for Bouzkova and Zidansek was swiftly quashed by Kichenok and Mirza. A winning Mirza volley set the breaker level at the 3-3 change of ends, and she and Kichenok never looked back as they reeled off six straight points, ending with a Mirza crosscourt backhand winner, to eke out the one-set lead.
Kichenok and Mirza swiftly earned an early second-set break to go up 2-0, then strong net play by the Ukrainian pulled their team from 15-40 to deciding point in the following game. A forehand winner by the hard-hitting Mirza won them the pivotal next point, as they held onto their break lead and zipped ahead 3-0.
Bouzkova and Zidansek were able to get back on serve, after Kichenok double faulted on break point at 3-1, but Mirza and Kichenok quickly regained their break advantage, going up 4-2 after a lengthy rally was ended by a netted Zidansek error. Two games later, a Mirza crosscourt forehand forced an error on their second match point to wrap up the win.
"We started to be a little bit more aggressive in the second set because we understood it was lacking in the first set," Kichenok told the media after the match. "We were a little bit slow sometimes, the ball was tricky, it was also windy. So we really had to be quick on our legs, and that's how we started the second set. It went better."
Mirza and Kichenok will face the all-Chinese team of Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai in the final. Alison Van Uytvanck has withdrawn from their semifinal she was to play alongside Kirsten Flipkens, due to respiratory illness. As a result, Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai advance to Saturday's final by walkover.
"[Today,] we started more aggressive in the second set, and I think that's how we really need to play, because that's when we are the best," Mirza elaborated during her post-match press. "It's not so much who we're playing against, it's how we play our game, I think that's what's important."