On top of the world

Sania Mirza shares a joke with Martina Hingis after winning the doubles final at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston.-AP

“I must say that I am fortunate to have achieved so many firsts in my career. But becoming the World No. 1 tops everything else in terms of achievements,” says Sania Mirza. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

For the first six months when Sania Mirza started playing tennis at the age of six, thanks to her mother Nasima Mirza, her father Imran Mirza did not bother to watch her. He thought his daughter was too young for him to form an opinion. However, 22 years later, on April 12, 2015 to be precise, when Sania was crowned the World No. 1 in doubles in Charleston in the U.S., it was an unforgettable moment not just for Sania or her father, but for Indian sport too.

For the record, Sania and Martina Hingis defeated Casey Delalacqua and Darija Jurak 6-0, 6-4 in the doubles final of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston to win their third consecutive title in as many tournaments.

Becoming the first Indian woman to claim the No. 1 doubles ranking is a stunning achievement by the 28-year-old, who has three Grand Slam (mixed doubles) and 27 WTA (one singles and 26 doubles) titles against her name.

“This is a great moment, arguably the finest day of my career, even though the three Grand Slam titles are also very special for me for different reasons,” said Sania soon after emerging the top women’s doubles player.

Sania’s sense of timing, like her trademark forehand returns, has been remarkable. When she decided to part ways with her partner from Chinese Taipei, Su-wei Hsieh, after a couple of tournaments and join hands with Hingis, not many expected such a turnaround. The champion player from Hyderabad, playing in tandem with Hingis, won three WTA titles in the space of one month, and in the process realised one of her biggest dreams — becoming the World No. 1 in doubles.

The achievement took even her mother Nasima by surprise. “I thought it would take at least four to five months, but what a dream run they (Sania and Hingis) are having. It’s an amazing feeling for all of us (family members), which has also meant a lot of sacrifice. What more can the parents ask for from a sportsperson?” she said.

Sania’s first tryst with glory was when she won the Junior Wimbledon doubles title in 2003. The following year, she picked up her maiden WTA doubles title, partnering Liezel Huber. In 2005, Sania won her first WTA singles title, defeating Alona Bondernko in front of a noisy home crowd in Hyderabad. Since then, she has been scripting some amazing moments in her career.

Sania’s climb to the summit wasn’t without struggles and intriguing battles. In 2010, Sania had experienced the worst phase of her career, as a serious wrist injury forced her out of action for six months. It was a time when she could not even pick up a racket. “It looked as if it was all over, and I even thought of quitting. But thanks to my parents and sister (Anam Mirza) and the blessings of my fans, I mustered the courage and was back on court,” she recalled. And amazingly enough, Sania won her second Grand Slam title within two years — the mixed doubles crown with Mahesh Bhupathi at the 2012 French Open.

The turbulent phase saw Sania focus more on doubles despite achieving a career-best ranking of World No. 27 in singles in 2007. “Yes, not achieving much in singles because of injuries will be a regret. But then it doesn’t weigh on me heavily; I take it as my destiny,” she pointed out.

Like all great champions, Sania’s philosophy has been simple — to stay positive, always. “That is the best way to shut out all unwanted issues. If you are in a position to give off your best, the results are bound to come,” said the Brand Ambassador of the newly formed Telangana State.

Changing her doubles partners — from Bethanie-Mattek Sands and Shahar Peer to Cara Black, Hsieh and Hingis — has been another problem for Sania. “This has been a major problem for me. It takes time to settle down. But fortunately, I had some of the best partners and obviously, Hingis is a class apart. I have a great chemistry with her and the results show — three WTA titles in a month. This is unbelievable,” Sania explained.

After a remarkable last six months in 2014, when she won three WTA doubles titles (including the year-end Finals in Singapore — the first-ever by an Indian woman) and the U.S. Open mixed doubles title teaming up with Bruno Soares of Brazil, Sania was confidence personified going into the current season. “Honestly, it was not as if I was chasing it (No. 1 ranking). But somewhere in my heart, I had the feeling that it was round the corner, bound to happen as I was playing the best tennis of my life,” she said.

On finally scaling the summit, Sania said: “I must say that I am fortunate to have achieved so many firsts in my career. But becoming the World No. 1 tops everything else in terms of achievements.”

She added: “Another Grand Slam title and an Olympic medal for sure are what I am dreaming of now.”