‘Inner rebel’ Sania Mirza eyes retirement after motherhood comeback

‘Inner rebel’ Sania Mirza eyes retirement after motherhood comeback

A former world No. 1 in doubles, Sania Mirza is a two-time champion in Charleston. She’s back after giving birth to her son, and gives insight as to why she wanted to return – and what comes next.

Tell Sania Mirza she can’t do something and that’s all she needs to hear: She’s going to make sure she goes and does it, anyway.

Mirza has never been afraid of making history, the trail-blazing Indian superstar becoming the first female player from her country to become world No. 1 in doubles – while also winning six Grand Slam titles.

She’s back at the Credit One Charleston Open for the first time in seven years, an event she’s won twice. She and partner – fellow veteran Lucie Hradecka – have advanced to Sunday’s final.

“It’s always nice to come back to tournaments that you’ve won at,” Mirza said in an exclusive interview. “This tournament is… more personal here. It’s a lot more intimate and I really like that. I like the vibe of this place.”

While Mirza has played on some of the biggest stages in the world, she recognizes the energy and support that surrounds this event, having visited it for over a decade.

“For years, all of the players have loved coming to play here,” the 35-year-old said. “I think it’s important to have a community that’s going to support the tournament – the crowds have been packed. The Club Court was packed for qualifying [this week]; you don’t see that [other places]. It’s incredible.”

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Mirza had her son Izhaan in October of 2018. She said she never announced a retirement during her pregnancy because she knew she wanted to come back.

“There was a few reasons, but the number one was that I wasn’t done,” Mirza explained. “I didn’t announce retirement because I knew I wasn’t done.”

But having gained 50 lbs. during her pregnancy, Mirza said she received plenty of body shaming on social media – and doubt from fans that she could make a return to the top level of the game. As she worked to get back in shape, she stared a hashtag, #MamaHustles, to motivate other women.

“I’m an inner rebel: If you tell me I can’t do it then I’m going to do it for sure,” Mirza said, laughing. “I started getting these messages from women saying that they saw me going to the gym and it really motivated them to go out for a walk or just be active in some way. That for me made a difference, truly. It was enough.”

She continued: “Even though we have a few mothers competing at the highest level of sports, I still feel like for [some people] it’s never enough. I’ve always said that I have a voice and we are here for a bigger purpose than just to play tennis matches,” she said.

“For me, it was about inspiring even just one woman to feel that having a kid is not the end of your dreams – it can be the beginning. And chasing your dreams does not make you a bad or selfish mother. It was important for me to send that message across.”

Sania Mirza (IND) with Lucie Hradecka (L, CZE) at the 2022 Charleston Open. (Charleston Tennis LLC)

Mirza said 2022 is “probably” her last, but she’s leaving the door ajar. She can still play top-level tennis with some of the best in the world, and Saturday she and Hradecka will play for a spot in the Charleston final.

“I wanted this to be my last year,” she said. “I’m not saying that with 100 percent (certainty), but probably yes it will be. Only because my body is pretty beat up. My son is going to start to go to school soon, and for me not to travel with him is not really an option. I can leave him for a week or two, but long periods of times, I can’t do that – not for me.”

The return to Daniel Island is the first since Mirza reached the No. 1 ranking here in 2015, dating back to her partnership with Martina Hingis, when Mirza would team up with the Swiss legend to win at Wimbledon, the US Open and – in early 2016 – the Australian Open.

While that is one of many of Mirza’s successful partnerships among her 43 career titles, she has been a trailblazer in so many different ways and is content with how she’s carried herself in her career – both on and off the court.

“I’m content. I’ve tried to live my life which has been in front of the media since I was 16 years old,” Mirza said. “I’ve tried to live it the truest way I know. Maybe I’ve created some issues for myself sometimes, but it’s the only way that I know how to live. I feel like you have to live by example and you have to be as true to yourself as possible.”

She added: “It’s not easy always… but it’s been really fruitful. Even if I stop tomorrow, I’m going to be very happy with everything that I’ve been able to do.”

Sania Mirza