For Indian tennis player Sania Mirza, the road back from a wrist injury has been a long and arduous one to say the least.
The 24 year-old was once the 27th ranked player on the WTA Tour back in 2007, but slowly fell in the rankings while battling a chronic injury that many believed, including herself, would one day end her tennis career.
“I struggled with my wrist the last two and a half years,” said Mirza. “When I was 27 in the world, I went into surgery literally in February – I finished my match at Indian Wells and then I went into surgery and then the wrist was ongoing – it was a chronic injury.”
“Last year was difficult because I wasn’t really able to hold anything in my hand and it had become really bad. Honestly, I don’t think including myself or anyone believed that I could play again because it was just too painful and playing tennis just seemed too far a thing.”
Mirza was forced to take a lengthy break last year from the game she loves, needing almost six months to fully rehab and rest her injured wrist. She eventually made her comeback on the tour last June in Birmingham, just a week before Wimbledon.
“It just so worked out I tried to do rehab on it, took five and half months of no tennis, absolutely nothing,” added Mirza. “I got other parts of my body stronger to compensate a little bit. I guess that’s what my wrist needed. I’m just happy to be playing tennis again to be honest because I never thought – I don’t think anyone ever thought that I was going to play again. Just to be back and competing again, doing what you love, I was just happy to be back.”
Mirza pumps her fist after winning a point
Since her return last summer, Mirza has barely had a break since. With her drop in the rankings she has had to play many qualifying matches or ‘qualies’, as they are called on the Tour. Playing both singles and doubles on the tour as well as taking part in the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games last year, she has racked up close to 175 matches in just over a year.
“I had no time off at all – I’ve had zero time to rest,” chuckled Mirza. “Basically when I came back last year in Birmingham, from then to now I’ve been continuously at it and it’s been now I guess 175 matches or something. So it’s a lot of matches and my body, mind, everything gets a bit tired. It’s been a good year and a good problem to have to have been playing so many matches.”
“So if you play three rounds of ‘qualies’ every week and go on and even win two rounds in the main draw – you’re playing five matches minimum a week in singles. Then you’re doing well in doubles so you’re playing about five matches a week in doubles. We were calculating from last Wimbledon to this Wimbledon I had played 161 matches. The fact is that it was a very long way back, but I’m happy to be back. I’m happy to be healthy and playing tennis again.”
Needless to say, Mirza has been working extremely hard and the results are starting to show. Fortunately, throughout her gruelling schedule her wrist has held up but she has experienced some other minor aches and pains along the way. For Mirza the grind will continue for a while still – no long-term rest until at least November.
“The wrist is fine, but the fact is that when you play so many matches, it would be silly to say that I don’t have any problems. I mean other parts of your body – it’s a very physical game, obviously it’s getting more physical every day with the girls getting fitter and stronger and bigger. So you have to kind of almost punish your body every day. Right now you finish a match and then go into the gym for 45 minutes because you have to work out. There’s no kind of time off and it’s a pretty long season.”Instant Chemistry
Mirza started the year ranked outside of the top 100, but positive results has allowed her to steadily climb the rankings and she is now currently 65th in the World in singles. Despite Mirza’s rise in singles, it’s her play in doubles that has raised eyebrows in 2011. The majority of her success this season has been with her new Russian partner Elena Vesnina. Mirza is ranked 11th in WTA rankings for doubles just behind Vesnina who is 10th. Together as a tandem, they are ranked second in the world in the WTA Championships Doubles Standings. With such a successful season so far, it’s hard to imagine her career was in jeopardy just over a year ago.
“Obviously, it’s been a good year because I have cracked the top 75 again of singles,” said Mirza. “I’m at the highest ever in doubles, me and Vesnina, we formed a very good partnership and we’re number two in the world right now. Obviously, it was suddenly like a breakthrough again. It was a second life for my tennis, not knowing if you’ll ever hold a tennis racquet again to be competing at this level again. We made finals at French and semis at Wimbledon. I think it’s been a very good six months in terms of everything.”
Mirza has had many doubles partners over her career, but is glad to finally play with a player like Vesnina. Both have known each other for a long time having played under 14’s together and have developed a friendship over the years. However, neither had played with one another in doubles on the WTA Tour. Vesnina had split with her partner in early 2011 and Mirza was looking for a doubles partner. Both came together in Dubai back in February and the two clicked instantly picking up great results from the very beginning.
“I’ve had way too many partners, actually this is the first time that I had one partner who we’ve played together for a period of time together,” explained Mirza. “At one point, I played about six tournaments with six different partners and won four different tournaments. It was just about clicking I think. We were very good friends all along – I’ve known her since we were like 12.”
“We played a couple of quarterfinals and we came to Indian Wells and won the tournament. From there everything kept clicking and we made it to the final and a semifinal of two Grand Slams and came close to winning them. Obviously, we suit each other’s game and we also suit each other’s personalities and it helps that we’re friends and that we have good chemistry.”
Mirza focuses on her opponent's serve
Although her recent triumphs have in been in doubles, Mirza insists that singles still remains the priority for her.
“My priority is singles – I think everyone’s priority is singles who play both. I think double is a great backup to have because if you have a bad week in singles or having a bad run, it helps your confidence. You win a couple of matches, a couple of tournaments and get better. So it just transcends, but I enjoy playing doubles, especially with people you get along with – I think it’s much nicer to play with your friends.”
When comparing the two, she also believes that playing singles is far more challenging and tougher on the body as well.
“I think singles is a lot more physical, it’s a lot tougher – there’s no doubt about that. The fact is that to be the top 100 in singles is an achievement in itself. I’ve finished in the top 100 for six years out of seven, except last year because I was injured for six months. I think it’s one of the rare sports where more than 200 countries play it – it’s very global, it’s very competitive. So being top 100 in the whole world is a big deal in singles.”
Mirza just wrapped up a disappointing tournament at the WTA Rogers Cup in Toronto. Qualifying started out well for the Indian with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 win over Canadian Heidi El Tabakh. She then lost a hard fought marathon match to German Kathrin Woerle squandering a first set lead to eventually fall 7-6 (5), 5-7, 3-6.
In doubles, the results were far more frustrating with a shocking first round loss to Italian pair Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Mirza and Vesnina won the first set easily 6-2 before being completely shutout in the second set losing 6-0. The tiebreaker was close and hotly contested, but in the end it wasn’t enough as the Italians pulled off the upset 10-7. The duo will regroup and set their focus on winning the Western & Southern Open Cincinnati.
“There’s always weeks like this when you lose close matches – you lose 10-7 in a breaker there’s nothing you can do and that’s just the way tennis goes,” said Mirza after the loss. “The good news is that there is always the next week and you go on to Cincinnati and hopefully try to win it and our goal is to make it to the year-end championships in doubles.”
This article was originally published onOye! Times