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Sania Mirza on motherhood, marriage and missing tennis

Pregnant champion talks about the pressure for sportswomen to get back on their feet after giving birth

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News
I will breastfeed. But I am not doing it out of any pressure. It’s important to have that connect with your child, says Sania.
Tabloid

Tennis champion Sania Mirza may be an intimidating player on the court, but in her downtime she cuts a relaxed figure as she personally opens the door to her swanky apartment in Dubai.

As the 31-year-old champion gives us an exclusive tour of her chic home and leads us down the hallway studded with paintings by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, she speaks at length about the new chapter in her life — Mirza will have her first child in October.

She is in her second trimester, but she isn’t waddling as she jokes that her sprightliness during her pregnancy made her own family forget to pamper her — one of the perks of pregnancy.

Mirza, who has won six Grand Slam doubles titles including the 2015 Wimbledon ladies’ doubles with Martina Hingis and is one of India’s most popular sporting icons, manages to court massive attention at every step of her life — remember the brouhaha around her cross-cultural marriage to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik (which Mirza says is ‘so last-season’)? ‘Get over it’ seems to be her credo.

Before she gets ready for diaper duty in a few months Gulf News tabloid! catches up with her in her living room and speaks less about her sport and more about the life that awaits her. Here are our excerpts from the interview with Mirza…

Tennis has given me everything — it has given me the name, the fame... And I want to be remembered for being the number one tennis player in the world, says Sania Mirza.


Congratulations on your pregnancy. How’s it going? Any morning sickness?

Surprisingly, I feel good. I have not had any morning sickness and it has been a dream pregnancy so far. As a woman, being a mother is something that we all look forward to in our lives, regardless of whether you are a tennis player or not. It’s a new beginning.

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Do you have some bizarre cravings right now?

I have gone off sweets like chocolates and that’s good because I would have put on more weight otherwise. But what I crave a lot is spicy food. I am loving those sour ‘chatpatta’ [snacks] stuff like bhel puri. I have gone off red meat too. I am working with a dietician to try to control my weight. I need to get back to playing as soon as possible and therefore I would like to control it [the weight gain].

Serena Williams was unseeded during her maternity and she talked about how aggressive the rules were for women in the professional game of tennis. Do you think a change is long overdue for women tennis players?

There was no maternity leave until recently for us. So that’s a change in itself. It may take time, but I do think there will be changes as there are so many mothers who are coming back to playing now after motherhood. Earlier, what would happen was that once they retire, they would go into motherhood. But that’s not the case anymore. There are at least 20 mothers out there who are playing, which is incredible, including Kim Clijsters who’s come back and won grand slams after she’s had a child. Serena is the greatest tennis player we have, but even for her it has not been easy. To be out of the game for a year and a half and then get back into the back to the same level isn’t easy. You can get back into the game, but to reach the same level takes time. There’s an option of protective rankings where you protect your ranking and then try and come back… So you can freeze your rankings. I have done that. It’s a long way off. We are still in 2018 and my goal is obviously to try and come back to 2020 Olympics. It’s a realistic goal to set because it will be the end of the year after I have my child.

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Do you think women can have it all?

I have not followed the ‘traditional women route’ in my life. I have always been the odd one out and I am glad that I was one. My parents have always supported all my decisions — so whether I was playing tennis in Hyderabad at a time when nobody dreamed of playing tennis or winning Wimbledon or marrying the person that I loved or having a child after eight years of our marriage — I have always lived life on my own terms.

I wanted to have a family only when I was ready. I find pregnancy empowering because what we are doing and creating as women, nobody in this world can do. When I look at myself, I feel that pregnancy should in no way hold you back. It’s unfair to look at pregnancy as a drawback for your career or your life. My life has to still keep moving forward because that is the way... Obviously parenting is important. My parents have been extremely personal in their parenting towards us. But that didn’t mean we didn’t have people who took care of us when they needed to go to work. We, as progressive women have to move forward in life and that’s the only way to be. One of my biggest examples I would like to set for my child is that pregnancy or motherhood or parenthood should not be something that holds you back from your dreams.

Shoaib Malik with Sania Mirza

I don’t’ know how to cook, I don’t know how to make anything except tea and eggs. I am not fair and I don’t care.” — Mirza on making her own rules.


Won’t it also ensure that you don’t pass guilt over your lost opportunities to your child?

In today’s age and time, it is extremely important to be independent. I am not talking about adults, but children as well. I see that in today’s kids where they are confident and have no qualms about coming and talking to me. I can’t remember ever doing that because I was a shy child. I want my child to be self-confident, self-sufficient and independent. While my child will be my number one priority, that does not mean I have to spend every single minute of the day with them to make them a good person or to parent them.

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So you are all geared up for parenting?

My husband is a hands-on guy. He’s one of those men who will wake up in the morning and make his own breakfast. He doesn’t wait for me to be up when he’s hungry. So that is how we have lived, so it won’t be any different even when our child comes to our lives. I do have to practice [tennis] and he will have to take some time out. I will have to do the same when he has to practice. It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I feel the joy of a child will take over those things.

Do you think having a husband from the sporting field will be of great help here?

Sport has given us both a lot, but it has also taken a lot from us to achieve what we have. But we understand the pressures, both on and off the field. There are days when we are both playing matches and he will have a great day, while I had a terrible one. I have to be happy for him, but I can’t be as I’m sad for myself. But he does not take that personally. It has happened to him too. Sport has taught us how to take victories and defeats. It has taught us how to bounce back. For us, sport is a way of life and we always believe that tomorrow’s always another day.

 

Sania Mirza on…

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Breastfeeding: “I will breastfeed. But I am not doing it out of any pressure. It’s important to have that connect with your child. It’s healthy for the child.”

Birthing plan: “I will trust the doctors on this matter. I want to try to have a normal birth.”

Her activism against violence against women: “As a woman we’ve all faced discrimination at some point in our lives — even if you’re a celebrity or not… You are judged for the way you look rather than the way that you play, no matter how many Wimbledon [matches] you play.”

Whether her Bollywood biopic has been commissioned: “Nothing has been finalised. When it happens, my biopic will be more about showing my struggle as a woman to reach where I am. Twenty six years ago, I came from a place where they thought girls shouldn’t wear skirts or play tennis because if get too dark they might not find the right man to marry them.”

On raising a child from a cross-cultural relationship: “I don’t think that it matters which country they belong to or what colour or what religion they belong to. They need to understand that we are all human beings. Being a good person is much higher than anything else in the world.

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