For the first time ever, three mothers have reached the quarterfinals of a grand slam event. On Monday evening at the Bille Jean Kings National Tennis Centre in New York, Victoria Azarenka, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Serena Williams continued their inspirational journey to reach the last-eight stage of US Open 2020. And two of these three were probably not even among the probables to reach this far.
Tennis fans have been part of Serena's journey from her withdrawal due to pregnancy to her remarkable return to action which has although included disappointments in grand slam finals lately. And the journey of course has been retold again and again each time she is close to making another major breakthrough. She had in fact won the 2017 Australian Open title while pregnant with daughter Olympia, but on her return a year later, she reached four grand slam finals of the eight she participated since French Open 2018 and has failed to tie Magaret Court's record of 24 major titles on all four occasions.
Azarenka and Pironkova's stories have been far less celebrated.
The 31-year-old Belarusian is a two-time Australian Open winner. She won her first in 2012, the same year she won two Olympic medals in London and reached a career-high of No.1 in the WTA rankings. On her return to Melbourne the next summer, she successfully defended her title, against Li Na. In 2016, she made an impressive injury return winning the Indian Wells and Miami Open before taking a pregnancy break.
She gave birth to her son Leo in December of 2016 and returned the action the following June before she found herself engulfed by a custody battle for her son with Leo's father whom she had split the previous year. It forced her to withdraw from the 2017 US Open and the following Australian Open.
In January 2018, she won the custody battle and eventually made her return with the BNP Paribas Open, but she had lost her flare resulting in a string of lackluster shows and early exits. In the last one and a half year, before her arrival in New York, Azarenka had never won a tennis match.
But her fortune changed on arrival to the United States of America. She won the Western & Southern Open after Naomi Osaka withdrew from the final citing hamstring injury, her first title since the 2016 Maimi Open victory.
In US Open 2020, Azarenka did not drop a set before her round-of-16 tie against Karolina Muchova. She lost the first set on Monday evening at the Louis Armstrong Stadium but bounced back impressively to outsmart the Russian. She will next face Belgium's Elise Mertens in the quarters on Wednesday.
Pironkova is a 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist. In 2018, she gave birth to her son and did not participate in the remainder of that season and in 2019 as well. She returned to action earlier this year playing her first since the 2017 Wimbledon but shortly after tennis was halted due to the pandemic. With little experience and by virtue of protected ranking, Pironkova entered the US Open draw.
Like Azarenka, she too did not lose a set before her round-of-16 match against Alize Cornet. She will next face Serena in the quarters on Wednesday.
These three were part of a band of nine mothers - Kim Clijsters, Vera Zvonareva, Tatjana Maria, Kateryna Bondarenko, Patricia Maria Tig and Olga Govortsova - who had entered the main draw in New York. But while the aforementioned six were eliminated in the early rounds, Serena, Pironkova and Azarenka survived and now stand on the verge of becoming the fourth woman in Open Era to win a major hence joining the elite group of Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong, and Clijsters.