After her showing in the first two Grand Slams of the year, India's Sania Mirza feels she is "blessed" to be fit again and playing her best tennis.
Sania at her best was touted as a top-ten player in the world. That was four years ago when she was ranked 27th till a career-threatening wrist injury sent her sliding to a seemingly irreparable fall to 166 by the end of last season. The cynics wrote her tennis obit and the optimists sympathised with her plight.
"I feel blessed that I was able to come back from a career-threatening injury. I've had a wonderful half year in 2011 moving up more than 100 spots in singles and I've been fortunate to do well in doubles as well," Sania, who has jumped to the 58th place in the singles rankings, told IANS from London.
She is not one to give it up though. In five months of the new year she is back roaring and on the way she has created history by becoming the first Indian to have had a shot at the women's doubles title at a Grand Slam by entering the final at Roland Garros.
"I have managed to play without a break for one full year. I think I am getting back to playing my best now after my latest comeback," Sania said in an interview.
Unlike Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, Sania is trying to strike a balance between her singles play even as she is excelling in doubles with her Russian partner and good friend Elena Vesnina.
For starters she needed a wildcard to play in the season's first two tournaments -- in Dubai and Qatar. The next best thing to have happened to her was to find a permanent doubles partner, at least for the year. From then there was no stopping the Indian champion.
Sania entered her first WTA Tour quarterfinals in singles and then won two doubles titles with Elena.
"I have always maintained that if I could stay away from injuries for a prolonged period of time, everything else would fall into place."
The last 11 months have been a tough grind for Sania, playing qualifiers of even second-tier Tour events due to her lowly ranking.
While the silver and bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games remain the high points for her last year, making the main draw of the 2011 Australian Open by winning three tough rounds set the ball rolling.
She was a tad unlucky to meet former World No. 1 and multiple Grand Slam winner Justine Henin in the first round, but stretched her to three sets.
The Indian then went on to make her first singles quarterfinal on the Tour for the first time since 2007 at Charleston in April coming through the qualifying rounds.
Sania's tie-up with Elena also started blossoming. The two quickly established themselves as a potent doubles combination. They won doubles titles at Indian Wells and Charleston before entering the French Open final.
At Paris, they upstaged top seeds Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pannetta and that final appearance leapfrogged them to the World No.3 team and Sania to a career-high doubles ranking of 14. All this on her least liked surface, clay.
These personal milestones, she said, inspires her to go for bigger things.
"I feel privileged to be currently the highest ranked Asian in doubles. I had achieved the honour of being the highest ranked Asian in singles a couple of years back and these are personal milestones that inspire me to work harder and do better," Sania said.
Her rise in doubles has also polished her singles game, giving her groundstrokes a distinct sharpness and rhythm.
Sania feels singles and doubles are complementary.
"It probably works both ways. The doubles helps your singles by adding to your confidence and improving certain aspects of your game and improved singles play help you in your doubles as well."
Sania, preparing for the All-England Championships at Wimbledon, feels India must have representation in the men's and women's singles at major events.
"The men have done phenomenally well in doubles, but we need a lot more players (men and women) in singles at these mega sporting events."
"My expectations for every tournament have remained the same over the years. I expect to be at my best at Wimbledon."