Motherhood fuels Pironkova's dream run at U.S. Open

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Unseeded Tsvetana Pironkova has not seen her son in two weeks and the tearful Bulgarian dedicated her astonishing U.S. Open run to her two-year-old after she surprised the field by advancing to her first ever quarter-final in New York on Monday.

Sep 7, 2020; Flushing Meadows, New York, USA; Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria reacts after winning a point against Alize Cornet of France (not pictured) on day eight of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

Pironkova’s last tournament was at Wimbledon in 2017 and the unranked 32-year-old secured her place in the draw at Flushing Meadows with a protected ranking given to players who take a maternity break.

Unfancied and overlooked, not many expected her to make it to the second week at the start of the tournament but she has come through with notable scalps such as twice Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza and 18th seed Donna Vekic.

On Monday, Pironkova battled through fatigue in a near-three hour contest to beat France’s Alize Cornet 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 in the last-16 and then choked back tears while talking about her son Alexander.

“I haven’t seen him in two weeks,” she said. “It’s very tough, it gets tougher every day. I know he’s watching me and I know he’s proud of me - and it’s worth it.”

Pironkova is one of nine mothers in the draw and she admitted that motherhood had changed her not only as a person but also as a tennis player.

“Obviously you become a different person,” she added. “You don’t focus on yourself that much anymore, like your focus is primary on your child.

“I guess that’s a good thing. I’m a lot more organised as well. I have more mental endurance also. Physically I know my body better.”

Pironkova will count on all that mental strength when she takes on the most formidable mum in the last eight -- third seed and 23-times Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who she has not beaten in four attempts.

“She’s a great champion and it’s always an honour to play against her,” Pironkova said.

“She’s obviously a legend. Physically... mentally she’s super strong, she has it all.”

Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Richard Pullin