It is go-time for Indian tennis star Sania Mirza. With just 3 months to go before she aims to make a comeback on the women's doubles tour, the search for a new partner will be intensified. So far it's been a few feelers here and there, but Sania will now officially put her status as 'looking for partner' on the WTA players portal.
It won't be easy as the former world number one has been away from the tour for nearly two years, having her first child Izhaan who is now almost one.
"I'm not too tense because I have not put too many expectations from my return. I want to be back for sure because never did I ever feel that this is it. While I know I can't just expect to be back at the level I was immediately, I really miss the game, the court and want to be back. I could have walked away happy with my career, but I do feel I have tennis left in me. Getting a new partner can take time and usually it is sealed only a couple of weeks before the tournaments, so there is no nervousness."
Sania, who will turn 33 in November, is open on how to plan her return from motherhood. "It is quite possible that I will get a few partners only for a tournament or two, but that's just how it goes. More important is to get a feel of the game again and get some match practice under my belt."
Sania is aiming to hit the road from the Australian hard court leg, playing two of the smaller events in Hobart and Auckland before the first slam of the year, the Australian Open.
Sania has lost 24 kgs in the last 4 months and has already done a stint of intense training with her former trainer Robert Ballard for 6 weeks in Dubai. Since then it's been a lot of gym and training on her own before she amps it up again in the off-season with a month to go.
"I would be lying if I said my body is the same and is responding the same. Recovery takes longer now but I'm also two years older. Overall I'm happy with how quickly I was back walking, training, gymming and it's been good so far. But playing week after week is different and I will just have to wait and see how my body responds to that."
But the physicality is only half the battle.
"Two years ago when I had to stop I genuinely didn't know if I will ever be back. But the motivation is still there. It's inspirational to see many mothers on the Tour today. But even if that wasn't the case I feel I would attempted a comeback. Today the mentality had changed too. No longer is your career over after a baby."
In fact it is having her baby travel on Tour with her that is the new unique experience Sania is looking forward to. "I really want to do it. It will be hard but I'm lucky to have a great support system. It will be amazing to have Izhaan with me while I play."
Sania has some second-hand experience in this playing with Cara Black, for one of her most successful partnerships, at a time when Cara used to travel with her son. With one year of motherhood under her belt, Sania confesses time management has been the toughest battle.
"It is draining no doubt, both mentally and physically especially now that I'm training and will spend more and more time on the court. As a mother I have to spend certain amount of time with him, and managing that on tour will be the toughest challenge. It still tugs at my heart when I'm leaving the house for example and he doesn't want to let me go!"
The Hyderabadi has a protected ranking of 9 for 10 tournaments once she makes her comeback that will help her get entry into events. But once on court, it really will be like beginning from scratch and making your way up the ladder bit by bit.
Sania is hesitant to set any goals yet, but there is a dream at the back of her mind.
''While the comeback is more personal for me, I do want to play the Tokyo Olympics 2020. I could not have even imagined playing another Olympics 3 years ago, but I'm lucky to be in a position where I can attempt it again.''