Sania Mirza’s recent doubles win at the Australian Open 2016 – partnering with Martina Hingis – proves that the Hyderabad-based player, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan this year, is knocking it off the court! She has been the first Indian woman to reach the WTA World No 1 doubles ranking, the first South Asian woman to be appointed as a UN Goodwill Ambassador. She was also designated by the government of Telangana to be the brand ambassador of the state.
India’s first female sports youth icon, Sania Mirza has courted success and won laurels, accolades and titles along the way, even as a few controversies dogged her footsteps. Watched for her game – and also for her style quotient – the tennis player is on a roll. Here is a quick recap of a few landmark moments and quotes from the girl over the years, who is known to hit the ball hard and clean.
Childhood memory: When she was six, her mother took her to a coach to enroll her in classes. But he refused to accept her as he thought she was too small.
As a kid: “I was not all that naughty. I was actually very studious and don’t think I ever got punished. I used to cry if I got less than 90 per cent until I was in my seventh or eighth standard. One of the reasons I did not want to pursue tennis was I did not want my 100 per cent attendance record to be spoiled.”
Earliest significant win: She won the bronze medal in the mixed doubles at the Asian Games with Leander Paes when she was just 15.
On her junior Wimbledon win: She won the 2003 Wimbledon Championships Girls’ Doubles title, partnering Alisa Kleybanova. “Everyone knew what Wimbledon was. When I returned, there was an absolute uproar.”
On being a girl on the circuit: “My aunt told my mother that she should stop me from playing, as I would turn dark. But my parents didn’t tell me what to wear or what to do. I always did what I wanted to. We came from a liberal background, but obviously being a Muslim family it was a bit different.”
Recovery routine: An ice bath. She says it is uncomfortable but effective.
On speaking out freely: “I think it’s different from arrogance or attitude to have your own opinion. You do not see that very often in India from people who are in the public eye. They say what they think is correct. I’ve been brought up to be very honest, to stand up for what I believe in.”
On the flag controversy: “That hurt me a lot. I was representing India at the Hopman Cup; I was wearing the Indian colours. I had finished a three-hour match and my legs were cramping badly. I was watching Rohan Bopanna play, sitting up at a height and about 20 feet below there was a flag. The funny part was I could not even see it. I put my feet up because the pain was bad and someone took a picture from below which made it seem as if my feet were pointing towards the tricolour. When I saw the picture in the paper the next day that was the first time I thought I don’t want to play anymore. I actually cried. I remember telling my father and Mahesh, ‘What is the point of it all!’”
On the Olympics pairing controversy: When Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes had both wanted to play the men’s doubles with Rohan Bopanna, Sania had got willy-nilly sucked into the drama off court. “It’s an honour for me to play with either Leander or Mahesh. My problem was how I was treated. To pacify someone I was being given as a partner to him and that’s not how it works. I am glad I spoke out because almost every single person whom I have met has told me that what I said was right. It just needed the guts to be said. Of course, it was a very ugly situation and it strained relations between many of us. That was not very nice. We have to look at the positives I guess and the biggest positive is going to the Olympics.”
Her dressing style: In 2014, objections were raised against Sania’s outfits on court and a fatwa was issued against her. She was extremely hurt, but luckily for her fans, did not put up her racquet in the aftermath of the hullabaloo.
On living up to expectations: “People are very emotional about their stars. I always tell the cricketers all the time that there are 11 of them. I am one. I take all the blame; at least you guys can put it on each other! I mean I’ve always said we can’t promise medals but we do promise to give our 100 per cent and try to come back with whatever we can. Most important is to give our best shot and then the rest is up to God and destiny, I guess.”
On her marriage to Shoaib: It was not love at first sight. It all happened gradually. “He is extremely simple and I love that about him. He has been the captain of a national cricket team and you know what that means in India and Pakistan. He is so oblivious to certain things which is I think a great quality in him.”
Her strengths: “My family and my husband. But, I am also very stubborn and that works as my strength and weakness. If I want to do something – I could be completely wrong – I’ll do it. I’ve always been this way.”
San-tina’s Hat-trick of Grand Slams
The pair is popularly known as San-tina. When they won the Australian Open on Friday, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis completed a hat-trick of Grand Slams and won their 8th consecutive title and 12th overall. The powerful juggernaut has a creditable unbeaten run of 36 games. Earlier they had captured the Wimbledon and US Open titles last year and had gone on to win the season ending WTA Finals to set their imprint on the tennis circuit in 2015. And they have begun the New Year with a bang, having grabbed the first Grand Slam women’s doubles title of the year.
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