Sania Mirza celebrates a point at the WTA finals in Singapore where she partnered Martina Hingis, October 2015 (Photo: AP)
EIGHTEEN YEARS OF joy. And it will soon come to an end. Sania Mirza, a real trailblazer of Indian sport will soon be calling it a day. The Dubai ATP 1000, starting February 19, will be her last appearance on a tennis court. And for us, the last occasion to celebrate her as an active tennis player.
But Sania is so much more than just a tennis player. She is a symbol of empowerment and an inspiration to millions. A real-life example of “nothing is impossible”. She is one who had dared to dream and then pushed herself to fulfil her dreams, much to the astonishment of many in India. In every sense, she is a disruptor. She challenged every established stereotype and in doing so fashioned her own narrative.
For a six-year-old Muslim girl growing up in Hyderabad to take up tennis was in itself an ordeal. There were no facilities at hand and no role model to follow. Everything she did was by herself. She created her own path to success. Yes, she failed on occasions. Everyone does. But never did she give up. Each failure made her stronger and pushed her more. Made her more determined to be the best version of herself. And now she leaves behind a legacy of six Grand Slams and multiple other WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) titles besides making it to the pole position in doubles in the world.
And she did some of this as a mother. With young Izhaan now at the centre of her life, it is no surprise that he was in the stands in Australia as she played the mixed doubles final with Rohan Bopanna. That’s what the Sania story is all about. A story that makes for perfect Bollywood. Only it’s real and not reel.
It was just a few weeks after she had Izhaan and Sania was yet to shed the baby weight. Making it back to competitive tennis was a long way off and with nothing left to prove, it was difficult to imagine that she would give it one more shot and attempt a final comeback. But that’s Sania. The destiny’s child who loved to defy the odds. Shedding 26kg in a matter of months, her comeback was for all mothers than simply for herself. “Yes, it was a way of telling every woman that motherhood isn’t the end of anything. Rather, it is just another step in a woman’s life and you don’t need to give up on anything as a mother if you don’t wish to. If I could make it back to competitive tennis within months, anyone could get back to work and do all the things they love doing,” Sania was matter-of-fact. Then came out the whipping forehand: “If anyone felt they could bodyshame me, I am sorry I wasn’t the one to fall for it. I wanted to be a mother and thereafter wanted to shed the weight to do what I wanted to do. Nothing else mattered to me and I never had any hesitation in putting up my pictures on social media. In fact, each time I was bodyshamed I turned more and more determined. I had to prove these trolls wrong. I am glad I did.”
For a six-year-old girl growing up in Hyderabad to take up tennis was in itself an ordeal. There were no facilities and no role model. Everything she did was by herself. She created her own path to success. And now she leaves behind a legacy of six grand slams and multiple other WTA titles besides making it to the pole position in doubles
Share this on
That’s Sania Mirza for you. A story in herself. Young and supremely successful, she has always been controversy’s favourite child too. Despite her stupendous achievements, it had taken time for people to accept that she is indeed brilliant at what she does. That she plays quality tennis like no other Indian woman has ever done. And perhaps few will in future either. That she can make a Grand Slam final in her final major and script history. With a taped calf, she keeps giving all her fans across the world tremendous joy. Behind all the glamour was a hard-core professional who went under the knife many times to keep her career going. Not only did she dare to dream but she also dared to fulfil most of what she had dreamt of achieving.
Now that she has decided to call it a day, we will see her in Dubai one last time this month. It is indeed time for a look back and to celebrate a career like no other. Sania has won six Grand Slams. She had even won a title at SW19 as a junior in 2003 coming up the ranks. But among all her titles, the 2015 Wimbledon crown is what will forever define the Sania narrative. That win is her story in a nutshell—to win against all odds. First, she was going into the tournament as the world’s No 1 ranked doubles player, a feat no Indian had achieved before and no Indian looks like achieving in the next decade at least. Second, the pressure was on Sania and her Swiss partner Martina Hingis to justify their No 1 seeding, to prove that the phenomenal run they were enjoying could indeed continue at the Slams and that the French defeat was an aberration. Finally, this was the only Grand Slam that Sania was missing and, frankly, back home this is the Slam that matters to every sport fan. The victory, coming after a night of phenomenal tennis, had the effect of galvanising the entire country.
Winning at Wimbledon was always something Sania wanted and to win her first women’s doubles slam at Wimbledon was a dream come true for the Indian legend. And for Indian tennis, it was a milestone. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had turned a new leaf by winning one title after another at the turn of the millennium. Women’s tennis, however, never managed that giant leap. Sania was alone. She continues to be alone. But with the 2015 win, she had the Wimbledon title on her résumé. She was champion at tennis’ biggest stage.
It’s not easy to imagine India having another Sania Mirza soon. Coming from where she has, and to make it to the very top of her sport, it has been a unique journey. The Australian Open celebrated her as one of tennis’ icons. And as we celebrate her in her last month as a professional tennis player, it is time to say that she isn’t finished yet. Every match she plays even now is an opportunity to consume herself for one more time. To know that dreams do come true and hard work has no substitute. Sania Mirza was a trailblazer and will remain one in the annals of Indian sport.