Melbourne, Australia, 10 January 2023 | Vivienne Christie

It took all of Zoe Hives’ grit and determination to progress through the first round of Australian Open qualifying on Monday, the Australian eventually toughing out a three-set win over Harmony Tan after more than two hours on court.

But the eventual 6-2 5-7 6-1 progress over the Frenchwoman, who stunned Serena Williams in the first round of Wimbledon last year, was nothing compared to the resilience required for Hives to even take to the court at all.

The 26-year-old Victorian is targeting a place in the main draw of her home Grand Slam for the first time in four years, after a health challenge that saw Hives at times struggle on the most basic level – let alone focus on her promising tennis career.

While Hives recorded a career-high world No.140 ranking late in the 2019 season, she also started experiencing some baffling symptoms, including dizziness and crippling fatigue.

Hives was initially diagnosed with glandular fever and as that condition dragged on, she learned she was suffering from Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia syndrome – more commonly known as POTS.

“It’s been very long,” said Hives of managing the energy-sapping blood circulation disorder, which saw her retreat for a period to the family farm at Kingston, just outside Ballarat. “The cows, the dogs – they have kept me sane through this whole process. (I’ve been) reading, watching a whole lot of shows.

“When you have chronic fatigue, you can’t do a whole lot, so they have kept me sane.”

And yet there was never any question that Hives, who represented Australia as a member of the junior Billie Jean King Cup team as a teenager, would resume her professional career.

“To be honest, I always thought I would get back to this,” Hives told at the inaugural United Cup last week in Sydney, where she was delighted to represent Australia for the first time in a professional tournament.

“I didn’t actually realise how long it was going to take. I thought by now I’d be well and truly over it, but I never really doubted that I’d get back to this stage.”

Persisting through various challenges has provided some life-changing rewards for the Victorian, who was thrilled to compete before a supportive crowd and team-mates at Ken Rosewall Arena last week.

Zoe Hives began the 2023 season representing Australia at the inaugural United Cup in Sydney. Picture: Tennis Australia

Zoe Hives began the 2023 season representing Australia at the inaugural United Cup in Sydney. Picture: Tennis Australia

Last season, Hives celebrated a main-draw debut at Wimbledon after enduring some challenging days ahead of the event.

“The week before Wimbledon, I actually had a very bad day, I was sick like just a cold, which exacerbates my symptoms, so I barely knew where I was on the court,” she related.

“So I went in pretty flat but my coach is like, ‘come on, it’s Wimbledon, let’s just enjoy it. Just focus on what you’ve got to do’ … so I did. I thought I was going to lose first-round quallies, but it just came off and it was amazing to experience Wimbledon, (one) I definitely won’t forget.”

The memories of that performance, where Hives exited to top-five ranked Maria Sakkari, boosted spirits in some further health challenges, including an Achilles injury she managed throughout the tournament and the ongoing effects of POTS.

“Just with all the travel, because I have vestibular issues, so (being on) planes all the time, my dizziness came back pretty hard,” Hives commented. “By the end of that trip I had a very sore Achilles and a head that wasn’t working too well. I had to just come back and reset.”

Far from dispirited by those difficulties, Hives in some ways draws from them, noting that inevitable injuries have also contributed to overall resilience.

“I have not had many years without injuries or anything like that,” she reasoned. “It’s been a pretty long journey. I’m really hoping that I can get a few really good months of training in after all this and hopefully I’ll be good to go for the rest of the year.”

In the immediate future, the focus is on tomorrow’s Australian Open qualifying second-round encounter with Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, a 17-year-old from Andorra who claimed the Australian Open girls’ title in 2020.

Hives tackles that challenge with inspiration gained from watching some Australian colleagues thrive on tour, and with some valuable advice from Sam Stosur, the co-captain of the United Cup team last week.

“It has been great to get her insights into how she’s done stuff herself, and how to take on these matches,” she said of her fellow Australian, who was quick to remind Hives of how far she’s come given the challenges of recent years.

Currently ranked world No.770 and with her protected ranking soon to expire, Hives takes a simple goal into her season overall.

“It’s just about getting fit and healthy again,” she noted, with obvious gratitude. “To get back here is pretty amazing.”

Tickets to attend Australian Open qualifying are just $5 for kids and $10 for adults. Fans will also be able to see some of the world’s top-ranked players compete in practice matches at Melbourne Park.

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