Kolkata: A few years back, Indian tennis ace Sania Mirza had written an autobiography ‘Ace against Odds,’ co-authored by her father and biggest mentor Imran Mirza - a title few can grudge if one had been following the career graph of one of the most extraordinary sportswoman from India.
The best women’s tennis player from India so far? Someone who broke the proverbial glass ceiling? Or one who caught the nation by storm with her fascinating love story? Or in recent times, someone who could be an idol in goal-setting for young mothers? It’s difficult to decide on which Sania Mira you would like to remember as she announced her plans to retire from the Tour at the end of 2022 season.
There was not much of a surprise, really, at Sania’s announcement from Melbourne on Wednesday - neither could the first round loss in doubles at Australian Open be a trigger in that sense of the term. After all, she is still set to play the mixed doubles with Rajeev Ram of the US, but it won’t make much of a difference in the end if she eventually makes an early exit there.
Her announcement, in measured words albeit with a tinge of emotion - stating how the body is finding it difficult to cope with the rigours of the Tour at 35 years or how risky it’s been to do frequent air travel with her three-year old son in tow in these Covid times. Call it the cliche of the spirit being willing, but you have to give it to her for all that she has achieved from a country with no real legacy of women’s tennis players.
Just ponder this - Sania was the first Indian woman to enter the top 100 of the WTA singles rankings, to win a WTA singles tournament, to win the year-ending WTA Finals (doubles) and to win a slam of any type. Talk about winning slams, she has six of them - the last of them coming in 2016 in Melbourne only with Martina Hingis, with whom she formed one of the most successful pairs in women’s doubles.
Landmarks - which in simple terms - were unthinkable when she began as a teenager at the sub-junior levels with a conspicuously strong forehand. Imran Mirza, the media-friendly dad and mom Naseema were always at hand - whether she was playing a claycourt tournament at the Dakshin Kalikata Samsad in Kolkata or at home city of Hyderabad - being optimistic of their precocious daughter without being overtly pushy.
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Were they the ‘tennis parents’ as we know from the world of international tennis? Difficult to say, but suffice to add that both have remained pillars of strength in her life through the highs and lows - and Sania has seen a fair bit in her life.
One remembers thronging at media centre to see a choc-a-bloc centre court at the Dubai Tennis Stadium where she would be a huge draw among the Indian disapora as she was just making her mark in singles. It was a dream year for her in 2005 when she stunned Svetlana Kuznetsova, then a US Open champion, to make waves and then went to be the first Indian woman to win a WTA title the same year. She had reached a career-best ranking of 27 in singles before focusing on doubles - a pragmatic move along the lines of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.
Right now, her aim is to play till the end of the season - though Sania says she would take it ‘week by week.’ Professional sport, as we know, doesn’t always guarantee you fairytale endings - and she certainly deserves a fitting send-off!