The dream comeback was cut short as Sania Mirza was forced to retire midway her women's doubles encounter in the first round of the Australian Open.
The pair of Mirza-Kichenok were never really in the game as the Indian struggled with her injury right from the beginning of the match. The Chinese duo of Han and Zhu took full advantage of it and raced away with the first set. It took only a game in the second set before the Indian pulled out of the match.
Just yesterday, she had pulled out of the mixed doubles but was still hopeful of playing in the women's doubles with Kichenok, with whom she won the title at Hobart last week.
The calf troubled her in the final of Hobart as well but she looked confident coming into the Australian Open.
"I sprained it in the final last week and it got worse during the match. I actually had a few days off so I tried to do whatever I could to get on the court. It felt ok when I went on court, but it was tough to move right. It was spasming every time I moved right and I felt I might tear it really badly. It got worse within a couple of games," said Mirza after the match.
Despite knowing of her injury, Sania Mirza still decided to go ahead and take part in the first Grand Slam of the decade. It might have been a risk but given the fact that it was a Grand Slam, the biggest tournament on the tennis calendar, the Indian decided to take that risk and participate anyway.
"As a player, you have to try to compete. It's a Grand Slam as well. If it was any other tournament you might take a call, whether you want to risk it. if you're at a Slam, you wanna do everything you can.. If it had gotten worse over the last 5 days I wouldn't have stepped on court. But it got better," she said.
While her title at Hobart was nothing short of sensational, it was also the cause of her injury. Making a comeback after more than 2 years is no mean feat. However, the body can only take so much, and unfortunately for Mirza, her calf gave away and she was forced to retire.
"I came back after 2.5 years and played 4 matches straight. Like I kept saying, the body doesn't react the same way anymore. It is something that I felt in the final at one point and I knew I strained it."
"I know exactly when I did it in Hobart, I know at which point I did it. It was at 6-4, 3-4 (30-0). It could be anything, maybe the body didn't recover or it could be because of the tension I put my body through playing 4 straight matches, it could even be the weather as it was freezing in Hobart in the quarters and semis. It could be anything," she said.
Fans were hopeful of her making a successful return to the biggest stage as well after the title at Hobart. However, Mirza did not have many expectations coming into the first Grand Slam of the year.
"For me every tournament that I play, winning is a bonus since this like a second career for me. Winning a tournament is special. To do it 2.5 years after having had a baby, beating one of the best teams in the final (Hobart) is very special. I probably surprised everyone, including myself, I proved that I wasn't too rusty. The injury was on my mind heading into Melbourne, but expectations did not change," said Mirza.
The former World No 1 doubles player was surely missed on the tennis court. Not many Indians have found success at the big stage of Grand Slams. The men's side had Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, and Rohan Bopanna to an extent. However, amongst the women, it was just Mirza. There were a few things she missed about playing tennis while she was on a break.
"The competition, the feeling of winning, the feeling of competing, walking on the court, walking on centre court. Those are the feelings I really missed. Not straight away as my mind was busy, but I missed it for sure," she said.
A couple of years ago, when Sania took a break from the sport after announcing her pregnancy, fans wondered if she would make a comeback to the sport. However, there was no doubt in Sania's head that she would come out on court once again. With great players like Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters, just to name a few, doing the same, there was no reason why the Indian superstar couldn't emulate them.
"The comeback was always at the back of my head. I wasn't actively working towards it till 6-7 months ago. I didn't know how my body would be or how I would be and whether I could play at that level. But, I wanted to come back and play at a high level. I wanted to come back and still be able to compete in the big tournaments and stay relevant."
"Once I knew that my body would hold up and allow me to do that, I was allowed to give 100 percent, I made that decision. It was a gradual process and wasn't overnight. I worked on mentally and physically for a while," she said.
For now, Sania will have to stay out of action for at least two weeks until she comes back out on court. She has confirmed her participation in the tournament at Dubai, which is scheduled to take place in the third week of February.