NEW YORK (Reuters) – There were times when Tsvetana Pironkova thought she had played her last top-level tennis match after taking a break from the tour in 2017 but the Bulgarian has surprised herself with a run to the last-16 at the U.S. Open without dropping a set.
The 32-year-old, who gave birth to son Alexander in 2018, eased past Croatian 18th seed Donna Vekic 6-4 6-1 on Saturday to reach the second week at Flushing Meadows for the second time.
“It feels amazing. Of course, unexpected. But just super happy,” Pironkova, a 2010 Wimbledon semi-finalist, told reporters.
Playing her first professional tournament since Wimbledon 2017, Pironkova used her special ranking after maternity leave to enter the main draw in New York.
“There was a time maybe for one-and-a-half, two years after I became a mom where I didn’t really picture coming back to the tour at all,” she said.
“But then I started thinking about tennis more and more. Also having this opportunity of the special ranking gives you more motivation. My first tournament is actually main draw in U.S. Open. That is a huge opportunity.”
Pironkova said she was trying to strike a balance between motherhood and tennis, taking notes from fellow professional Ukrainian Kateryna Bondarenko.
“I’m good friends with Kateryna Bondarenko … and she’s also back on the tour after she gave birth to her second child,” she said.
“We kind of exchanged some experience even after she was back on the tour after her first child. It’s helpful to have fellow mothers on tour.”
Pironkova will next face France’s Alize Cornet for a place in the quarter-finals.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)