HOBART, Australia - India's Sania Mirza is back in the WTA doubles winner's circle, as she and Nadiia Kichenok partnered for a 6-4, 6-4 victory over No.2 seeds Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai in the final of the Hobart International.
It is Mirza's first WTA title in just over two years and 42nd of her storied doubles career. The Indian star last won a trophy alongside Bethanie Mattek-Sands at the Brisbane International in the first week of the 2017 season, one of three doubles finals she reached that year before announcing her pregnancy in April of 2018.
"It's always great to win a tournament, and under the circumstances that we won, I think it's even better," Mirza said. "Playing for the first time, me coming back after almost two-and-a-half years, post-baby, so there are a lot of things -- probably, we didn't expect to win.
"I think we both came in with just trying to get a feel for each other and our games, and we're really excited to win. Today, we played against one of the best teams in the world, and this obviously shows us that we have the level to compete against them."
Kichenok earned her fifth career WTA doubles title with the victory, and first since partnering her twin sister, Lyudmyla, to win the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai in 2018.
Kichenok and Mirza were the first to break in each set, but ultimately needed to wrap up the match by delivering the deciding breaks late. The unseeded duo won the last three games of the opener, and eight of the last 10 points to seal victory, having nearly seen a double-break advantage slip away.
Though the duo won six straight games from 3-4 in the opener to lead 6-4, 3-0, Mirza was the one who saw her serve broken twice as the No.2 seeds from China eventually restored parity at 4-4.
Nonetheless, the unseeded pair finished the match off in style with their fifth break of the match, before the Ukrainian served out the match and the victory for the team.
"It's like she hasn't missed anything, I'm telling you," Kichenok said. "The first practice, we were hitting and she hit unbelievable, and she's asking me, 'I heard that tennis has changed,' and I said, 'No, nothing has changed. You're still here!' and she still has the level."
After needing a match tiebreak to win each of their first two matches, Kichenok and Mirza won their last four sets of the tournament, while Peng and Zhang had received a pair of walkovers -- from Heather Watson and Arantxa Rus, and Kirsten Flipkens and Alison van Uytvanck -- after winning their first round match against Aussies Astra Sharma and Jessica Moore.
Though the Indian and Ukrainian duo had never before partnered, they were familiar with each other, having been foes on opposites sides of the net in previous matches.
Gosh that felt good 🏆🏆🏆 Title town after more than 2 years 🙃 what an amazing week in Hobart 😌 what a journey it’s been 🙌🏽 #@nadiakichenok @hobart_tennis #titlenumber42 #mummahustles 😉 #Allhamdulillah pic.twitter.com/jWNkBvAvll— Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) January 18, 2020
"We were just trying to get to know each other in [this] first week. We both have similar personalities - we're pretty laid back and easy - and I think that we are really happy to play with each other, to win the tournament, and that we get along off the court as well," Mirza continued.
"It means everything to win. Honestly, I thought I would be more rusty than I am. Luckily, I'm not as rusty as I thought, but I do still think that I can improve on many things, but that's me. Even after winning a Grand Slam, I'm still not happy with the way that I played, so I always want to be better.
"To do it after [having her son] Izhaan is very, very special to me. Especially in the part of the world where I come from, having a baby is treated like the end of the world, and the woman is just supposed to give up, take care of the child, and if you do anything for yourself, you're made to feel this mother's guilt of how, like, you're neglecting your child.
"Even if this inspires one woman to follow her dream, and to do something that she loves, whether you have one baby or five, it doesn't really matter. I feel extremely, extremely happy and privileged to be in this position.
"I feel that I am in this position where people do follow me, whether it's on social media or whatever it is, so I feel that hopefully this may inspire a few more girls or women to do this after having kids."
Zhang finished her stay in Hobart with a pair of runner-up trophies, having also been beaten in the singles final by Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina earlier in the day on Saturday.