Head to Head: Sania Mirza
Originally published on: 29/03/13 00:00
She’s the only woman from India, a country with a population of over 1.2 billion, to reach the top 50 in the WTA rankings and to win a WTA title, which she did in her hometown of Hyderabad in 2005. The 26-year-old has picked up numerous accolades during her career, including being voted one of the 50 heroes of Asia by Time Magazine in 2005 after she was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year.
How did you find your way out of such a big country with a limited history in tennis to become a professional player?
It was hard because no-one really knew about tennis. I just had to learn along the way. My parents loved sport and they wanted their child to play sport. I loved playing tennis, I loved hitting the tennis ball and I used to play every day. So that basically is how the journey started. It was never a conscious decision, it just happened.
What were the biggest challenges you faced growing up as a female athlete in India?
Oh, I mean, there were a lot! We didn’t have even hard courts when I started playing. We used to play on courts made of cow dung! I’m not even kidding. So from there you had to try to compete at Wimbledon, which wasn’t really the most ideal situation. I never really had anyone to look up to from India where I could say, ‘Okay I want to become like her. She’s a benchmark that I can reach.’ I think in India there are still certain sections where people believe that a woman should take a more conventional role by either becoming a teacher or by staying at home and taking care of the family. Of course, it’s a lot better now. I’m talking 20 years ago. Now people believe that you can be a professional athlete and you can be a woman and it doesn’t have to be cricket! You can do anything.
Why hasn’t India produced more tennis players?
It’s so unfortunate. You have to understand that as much as we say that India has a billion people, 70 per cent of them are in the villages and they’re more hand-to-mouth and a lot of them are not so educated. When I started playing I remember that we used to have to grab people to come and play at under 12 [tournaments] but now you have hundreds of entries. But of course if you compare the ratio it’s not happening. I’m starting my own academy this year in Hyderabad where I live. I’ve been asked this question so many times and I come up blank all the time and I think we have to do something about it if we want the tennis legacy to go on after me, or Mahesh [Bhupathi] or Leander [Paes].
What are your hopes for 2013?
Last year was a good year. I reached my best ranking of seven in the world [for doubles] and I won a Grand Slam. Hopefully I can win another one this year because that’s what we’re playing for now.
To read the full feature, get your hands on the April 2013 issue of tennishead magazine.