MELBOURNE, Australia - Sania Mirza was not expecting a flawless start to her comeback. But that is precisely what she got in winning her 42nd doubles title at the Hobart International in her first tournament in over two years.
The 33-year-old Indian icon put her career on hold after the 2017 season, giving birth to her son Izhaan in October of 2018. Coming back to the tour has taken a physical and emotional toll, but Mirza hopes her journey back inspires moms all over the world to never apologize for chasing their dreams.
"I feel especially in the part of the world that I come from, when women have a kid or kids, it's treated as kind of an end of their world, it's all about the children," Mirza told reporters ahead of the Australian Open. "I feel that women are made to feel if they go out and chase their dreams, they're probably not the best mothers in the world.
"I hope that changes. I hope that if my victory or even one match can inspire even one woman to follow her dream or heart, I would be really, really privileged."
Reflecting on her journey back to competition, Mirza said the process has been a tough balance between getting her body back to where it was before pregnancy, while navigating the emotional toll of having to commit to her training.
"Right after I had the baby I was breastfeeding and to find the time to just lose weight - I gained 23 kilos - it was as basic as that," Mirza said. "The struggle like this is real. Physically it was tough. I lost 26 kilos and then I started tennis training.
"But I think mentally it was pretty hard initially to leave my son and go train and find those few hours. That's something I really encourage new mothers to do because I think it kept me sane as well. But it's a tough thing to do. In three weeks I was back to starting to lose the weight and exercise. Emotionally - not so much mentally - but emotionally it was tough."
"Probably when Izhaan was maybe 5 months was when I started hitting once a week for maybe three weeks, then I started hitting twice a week. I actually started practicing five to six days a week three and a half to four months ago."
"My baby's entourage is bigger than mine now," Mirza said, laughing. "That's the only way I'm able to give my 100% into training. It is a little more complicated. He sleeps in the same bed as me still, so he wakes up a couple of times a night. It's basic things like that that you probably don't think about when you're not a mom.
"I'm pretty lucky that I have enough help where it's allowing me to give everything that I have on the court. It's a huge difference when you compete. You need to give that 100%. When you have a baby, your maternal instinct does kick in at any given point. So I'm so thankful for my family.
"I just feel, as a family, it's a great experience for us as well. We're looking forward to seeing what more we can experience as a family together."
Mirza is set to play doubles at Melbourne Park with Nadiia Kichenok. The pair are looking to translate their Hobart success to the Australian Open, where Mirza has won the doubles in 2016 and mixed doubles in 2009. It's the perfect stage for Mirza's Grand Slam return.
"I'm just really happy to be back playing tennis," Mirza said. "It's been a long time.
"I have a lot of memories from here. It's a special place in my heart because this is my first-ever Slam that I ever played, it's also the first-ever Slam that I would be playing after I've had that two-year absence, which I didn't know how I was going to make it back after having a baby.
"It's as close to a home slam for us as it gets, especially for Asians."
"I'm really excited to be back here, to have like a sort of second innings to my career."