Revealing the mantras of her brilliant career, six-time Grand Slam champion Sania Mirza opened her heart as she addressed hundreds of tennis coaches across the country in the webinar hosted by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) in collaboration with the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
In a session that saw its fair share of nostalgia, Sania spoke of looking at the big picture and working towards a long-term goal, speaking of the support she had from her sports-minded parents.
Going back to the favourable flow of events that saw her managing a wild card entry into the Australian Open in 2005, Sania recalled how she believed that she belonged to the big league.
‘’I was seeing Serena Williams for the first time. And I was to compete against her. That gave me a different level of confidence, to compete against the best and be one of the best. I played a decent match’’, Sania recalled, about her unforgettable first outing against one of the best woman tennis players of all time.
‘’If I can compete against Serena, I can compete against anyone’’, Sania remembers realising then, two years after she had won the Wimbledon junior doubles title.
‘’I got into the WTA event in Hyderabad on a wild card, as I was the first one out of the list. I felt that I belonged there. You have to believe that you belong. If you don’t believe, it will be difficult to compete against them’’, said Sania, who won the WTA event when she was 18, and shot into the top-100.
More than belief and faith, the 33-year-old Sania, who always competed in higher age groups since she was 12, said that it was important to ‘’enjoy the competition’’.
‘’Winning was important. But competing was more important, and to give 100 per cent on court. When I get on to the court, I forget everything. I only see the tennis ball, net, opponent. I see nothing else’’, she said.
Sania also opined that if the love for sport was not there, it was hard to go through the monotony of doing the same things every day, ‘’hitting the same forehand, and backhand’’.
Losing did hurt, but not to the point of making her cry, as she did not take it to heart, often to the point where her concerned parents would ask her about it when she has started outt.
‘’Tennis is part of our life. Not complete life. No matter how many times you lose, you can always come back and win. This is what sport teaches you. If I have faith, I can come back and win’’, Sania added.
The 33-year-old credits the technical advice from Bob Brett in San Remo, Italy as key to her growth as a player, calling the difference it made to her backhand crucial.
‘’After going to Bob Brett, we learnt what we did right and wrong. We learnt after ten years in the game. If we had gone two years later, it would have been tough to change’’, she felt.
Sania said that she gained the trait of being a ‘’go getter’’ from her mother Nasima,who put her into tennis when she was six, and handled the early stage of her career, before her dad Imran took over as the coach, travelling with her.
"It actually helped our relationship as father and daughter. He knows what to tell me and when to step back’’, Sania said.
Playing an attacking game was her forte, and Sania loved to take the ball early to get that punch.
"If you are late on the ball, you lose power’’, she said.
She also recalled how her "hyper mobile’’ wrist was both a blessing and a weakness, as she had injury and surgery to cope with, which threatened to curtail her tennis career ten years back.
"I was always aggressive. That was my biggest strength. I hit the ball very hard. Others won by lobbing, slicing. I lost matches, but my parents were not bothered. Never once did they ask me, why I didn’t keep the ball in. It was important, what you learn from this match. What was going to make me the best player, not for this week. We always looked at the bigger picture. The aim was to play the Grand Slams, not to win under-12, 14 or 18’’, she said.
When queried, Sania said that the coach and player relationship should be friendly.
"Respect should be there. But, I should be able to confide in you. Once that relationship of friendship is formed, it will be easy to understand’’, she said.
Even though she took just about 12 seconds between points, and was only concerned about selecting the best among the six balls available during play, Sania advised the young players to take more time between points and gain clarity of thought.
"After a long point, bad point, or good point, I recommend kids to take their time and reset’’, she said.
Sania also spoke about the importance of being sensitive while dealing with girls, besides being mindful of hormonal changes that happen throughout their lives. She also suggested that parents should avoid pressurising kids.
‘’It affects them. They think they are letting their parents down’’, she said.
Meanwhile, like the rest of country, Sania is also following lockdown protocols, but she sayss her year-and-a-half old son Izhaan keeps her busy - throwing everything he finds out of the balcony with impeccable hand-eye coordination.
She also added that shed love to take up another sport.
‘’Am not deciding, but am going for golf’’, she said.
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