‘I want to offer joy to millions’

PTI

The unknown Indian fans, who stay up late to watch her play around the globe, are Sania Mirza’s greatest inspiration. The tennis star wants to fight for every point when she is on court to put a smile on the faces of this cheering army. V. V. Subrahmanyam finds out why the 28-year-old is so endearing to all of us.

Sania Mirza, one of the most loved sport stars in the country, recently added another feather to her cap, becoming the first Indian woman to win a Wimbledon title. She won the women’s doubles, partnering Swiss veteran Martina Hingis.

The 28-year-old from Hyderabad has now been conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the highest sporting award in the country. Sania’s honour list also includes three mixed doubles titles at Grand Slams — Australian, French and the U. S. Open.

Elated after receiving the award, Sania shared her thoughts in this exclusive interview with Sportstar from Toronto.

Question: What was your first reaction when you came to know that you have been nominated for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award?

Answer: It has been an extremely humbling experience. It is an honour to be considered for such a prestigious award.

Were you expecting such recognition, particularly after your spectacular performance at the Wimbledon?

No, this is way beyond my expectations. On the tennis court, I have the mentality of a fighter, who is always fighting hard and trying to win for the country. Giving joy and bringing honour for the people of my country, who I represent each time I enter a tennis court, is in itself a thoroughly rewarding experience.

How significant are these Awards to a sportsperson? Does it act as a motivator for further success?

I think, it is extremely motivating, but it also comes with huge responsibility. You have to try and live up to the high expectations of your countrymen.

You were the youngest recipient of the Padma Shri, when you were awarded it in 2006. How different is the Khel Ratna compared to that award?

It’s difficult to compare any two awards. The Padma Shri, at a very young age, was in recognition of the promise that I had showed early in my career. The Khel Ratna, which is the highest award that an Indian sportsman can ever aspire for, is perhaps for the fulfilment of that early promise.

You have never lobbied for any award or cribbed about it when you were not chosen for one, unlike many other Indian sporting personalities. In that context, is there an element of surprise here? These awards are often accompanied by controversies.

It is a surprise. But, I have always considered that my sole job is to earn laurels and bring honour to my country, through my performances on the court. It is a tremendous satisfaction when that gets noticed.

What has been the most difficult aspect of your sporting career over the last few years? The critics have not always been kind to you…

The critics are doing their job. My job is to perform to the best of my abilities and I’m trying to do that. Managing and overcoming injuries has been my biggest challenge.

The U. S. Open is coming up. What are your expectations? Your confidence must be high after the Wimbledon triumph.

A sportsperson never feels satisfied with whatever he or she has achieved. It is an amazing thing about us. There is always this hunger to do even better.

What would be your advice to young women athletes, who are trying to make a mark in their respective fields?

A sports career is a difficult road for anyone to pursue, and perhaps, more so for women in India. The passion for the game and the joy of playing for one’s country is something that has always driven me to defy the odds. It is the greatest motivator that can spur you on.

What has been more satisfying to you — getting an award or winning a Grand Slam?

Winning a Grand Slam, getting to the No. 1 position in the world are huge achievements. It is something which I have always dreamt about. An award from the state is an endorsement and acknowledgement of my achievements.

How difficult is it to stay focused as an athlete, when there are so many distractions around?

The sport, which has given me so much, has to be my priority always. Tennis is my greatest passion, so no distraction is big enough to take my focus away from it.

Are you superstitious? Preferring a particular colour of clothing, a favourite racquet…

I’m not that particular about clothing. But, I do have a few favourite racquets, which I use more often.

Who has been your biggest source of inspiration?

I have always said this: my family has been my biggest support through my career.

What is your message to your fans?

Don’t be scared to dream and always follow your passion with complete sincerity and back it with tremendous hard work. This has worked for me, and there is no reason why it should not work for anyone else.

We have the Rio Olympics next year. Do we have a chance to win a medal in tennis?

We probably have our best chance for a medal in the mixed doubles event. But you need a bit of luck. I think we were very unlucky at the London Olympics.

You have achieved great success on the professional circuit. Winning an Olympics medal, is that your next goal?

Like I said, we are never satisfied with whatever we win. We continue to seek further glory for the country, wherever we are playing. This continues till the last day of our career.

What would you have been, if not a tennis player?

I wanted to be a doctor when I was in school. Later, I developed a huge interest in interior decoration.

Did you ever come close to quitting tennis? Did it ever come to your mind when you suffered a serious wrist injury and was struggling to even hold a racquet?

Yes, there were many dark days and it was just my passion for the game and the support from my family that helped me to bounce back.

Do you want to dedicate the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna to anyone?

My biggest inspiration has been to play for my country and offer joy to the millions, who have supported me. I would like to dedicate the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna to these people of India, who have always believed in me and have been by biggest motivator.