Sania and her pet project

Sania Mirza at her tennis academy.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

“I am greedy to keep winning. I mean this is the attitude of any professional sportsperson. Wanting more is the key to success,” Sania Mirza tells V.V. Subrahmanyam in this interaction.

At 27, Sania Mirza has once again proved that she is the best women’s tennis player from India — by a distance. Well, after an immensely satisfying semi-final appearance in the recent U.S. Open women’s doubles (partnering Jie Zheng), the star Hyderabadi was back at her Sania Mirza Tennis Academy in Murutzaguda (near Hyderabad). This is fully operational now on nine synthetic courts with two more clay courts coming up soon.

No doubt, her highly creditable U.S. Open doubles semis showing was overshadowed, quite rightly, by the magnificent Leander Paes who defied age at 40 to win yet another Grand Slam title.

In an exclusive chat at the SMTA, a visibly relaxed Sania said that the last four weeks or so were very satisfying. “After changing partners and a couple of rough weeks, we won the New Haven title coming into the U.S. Open with our confidence high. We had some great wins at Flushing Meadows including the one over the Wimbledon champions. It is a nice feeling to be in a semi-final of a Grand Slam. No doubt, it could have been better if we had won the title,” said the only Indian woman player ever to win two Grand Slam titles.

How difficult is it to keep changing partners? “It is really tough, no doubt about that. Bethanie (Mattek-Sands) is hurt so much that after the French Open I had to split my partnership with her. It was a very difficult phase. But again, it is a part and parcel of the sport which is not in your control,” explained Sania.

How does she feel about this phase of her career? “I think definitely doubles is getting tougher and tougher with so many top singles players including the Williams’ playing now. It doesn’t matter if you are like playing against someone who is in the top 50 or not and more so given the scoring system, the competition is so much,” said Sania who has been forced to focus only on doubles for quite some time after a couple of serious injuries and surgeries too.

What keeps her going? “The love of the game. I am going to be 27. It is a very long time since I have been there in the circuit. I don’t think anyone thought I would have such a successful career which included two Grand Slam titles and a career-best singles ranking of No. 27. Honestly, no one believed that I could play at the highest level for so many years. This is what makes me feel special,” said a smiling Sania.

How long would she love to keep playing? “As long as I enjoy the game and my body lets me play,” she remarked.

What has been the decisive moment that changed the course of her career? “It is not confined to a particular moment on the court. Essentially, it is all about self-belief. The belief that you can compete, provided your body is willing to support. Apparently, in a year you have to keep playing 30 weeks and you can’t expect winning every week. It is very tough,” Sania explained.

“This year, it’s been a good one as I won three events and entered the finals in a couple of more events. I am greedy to keep winning. I mean this is the attitude of any professional sportsperson. Wanting more is the key to success,” reminded the ace tennis player who will soon be more involved in producing champions at the SMTA.

Shoaib Malik and Sania get along really well.-V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Any dream still to be realised? “There are so many. So many weeks. You always try to win Grand Slams as any young kid would dream of. I am fortunate to have won two. Hope to win a few more before I finish off my career,” she says.

What about the future of Indian tennis, especially women? “Every time I see a young, talented girl, I always feel she can make it. But, unfortunately, they have been fizzling out very soon for different reasons. That is why I wish my Academy provides the answer to this query. It is sad if we want players to come out of retirement and play in the Commonwealth Games for the country. I am determined to help tennis players, share my experiences at the highest level as it is a far more tougher sport now,” felt Sania.

“Yes, I don’t know too many names who I can say are the future of Indian women’s tennis. But, I think Ankita Raina is doing really well with a couple of big wins in the 25 category. She needs to go out more and play in the U.S. and Europe for even a few first round losses will make her realise how tough it is and make her a better player. Hope she doesn’t fizzle out,” said Sania.

“Honestly, I am waiting for the day after five years when I can say that this player or that one from my Academy in Hyderabad can win a major in the world circuit,” said the optimistic Sania.

How does she look at life now? “It’s not a normal life, for sure. You are away from your family, friends for a long period. You’re always on the move. There is not really a day off. I see people complaining of jet lag after a long flight and saying it took two weeks for them to recover from it. This is a luxury I can’t afford. We have to travel so much and play a tournament almost every week,” pointed out Sania. “I have had three surgeries so far. I don’t think many would have had so many in their lifetime. I’ve been punishing my body so much. It is a gruelling schedule indeed,” she added.

How has life changed after marriage with Shoaib Malik (former Pakistan cricket captain)? “Not much really. That is the good thing about it. He was with me in New York. We manage our schedules. It’s nice to have someone who understands sport and its demands. We both take pleasure of being sportspersons. We are enjoying every bit of it right now,” remarked Sania.

What’s going to be her role in the Academy? “I would definitely love to be involved more in the SMTA. I would love to keep playing tennis for the rest of my life if my body allows it. Whenever I am in Hyderabad, I will be there at least a couple of weeks every month. I wish our dreams of producing champions come true,” signed off Sania after another two-hour training session.