NEW YORK • Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Tsvetana Pironkova made up a “Band of Mothers” who marched into the third round of the US Open on Thursday.
The trio were part of a cluster of nine mums who started this week’s women’s singles tournament at Flushing Meadows.
Six of the nine – Kim Clijsters, Vera Zvonareva, Tatjana Maria, Kateryna Bondarenko, Patricia Maria Tig and Olga Govortsova – have been eliminated.
But the unranked Bulgarian Pironkova – playing her first tournament in three years after a break to have her first child – prolonged her stay with a 7-5, 6-3 upset of Spanish 10th seed Garbine Muguruza.
Former world No. 1 Williams also advanced with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan.
Pironkova and Williams were later joined by Azarenka, another former world No. 1 who beat fellow Belarusian and fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka 6-1, 6-3.
Pironkova, who gave birth to her son Alexander in April 2018, says motherhood has given her a new perspective on her tennis career.
“Nothing is the same really,” she said. “Right now I’m just happy to be playing… It’s just great to be playing without that extra pressure that I had on myself before.
“Before, it was like almost life-and-death situation for me to win a match. Right now it’s just enjoyment to be on the court.
“Obviously there’s a lot of challenges, and priorities would always be my son and my family and their health and happiness…
“But if you make a good schedule, if you really have the right motivation, I guess you can combine the two things – motherhood and being a professional tennis player.”
Only three women – Clijsters, Evonne Goolagong and Margaret Court – have won Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era after having children.
Azarenka, meanwhile, said she hoped she could help inspire working parents everywhere.
“Pretty incredible, right?” she said when asked to comment on the nine mothers who started the tournament. “There is a lot that goes into it in terms of balancing, a lot of things, and juggling two things.
“But identifying myself or other players just as mothers, I think that’s not the only thing that we are. We are also tennis players. We are also women who have dreams and goals and passions.
“I think to see that rise of women being able to fulfil their dreams, as well as balancing the motherhood, I think they all are heroes.”