Sania Mirza, the reigning world champion of women’s doubles tennis,recently received the country’s third highest civilian honour and is wrapping up her autobiography. She speaks to Anindita Ghosh
To say that Sania Mirza is the golden girl of Indian sport is no overstatement. Nothing gets in the way of her drive, not injuries, not controversies, and certainly not the haters. “I have only expected myself to give my best shot year after year since I was a little girl, and the goal will be the same for 2016,” says Sania, who won the Wimbledon Championships Girls’ Doubles title at 16.
She was India’s number one player in the doubles’ and singles’ circuits from 2003 till she retired from playing singles in 2012. Injuries forced her hand but once she took charge of the situation, she came roaring back. She won 41 consecutive matches with her doubles partner Martina Hingis between August 2015 and March 2016. Martina said about Sania in an interview, “There’s not that many people who canmatch her in the forehand rallies and me on the backhand side and at the net. That’s what we try to do every match. We make each other better.”
Sania is currently world number 1 in women’s doubles rankings—and she’s nowhere near done. She is the first female tennis player from India to get to this spot. Sania is even more influential for being one of the rare Indian women sports stars in the game— although she has inspired a whole generation to take up the racquet. Her 3.7 Million Twitter followers are testament to her status as a youth icon. But it has been a long, hard road. She says,“Tennis is a global sport, played seriously in over 220 countries and there is intense competition, as the stakes are high. I do believe we have talented kids in India but the youngsters and their support teams need to have a passion for the game. It takes at least 10 years of focused hard work in the right direction, before one can even gauge whether the player has a decent chance to succeed at the international level. Sadly, kids and their parents are looking for quick success and that is not possible.” Sania, who was recently awarded the Padma Bhushan, credits her parents solely for her achievements. “It is very satisfying, as it is an official recognition by my country of everything I have achieved and I would not have succeeded if my mom and dad had not supported me.” Her husband, Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, has also been a pillar of support. “As sports people, we both understand the passion the other has for the game. It is not easy but we have shown that it can be done.”
But the critics have also followed her career closely, picking on everything, from the length of her skirts to her decision to marry a Pakistani. “I have played professional tennis for nearly a decade and a half. I’ve gone way beyond being affected by petty negativity of a few stray elements,” said the player who will launch her autobiography, Ace Against Odds, in July.
“I hope the book is a useful roadmap to guide the next generation of tennis players from India. If my story can inspire even one youngster to the heights of winning a Grand Slam in the future, I will feel blessed,” Sania said in a statement. Co-written with her father Imran Mirza, the autobiography gives readers a glimpse into the personal stories and struggles behind what has been a tremendous journey.