Hungry for success, Mirza eyes French Open

Fresh from winning the women’s doubles title, six-time Grand Slam winner Sania Mirza says it will be great if she and Martina Hingis can win the French Open this year so that they complete a career Grand Slam, and be in line for a calendar Grand Slam.

Six-time Grand Slam winner Sania Mirza with the Australian Open women's doubles trophy, at her Jubilee Hills residence, in Hyderabad on Monday.   -  Mohammed Yousuf

Fresh from winning the women’s doubles title, six-time Grand Slam winner Sania Mirza says it will be great if she and Martina Hingis can win the French Open this year so that they complete a career Grand Slam, and be in line for a calendar Grand Slam.

“It is tough to be hunted but always a privilege to be the hunter,” Sania said. “It has been a near perfect 2015 for both of us. The reason, I repeat, is that we understand each other pretty well and there are lots of small issues which we share and that help us form a good partnership. It is not just about on-court chemistry but also our off-court friendship that helped us forge a winning combination,” Sania said during an interaction at her residence on returning from the Australian Open.

Dream year

“Well, I kept telling people that it was a dream year but it will be a challenge to maintain that level. The year 2016 got off to a dream start and I could not have asked for more,” Sania remarked.

Elaborating on her partnership with Hingis, Sania pointed out that normally under pressure only one player comes off better in a doubles combination. “But, in our case, we raised the bar together. This is something really special in our partnership,” she said.

“There is no doubt she is a great player and remember she was making a comeback into the big league. And it worked when we decided to play together. I only wish I played with her earlier given the stupendous success we have had in the recent past,” she remarked.

“I don’t think the other pairs are under pressure when they face us. I look at it the other way. We are the ones facing the pressure because of the expectations of winning every time we enter the court,” Sania said to a query. “Yes, it is never easy to keep winning. A time will come when we will lose but I hope it will not come soon,” she said with a big smile.

“People make fun of us saying ‘how many more are you going to win’. This is the kind of reputation we have built. So, to be honest, the pressure is on us,” the Rajiv Khel Ratna Award winner remarked.

On mixed doubles, Sania said there are a lot of issues that are involved in deciding a partner, the most important being the schedule. “I played with Ivan Dodig in the Australian Open and will continue with him in mixed doubles,” she said.

Reflecting on the Rio Olympics, Sania hoped that the best doubles combination will be chosen. “You know it is never going to be easy at that level to do that. But given the field has the Federers and the Djokovics, it will not be easy,” the champion tennis player pointed out.

“All I can say is that I will wait till the cut-off date and not commit myself. The important thing is that I have qualified for the Olympics by virtue of being World No. 1, but I am still not sure whether Rohan (Bopanna) or Leander (Paes) will make the cut. And five months is a pretty long one in a tennis player’s career,” she quipped.

'Title is for my fans'

She dedicated her Australian Open title to the people of India. “This is for the people of this country who show so much of love and affection right through. Thanks to social media I come to know about people keeping track of my performances and conveying their feelings. And then of course, to my family members,” she said.

On how different the Padma Bhushan, a civilian award, is from the sports awards that adorn her living room, Sania said she doesn’t look at it that way. “This is very special and is a recognition for all your achievements.”

Is this the best phase of her career? “Yes, in terms of numbers. But, there have been many more special moments in my career which is already a pretty long one at the highest level. It is very difficult for any athlete to say that he/she has had a 36-match winning streak at the highest level and I am definitely proud of this feat,” Sania said.

The champion athlete from Hyderabad feels that it is never easy to be a champion. “It is mentally and physically draining to be consistent at the highest level. Winning also takes a toll on you, for it means training that much harder to stay at the top,” she said.