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Sania Mirza: she dares to win

February 04, 2003 22:08 IST

Sania Mirza is cool. She was cool when she paired with Leander Paes in the mixed doubles category at the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, South Korea. She was cool when she visited the troubled state of Pakistan when she was barely 14, to play her first ITF juniors' tourney in Islamabad, and then again as part of an Indian contingent for an under-14 ITF juniors event when the Indian Airlines plane was hijacked in Kandahar in 1999.

Sania MirzaAnd now she is cool, sitting on the side lawns of the Sports Authority of the Andhra Pradesh tennis courts, talking about being paired with one of women's tennis ambassadors, Frenchwoman Mary Pierce, in the doubles category at the US $140,000 WTA Indian Open in Hyderabad.

As we talk about her maiden tourney in our neighbouring country, she says, "I have been thrice to Pakistan and every time the visit has been pleasant. But when the plane hijack happened we had to finish our games in two days and rush; it was scary during that time."

Dressed in off-the-court tennis gear after a morning training session, Mirza is busy getting up-to-date with her co-players, discussing opponents, strategies, and at the same time surprised at Isha Lakhani getting an upper hand over her opponent in her first round qualifier.

"Oh, she is winning," says Mirza, obviously delighted that her colleague is playing well.

Indeed, Mirza has always delivered that air of confidence without caring too much about the hype

"I have been lucky to have played with the likes of Leander -- and now with Mary Pierce. I hope to learn a few things from her [Pierce] as I did from Leander."

As tennis fans across the globe are overawed by the amazing talent of Paes, so is the country's top woman player.

"He is so fast on the court and so encouraging. And the best part is in spite of such a wide chasm between our achievements he makes you feel at his level."

Mirza believes the mixed doubles bronze at the Asian Games is the most important medal of her career thus far.

As her eyes move from court to court, scanning the matches of various qualifiers, our talk drifts to the WTA event in her own city, Hyderabad. Is it the most important event of her career?

"Well, I have played the Grand Slams... yes, but definitely this is my first instance of rubbing shoulders with the seniors... and that with some of the best in the game."

Mirza has not played active tennis since she won the National Games gold medal in December. She was at her peak then despite a minor ligament stress in her left knee.

"I played the best tennis during the National Games, especially from the quarter-finals onwards," she says.

Her 6-0, 6-0 brutal assassination of not-so-well Manisha Malhotra must have been one of the best victories.

"I really played well, but she was having fever," points out Mirza, hastening to add she too was tired and looking for a much-needed break after playing non-stop tennis for some eight months.

"I was very tired and needed a long break to re-coup."

Apart from a week's stint at the CGK Bhupathi Academy in Bangalore, Mirza has been cooling her heels at home.

One of the major events she skipped to relieve her work-stress was the Australian Open juniors.Sania Mirza

"I will also not play at the French Open as clay is not my favourite surface. So I wouldn't like to compete there," she informs.

Sounds a nice strategy as it is better to concentrate on the strong points rather than struggle, dealing with the weaker ones. After Hyderbad, the Mirza caravan [she travels with her mother] moves to Doha. Then she plans to participate in a few ITF tournaments.

"I have planned nothing long-term and after Doha I would play a few ITF grade one tourneys where I can encounter the much-needed higher level of competition."

Indian women have always performed well on the ITF junior circuit but when it comes to the big league they are not up to the mark. Mirza, too, has not encountered the top players in the juniors and that remains a major predicament. But she doesn't seem bothered.

"I don't think I need to beat the top-25 to prove a point. I am playing at the top of my form. I just want to concentrate now on good events in the near future."

The burning desire in Mirza is certainly hot at the moment. In fact, she had made it clear in her last interview with that her priority is getting into the professional circuit. The wild card she's received at the WTA Indian Open is just a mark of respect to her increasing potential. She feels staying for another year on the junior circuit may alter all her plans and, hence, is pulling all stops to march ahead.

Isin't it true that who dares, wins?


Nagaraj Gollapudi