As the rest of the world suffered through the peak of the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, Zoe Hives was battling an disease most wouldn’t be able to pronounce.
Towards the end of 2019, Hives was climbing the world rankings and was playing the best tennis of her life.
“It was pretty much in the space of three months, and I was a mess,” Hives told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I was playing some of my best tennis … then I was done.”
As she closed in on the top 100, she knew something wasn’t right. She said she was suffering from a brain fog, but after one match in Darwin, she virtually collapsed trying to walk up a set of stairs.
She was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome – POTS for short – a condition that affects the nervous system.
Hives world ranking of 140 has been protected for three years as she battles the illness. It means she’s Australia’s second-ranked singles player in the United Cup, behind Ajla Tomljanovic. She lost her opening match to Great Britain’s Katie Swan 6-4, 6-3.
The Australian Open will be her final tournament under the exemption. She will be forced to play her way onto the main draw through the qualifiers.
But that’s no issue – she had to do that in Wimbledon. She got to the main draw, but was bundled out in the first round by Greek ace Maria Sakkari.
Despite the illness, quitting was never on the cards.
“It never crossed my mind [to retire], but this year I’ve had some tough moments where in the tournament before Wimbledon I was barely able to see where the ball was,” Hives told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Even after that last trip there was an increase in my symptoms. That’s been tough to have to deal with.
“Every time I’ve come back from an injury or my sickness, I think, ‘This just feels right’. It’s so much fun to run around on a court and hit some balls.
“A lot of people I’ve talked to have said it will take up to five years. I’m up to the three-year mark, so I just need some more time.”