Dubai: Dubai is special for Sania Mirza. So special that the Indian tennis ace set up a base in the UAE. A long-time Dubai resident, Sania chose the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to call time on her 18-year career
The time has come. It’s just days away. But there was no hint of regret on Mirza’s face during Saturday’s draw ceremony for the 23rd WTA event in Dubai. Sporting a teal-blue tracksuit and a beige cap with the words “PAIN DON’T HURT” emblazoned on it, Mirza laughed and joked with Spaniard Paula Badoso, also a Dubai resident.
“I knew last year I would stop soon, and I’m just excited to be back in Dubai to end here,” Mirza said before looking back at her career. “It seems a long time ago — 18 years — that a lot of amazing things started for me right here, so I can’t think of a better place to finish my career. Dubai’s been my home away from home for so many years, but now it really is my home,” she added.
The start of Sania’s incredible journey
Mirza’s professional career sprouted at the Dubai Tennis Stadium. That was in 2005. Svetlana Kuznetsova was her first-round opponent. A quarterfinalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, Kuznetsova also had a doubles grand slam in her bag. So the Russian was heavily favoured to win. But the crowd at the packed stadium lent their full-throated support that lifted her to a giant-killing victory.
I’ll miss the competition, walking onto big courts and winning. It’s very difficult to replace that in any other walk of life.
“That was my first time ever playing in a big stadium outside India. I have played well here in singles. I have played some amazing matches here. For a long time, we didn’t have a tournament in India, and this (Dubai) was the tournament which I looked forward to as the home tournament,” Mirza said, recalling her golden moments in Dubai.
The win over Kuznetsova was the start of an incredible tennis journey. A journey that Mirza brought six Grand slam titles — three in women’s doubles and three in mixed. Last month, Mirza played her last Grand Slam at the venue of her first Grand Slam appearance. And she finished runners-up in mixed doubles, partnering India’s Rohan Bopanna.
It showed that Mirza still had the game to joust with the best. So why is she hanging up her racquets? “My level of play was never in doubt. I want to go out on my terms. There’s more to life, and my priorities have changed. I am playing well and feeling good. But the amount of work that is going into that, I don’t think I have that drive anymore,” Mirza said.
That explains why the pain of leaving the game she loves most doesn’t hurt her. Instead, Mirza is excited. “I am looking forward to it (the Dubai tournament). I have a lot of friends and family coming to watch me this week. It doesn’t matter: winning or losing. I’m trying to enjoy my last moments (in competitive tennis), and these moments are never going to come back.”
How does it feel to walk away from an illustrious career? A career that made Mirza the darling of Indians worldwide. A game that brought her fame and fortune. A sport that gave her adrenaline-addled highs.
“I’ll miss the competition, walking onto big courts and winning. It’s very difficult to replace that in any other walk of life, but my priorities are different now, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”
I am looking forward to a little calmer and quieter life at home, doing the normal stuff — school pickups and drop-offs.
What does life after tennis look like for Mirza? It seems like she’s got that chalked out.
“I have some tennis academies here (in the UAE), some in India. Some commentary here and there. I am looking forward to a little calmer and quieter life at home, doing the normal stuff — school pickups and drop-offs. And spending some time not out of the suitcase,” a beaming Mirza said.
Sania’s proudest moment
Eighteen years is a long time in professional tennis. It’s not easy to pick the best moment. Here’s what Mirza told Gulf News. “I have had many proud moments. But I think definitely becoming the World Number One was one right up there.”
World No. 1 doubles player: that was Mirza in 2015. She stayed there for 91 weeks. A lofty feat indeed. Certainly, one to cherish, as Mirza moves to another phase in her life.