By Ali Bin Rizwan
April 16, 2015
Twelve years after winning the junior Wimbledon doubles title, Sania Mirza, 28, became the first Indian woman to be ranked world number one in women’s doubles tennis. Mirza’s career highlights include one Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles title, 14 International Tennis Federation (ITF) singles titles, 26 WTA doubles titles, four ITF doubles titles and three mixed-doubles grand slams.
Recently, Mirza paired with Swiss legend Martina Hingis, and won the Family Circle Cup. But above all, the win marked the fulfilment of a childhood dream for Mirza.
From a talented junior tennis player to the world’s top ranked doubles player, the journey has not been easy.
Many dream, but only a few achieve. Talent is nothing without an enormous amount of hard work behind it. Mirza started playing tennis at the mere age of six. At the age of 16, she lifted the Junior Wimbledon doubles trophy, and in 2007, she reached her highest singles ranking of World number 27. Continuous injuries and on court movement restricted her from climbing higher in the singles ranking. But the fact that she made it to the World’s top 30 was a huge achievement in itself.
In a country where Bollywood stars and cricketers steal the limelight, a young tennis sensation became the sole representative of India at the top level of women’s tennis. Before Sania, India hardly had any female tennis players in the world’s top 100 ranking. Fighting stereotypes and so-called cultural barriers that exist for women in South Asian countries, Mirza stood firm in her battle to make it to the top.
Yet, she has received undue and absurd criticism. Her tennis outfit drew criticism from Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists in India, and during the 2008 Hopman Cup, she was pictured resting her feet towards an Indian flag while watching Rohan Boppana’s match. This was enough to ignite another controversy in India.
Citing the series of controversies, in 2008, Mirza announced that she would stop participating in tournaments held in India. However, she returned to India to compete in the Common Wealth games in 2010.
After being appointed as the brand ambassador of Telangana state, Mirza was referred to as ‘Pakistan’s bahu (daughter- in-law)’ and was deemed unfit for Indian representation. The remarks made her break out into tears while defending herself during a television show.
Today, as the world’s top ranked doubles tennis player, she is an inspiration for girls, not only in India but also in Pakistan. Both countries face pretty much the same social and cultural pressures. Her success story will indeed motivate girls in this region to pursue not just tennis but their dreams and aspirations in any field. No doubt Mirza’s parents played an important role in her success as well, especially considering the fact that she was initially coached by her father.
Mirza became the first Asian woman to be appointed as a Goodwill ambassador by the United Nations. In 2013, Mirza started the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy, which aims to provide world class tennis facilities to Indian youngsters.
Mirza has enjoyed great support and love from Pakistan throughout her career. In Pakistan, she’s commonly referred as Sania ‘bhabi.’ Her rise to world number one made headlines in all Pakistani news channels and newspapers, and the news was celebrated with great fervour all around the country. It is amazing how tennis brings the two countries on the same page. The doubles team of Aisamul Haq and Bopanna also received mutual support from both countries.
What Mirza has achieved for India truly demands admiration and respect, and it can be hoped that many young girls will see her feat as a ray of hope. It will also make many parents in India and Pakistan realise that our girls, if given enough opportunities, can do wonders.
We wish Sania bhabi good luck with her future endeavours and we hope that she will retain the number one spot for as long as possible.
Pakistan has, is, and always will support Mirza in her efforts.
A big congrats to Sania Mirza from Pakistan!