The six-time major winner (three doubles, three mixed titles), married to Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik, is back to narrowing her interests as she juggles her infant son and works on getting back in shape for a comeback. In a chat, the glamourous new mom reveals she’s gearing up for an autumn return in 2019.
Was the pregnancy a conscious decision?
Shoaib and I had been talking about it for a few months. Then (at the end of 2017) I got injured, so yeah it was a conscious decision. Since I was already out and resting, we thought that it would be good if it happened around this time. I was ready. If you had asked me this about a year or a year-and-a-half ago, I was not ready. I was playing, competing and at that point it was out of the question. Shoaib has been ready for some time.
Becoming a mother….
My pregnancy was normal, I felt no restraint until about seven-eight months into my pregnancy. You’re already a mother when you are pregnant, a life is growing inside you, you have this protective feeling. I’ve never been the maternal sort. I was always protective of my sister (Anam), that’s the closest I’ve come to that feeling. I wasn’t necessarily the one rushing and reaching for a kid. But it all came naturally to me when I became pregnant. I had a good pregnancy, but the delivery was tough. After a long labour, when I got to hold my son, I can’t describe that feeling in words, except that I felt complete. I remember the day, the time, I had been in labour for 18 hours, I had a C-section, but I was alive to the moment when I held him
Holding Izhaan for the first time…
It’s a raw emotion, I’ll tell you why. You’re lying there on the table, cut open, you feel pain, there’s blood… It’s raw. There already is a whole lot of pain behind you and then you have so much expectation of what it is to come. After Izhaan was born, I asked the doctor some five-six times if the baby is healthy, that’s what a mother does, it doesn’t matter if you’re lying cut open on an operation table… I thought I had asked the question once, but Anam was with me and she said I asked the question five-six times. You don’t care about anything else, you just want the baby to be healthy. I remember holding him, Anam was on the left and Shoaib on the right, Anam was crying, ‘It’s a boy, it’s a boy’. Shoaib was stunned. I was kinda out, but I was thinking what a feeling, it was a whole new emotion…
There are no photographs of your son on social media…
Maybe you’d call it a little old school or even silly, but I believe in bad nazar (evil eye). He’s going to have his share of attention growing up, Shoaib and I decided that we should protect him as much as we can, for as long as we can. We didn’t want to share or post pictures on social media, we felt he was too young to be out there. This does not mean I’m being critical of people who have posted or shared their children’s photographs on social media, to each his own.
Have you missed tennis at all?
Of course I missed tennis, I still miss tennis, miss playing. I can’t wait to start playing again. Tennis is in my blood. It’s just that priorities change when you’re expecting. You want to have a healthy baby, you want to be healthy. At that point, I wasn’t thinking of tennis. I’ve never been a huge planner, what I would be doing one year later, or six months later or after the baby was born. So when I was pregnant, I saw no point in talking about what I would be doing after I gave birth, if I would come back or when I would come back. You don’t know how things are going to turn out.
How does your body feel?
I’ve already had three surgeries (two knee and one wrist) and the C-section is a pretty big surgery. I already had bad knees, they have been operated upon twice. That’s why it’s important for me to be at my ideal weight before I get on a full training schedule.
As an athlete, do you ever lose sight of getting back to work?
Once an athlete, always an athlete. That part of you reflects in everything you do. Fighting comes naturally to an athlete, you’re taught to never cave in, you are trained that way.
When can we expect a comeback? Any partners you’re tracking…
I don’t have a specific date. Realistically speaking, I’m looking at late next year (2019). I need to take this slowly and be prepared. I’m a perfectionist, anything I do I want to do it properly. I would like to come back and compete at the level I competed at. I want to be the best mother, best player I can be. I would like to be at the top level. You have to hope for the best, try and get back to that level. I am not putting any extra pressure on myself. There are a lot of changes taking place in the game, people are quitting, Lucie Safarova is retiring, Elena Vesnina just had a kid too. I will take a call as we go along, will cross that bridge when I come to it.