Down and out in 2010, up and bouncing in 2014!

Sania Mirza, fresh from her WTA Tour Finals triumph, talks to V. V. SUBRAHMANYAM.

Sania Mirza’s dream run in the 2014 season saw a fitting finale when she partnered Zimbabwean Cara Black to clinch the prestigious WTA Tour Finals women’s doubles title in Singapore.

In the process, Sania posted another first in Indian tennis — the first-ever woman from this part of the world to perform this wonderful feat.

“Honestly, it was one of the best moments of my career when we won the year-ending WTA Tour Finals title. It is arguably the culmination of a fantastic run I have had in recent weeks. The U.S. Open mixed doubles title, the Asian Games mixed doubles gold, the two WTA titles in the Asian circuit and now this highly competitive WTA Tour finals title. I could not have asked for a better finish,” remarked a visibly elated Sania on her return home.

“It was an unbelievable few months. Basically, I achieved what any tennis player would have loved to. Win a Grand Slam, WTA titles, Asian Games gold and then this WTA Tour Finals title. It has been an incredible year for me,” the 27-year-old Sania remarked.

“As tennis players we have to take tough decisions. We have to look forward to what is happening around, accept the changes and the challenges that come with them. It is a great feeling to finish off the partnership with Cara on such a high. Definitely, there is a tinge of sadness that we will not be playing together after such a great win. But again, it is not because we did not want to play together again. I respect her decision to be with her family, planning for a second kid. I wish her well,” remarked Sania on her highly successful partnership with the 10-time Grand Slam winner Cara Black.

How difficult has it been for her to cope with different levels of challenges in the last few weeks to keep winning? “It was physically extremely challenging, for it was literally non-stop tennis. No time for myself and I was even sick before I went to Singapore. It was a phase when you push yourself and the body,” says Sania.

“Emotionally too it was an unbelievable phase of my career as I had to take some important decisions like skipping some events to represent the country in the Asian Games. Well, if I were to write a script it would have been like this. A dream phase in my career and when I probably played the best tennis of my life too,” says an immensely satisfied Sania.

How does she rate the WTA Tour finals women’s doubles title? “Every win is extremely special. But, this one is up there. Competition is tougher than in a Grand Slam. There is no room for any slackness. You have to be on the toes from the word go,” says Sania.

What exactly were her thoughts before the WTA Tour finals? “Honestly, we just went out there and tried to give of our best. For, in two previous round matches, we were almost out of the tournament and gone. And we finished the semi-final around 10 p.m. and the next morning at 11 a.m. we were playing the final. So, we were pretty relaxed having fought our way back into the final from the brink of elimination. We just tried to stay focussed to fight out another day on the tennis court and that is why we could produce our best,” the champion tennis player recalls.

“When we went into the final, we were repeatedly reminded of the fact that our opponents had never lost in the 12 finals they had played earlier. But, we just tried not to think about it. It is such an amazing sport, gives you so many chances… you are almost out of the tournament in two matches and come back to win,” she exclaims.

JOY FOR SANIA and CARA BLACK in their last match together.-AP

“In fact, Paul McNamee came to me and said we played a perfect match and that doesn’t happen often. Probably, we saved the best for the final,” Sania points out.

“The only thing was we kept fighting and never gave up. That is an amazing thing, if you keep fighting miracles happen,” she says to a query.

On her new partnership with Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh, Sania reminds us that every partnership and relationship takes time to settle down. “Sometimes you click immediately, like it happened with Cara, and sometimes you don’t. We have to believe in our partnership. She is a great tennis player. Paul will also definitely help us as he is one of the best doubles coaches around. Even if it doesn’t click for some time, it doesn’t matter, we will try to keep improving,” she points out.

How difficult was it to be mentally tough during the last few weeks? “I actually wanted to thank all those people who were after me. Fighting a match point is easier than fighting these people,” remarks Sania.

“It has been happening for a long time after some sort of a break and lull last year. This year it took the cake. They made me really tough and showed me and my family a way to stay away from this. I thank the entire country and the media who supported me in such a terrible phase. Logic and commonsense prevailed eventually. I think I came out tougher,” is her response to the controversial comments.

What is the secret of her success? “There is no secret as such, unfortunately. You have to keep working and working. It doesn’t happen overnight. It has been a very long career and I can’t think of doing anything else at this point of my career. When it is tough and down, you have to work harder. That is when you come through,” the two-time Grand Slam winner explains.

Sania also paid handsome compliments to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “The Prime Minister is an extremely dynamic personality. I met him twice, once individually. It is amazing the way he encourages athletes. Well, when a Prime Minister tweets on your success, it is a totally different and great feeling. He loves sport and when he told me that the whole country rejoices when we (athletes) sweat it out there and win laurels, it made me feel that I am doing something for my country,” Sania observes.

What about the high expectations every time she enters an event? “I can’t remember a match when people think the other way. That has been the story of my life for long, no matter whom I play. Let me be honest, it is pretty amazing that people expect so much of me,” she says.

“Well, I am getting closer to my goal of being the No. 1 in women’s doubles. Hopefully, that will happen next year,” says Sania about her goals. “Definitely, a medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics is my bigger dream. There can’t be a better feeling than that. I know it also means lots of hard work,” she remarks.

“In 2010, I thought I was going to retire. But in 2014 I am playing the best tennis of my career. So, I will just try to keep my form going and most importantly be injury-free. You know, the kind of surgeries I have undergone and there was a phase of six months when I could not hold a tennis racket. Then, I thought it was all over. But thanks to God, my parents (Imran Mirza and Nasima) and my sister, I am sharing these moments of joy now,” comments a very sober Sania.

Reflecting on the International Tennis Premier League, Sania feels it is an amazing concept and to have players like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams is some sort of a dream for many. “Personally, I am eagerly looking forward to playing with them,” she added. “IPTL will help tennis grow a lot in this region. We (Indians) have been doing pretty well in the last few years. And this League should take the sport to the next level,” Sania signs off before joining her beaming parents to celebrate what is arguably the highest point of her career.