Pironkova shines at U.S. Open after three-year absence

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Absence has certainly made the heart grow fonder for Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, who is enjoying her return to Flushing Meadows this week after three years away from the sport.

FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 17/1/17 Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova reaches for a shot during her Women's singles first round match against Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

Pironkova pulled off a shock straight-sets win over twice Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza the U.S. Open second round on Thursday, showing little sign of rust after a break from the WTA Tour, during which time she gave birth to a son, Alexander.

“I always followed the news around the tour obviously, especially the Grand Slams. I always watched those,” said Pironkova, who reached the fourth round at Flushing Meadows in 2012. “But I really took some time off away from tennis in all aspects.”

The 32-year-old, who lost in the Wimbledon semi-finals a decade ago, her strongest performance in the slams, said there were times when she “didn’t really follow all the tournaments” while away from the sport.

“I guess I just needed to distance myself a little bit for about two years,” she said.

But eventually the lure of tennis beckoned the grasscourt technician, who lost in the second round at Wimbledon in 2017, her last competition.

“Little by little I started really missing the tour, started watching more tournaments, started to follow the players,” said Pironkova. “I kind of started to make plans in my head looking at the calendar, which tournament would suit me best.”

After her 7-5 6-3 second-round win over 10th-seeded Spaniard Muguruza, it would appear that the famed blue hard courts of Flushing Meadows suit her just fine.

“At one point I was like, ‘Okay, let’s take this opportunity, let’s take this chance, just try to do my best,’” she told reporters.

Pironkova next faces 18th seed Donna Vekic of Croatia.

Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris