Sania Mirza's decision to snub Indian tournaments just to avoid being dragged into controversies has evoked mixed reaction in Indian tennis circles.
The 21-year-old tennis ace, Asia's top women's player and ranked 29th in the world, pulled out of next month's Bangalore Open, saying it was increasingly becoming difficult for her to cope with petty controversies dogging her career.
"Everytime I have played in India there has been some kind of problem. So we just thought it was better not to play this time," Sania said on Monday in defence of her decision.
But apart from her wanting to avoid controversy, there are reports that it could be a decision motivated by rival business interests. The Bangalore Open was run by Globosport till 2006 after which the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association organises it on its own.
The DNA newspaper reported on Monday that the KSLTA was not too happy with the rising appearance money Sania commands.
'Last year Sania was paid to the tune of $100,000 as appearance money to figure in the then $175,000 prize-money event,' the report said.
'This year around, it has been reliably learnt, the organisers were not willing to shell out a similar amount. They would rather offer the likes of Serena Williams a sum in the vicinity of $150,000 to boost the credibility of their event.
'At the same time, apart from India, Mirza would not get appearance money for an event in the league of a Tier II anywhere else in the world with the exception of the Middle East,' the report added.
But fact is, Sania will find it difficult to avoid playing in India, since Globosport, which manages her affairs, owns the second WTA tournament in India -- the Sunfeast Open in Kolkata.
Former Davis Cupper Vishal Uppal expressed surprise at Sania's decision to pull out of the Bangalore Open.
'She said she has done it to avoid controversies, but I think she has created another controversy by opting out,' he said.
Bangalore Open Tournament Director R Sunder Raju, who got to know about her non-participation only after the WTA released the player list, said no reason was ascribed by Sania for not entering.
'It is a disappointment,' he added. 'Her entry was not received at the closure of entry for the qualifying rounds on January 20.'
Asked why Sania decided against participating, he replied: 'You guess it. I can only say she has not entered!'
Former Davis Cup captain Akhtar Ali sympathised with Sania, saying her decision is "unfortunate" for Indian tennis.
"It is a sad day for Indian sport. It is very unfortunate. She is not well. She did not have a good time at the Australian Open, and on top of that she is being made the subject of controversies every now and then. Some people are repeatedly hassling her. This is all sheer politics," he said.
Ever since her breakthrough 2005 season, Sania has been battling controversies, ranging from her on-court attire being dubbed indecent by Islamic fundamentalists to the recent flag controversy during the Hopman Cup in December last year.
India's Fed Cup team coach Enrico Piperno hoped that Sania would reconsider her decision.
"It is her personal decision. We have to respect it. The pressure of controversies became too much for her. Then there was the media also. I hope she reconsiders her decision," he said.
"Her game is a treat to watch. In this respect, Indian tennis buffs will lose out," he added.
Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj also expressed shock at the extreme step taken by the Hydrabad girl.
"I am dumbstruck. She is the best, not just in India but in the whole Asia. In my time, to play in India was such a big thing," he said.
Mahesh Bhupathi, who owns Globosport, said the decision to pull-out of the Bangalore Open, is a "one-off" instance.
"It is not a permanent decision. It is only for this year that she will not play in India," said Bhupathi, who pairs with Sania for mixed doubles.
"She has really been pained by all that has happened in the last few months. It is really unfortunate. We want that she should have the right frame of mind when playing in tournaments," he added.