India rarely discussed Sania Mirza’s tennis. It’s a sad comment on a nation that aspires to be sporty but doesn’t spend much time understanding the nuances of sports. It’s also a comment on a country that celebrates the triumph of its athletes but ignores their skill set. If India had tried to understand Sania’s tennis, they would have understood her better and measured her impact on Indian sports.
It’s not that Sania hasn’t been recognized, but her core competence was underestimated. That ferocious forehand of his (he once hit a 102mph serve return at the Australian Open) didn’t excite Indian sports fans like a youngster throws a 100kph ball.
In a land that believes in promoting every little cricket issue, Saina’s forehand, once seen as the most fearsome on the WTA circuit, has not received the praise and popularity it deserved. If it wasn’t Tendulkar’s straight drive, it certainly deserved the iconic status accorded to Sehwag’s brutal cut.
It’s because Saina transcended beyond the tennis courts too quickly. Very early in her career, India, in her eagerness to discover a rare female tennis talent, elevated her as a gender warrior and progressive Muslim girl from Hyderabad. Later in life, she would be the symbol of India-Pakistan bonhomie and a Super Mom. Her detractors have also not bothered to look at her punches and dissect her game. They have been busy commenting on her outfit, mercilessly trolling her, and posting fake news about her.
“My professional career began in Melbourne…I couldn’t think of a better setting to end my [Grand Slam] career in.”
We love you Sanya ❤️@MirzaSania • #AusOpen • #AO2023 pic.twitter.com/E0dNogh1d0
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2023
Cricketers often complain about personal attacks and invasion of their private space, Sania could tell them a thing or two about being targeted by bullies, gossips and degenerates. Being in the spotlight can be irritating, especially when he’s seen as a perennial newsmaker, but the conversations around him aren’t about the sport he plays.
Except for the country’s small tennis community, Sania’s court art was never promoted or questioned. Did she have the best forehand on the women’s circuit? Should she work more on her fitness? In doubles, should you stick to the ad side or switch to the two side? Like those heated debates over the batting position of our cricketing superstars, street corners or fan forums were never bitterly divided over what Sania did on the pitch.
This is not how sporting nations treat a trendsetter. Social media has a habit of calling every oddball a ‘game changer’ but Sania was the real deal, she truly changed the game.
Before Sania, women’s tennis was mostly about testing your opponent’s patience. Most of the contests were between serenely slow servers. There would be long baseline rallies where tennis balls would draw parabolic arcs across the net. These calm hits, more like lobs or throws, had an apt name: they were called moon balls. Sania hit the courts like a ball of fire, the Sun that made the moon-ball disappear beyond the horizon.
A ’90s kid, Sania grew up watching Steffi Graf. The multiple Grand Slam winner was known to flip the ball around to her backhand to throw the ball past opponents. The girl from Hyderabad would try to be like the German legend. The trainers would object, but Sania was too stubborn, too sure of what she was doing.
He got the unconditional support of his parents, Naseem and Imran. The three of them used to travel in their diesel car, hopping from one tournament to another. This way, Sania could play more tournaments and sometimes even avoid hotel bills.
It was this unwavering belief from her parents that gave Sania the nerve to let her forehand break no matter the match situation. In 2005, right after her historic loss in the third round of the Australian Open, Sania played a WTA event in Kolkata. It was the time when a fringe organization had issued a fatwa, threatening her with consequences if she did not “dress properly.”
Sania, still in her teens, walked the court like a rock star. The hope of that day had overflowed from the field to the stands. There was freshness, joy and youthful energy. Kolkata saw a certain brave carelessness on the pitch that is the preserve of the young.
Sania wasn’t worried about noise off the court nor was she afraid of unforced errors. If she got a ball on the right side of the court, she would hit it with all her energy. In her easy 6-2, 6-2 victory over Japan’s Junri Namigata, she gave home fans a glimpse of her legendary forehand, which had created such a stir around the world.
Sania had three types of forehand: one she returned serves, the other hit from the baselines, and the last, most visually pleasing of all, was the ball-breaking shot she unleashed from the ball. center of the Court.
As a general rule, Sania, regardless of the score, would look for winners upon serving. To do this he bent his knees, let the racket come up to the ball and dispatched it with minimal recoil. The one at the end of the court was the classic: measured steps towards the ball, a twist of the wrists and the ball flying too close to the net cord. His treatment of the short ball was the wildest. Sania would approach the ball like a boxer, he would wait for it to bounce and throw a punch.
Thanks,@MirzaSania For teaching a whole generation of young Indian women to dream, I was one of them. You have always played with enormous passion throughout the challenges. Your legacy means a lot to Indian sportswomen. Respect and congratulations!!! ✊🙌🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/C6ZFhKuKar
— Vinesh Phogat (@Phogat_Vinesh) January 27, 2023
Though overlooked by most Indians, this was a rare display of unbridled aggression from an elite Indian sportswoman. She didn’t freeze on the important points, she wasn’t overly cautious, she didn’t hesitate to guess, so sure of herself that she wasn’t afraid to go further and establish a new template.
On her last day at a Grand Slam, it came to light that Sania’s story had also left an inspiring sporting legacy. Despite being busy fighting her against the powerful WFI president, wrestling World Cup medalist Vinesh Phogat tipped her hat to a tennis champion stepping out of her spotlight.
Thank you @MirzaSania for teaching a whole generation of young Indian women to dream, I was one of them. You have always played with enormous passion throughout the challenges. Your legacy means a lot to Indian sportswomen. Respect and congratulations!!!”
Sania taught young athletes to be fighters, both on and off the field.
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