Sania calls for better support for tennis players

"Unlike cricket or badminton or other sports where we have champions, the expenses are all on us [tennis players]. Even now, people see the money we make but every week I am losing $10,000 because I am paying coaches, physios, trainers out of my pocket," said Sania Mirza.

Sania Mirza called for better funding and organization of tennis in India.   -  J. Manohar

As one of the biggest names in Indian tennis, Sania Mirza can claim to be one of the few non-cricketing stars in the country's sporting scene.

With little support from a system that doesn't encourage sports for girls, Sania has found it tough to achieve what she has. After all these years, she has managed to remain in the top echelons of world tennis.

“There has to be a system where people can pick up a racquet and go to an academy and do their thing. We do not have that culture, people still don't think of sports as full time for girls -- it's like she can play till she is 11 or 12 years and then she shouldn't play because she will become too dark! We still live like that,” she said.

“Obviously we are not doing an amazing job, we are lacking somewhere or we would have an outburst of players like China had at one point or Russia had and now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I know Mahesh (Bhupathi) tries to do his best with his academy, I try what I can with my academy but at the end of the day it has to be from within,” she said when asked about support and infrastructure in the country.

And while All India Tennis Association (AITA) happens to be one of the few better-administered federations in the country, Sania rued the lack of support for the players.

“The thing is, none of us depends on government grants because it is not there where when we are growing up or struggling, we have to raise our own money," she said, "Unlike cricket or badminton or other sports where we have champions, the expenses are all on us. Even now, people see the money we make but every week I am losing $10,000 because I am paying coaches, physios, trainers out of my pocket.

“Yes AITA is perhaps better run than other (sports) organisations but that's not enough. As a federation they try to help us but I think they also don't know how to go abt it. That's why we have 20 years between every champion we get and all of us, from Ramesh Krishnan to me to Rohan (Bopanna) are self-made,” she added.

Her retort on being asked about 'settling down' during a recent interview has been hailed but Sania insisted that such questions are routine.

“It's about differentiating on the basis of gender in general. The other day there was a question I heard was asked of Serena (Williams), 'you are probably one of the best women athletes'. Why not just 'one of the best athletes' in the world, because that's what she is – she has 22 Grand Slams, it doesn't matter whether she is a man or a woman. When they talk to Roger (Federer) they will never say 'the best male athlete'. These are subtle, subconscious things we live with that we need to question. We as women need to say that it's not ok,” Sania said.