She braved the odds and scaled the summit of excellence which few can even dare to dream of.
When Sania Mirza bid goodbye to tennis in her last event in WTA Dubai Open (first round loss) on Tuesday, she left an inspirational legacy and set a daunting benchmark with her stupefying string of achievements in a career lasting close to three decades.
Not many in Indian sport could have warded off the challenges Sania encountered - on the court or off it.
The illustrious career of Sania and the indelible impact she has left on Indian tennis doesn’t come as a surprise for those who followed her career right from when she was eight and started playing age-group tournaments on the dusty clay courts of Gymkhana Ground in Secunderabad under the watchful eyes of her father-cum-mentor Imran Mirza.
The proud father himself re-defined how a parent could mentor a talented kid in the world of sports. Imran ensured the young girl didn’t feel any pressure while his wife Nasima made Sania enjoy the sport without bothering about the results.
It was never easy, of course. Imran struggled to find a good practice partner and decent tennis courts in the early stages and had to move across the country in his car to facilitate Sania’s participation in the AITA tournaments and collect the crucial ranking points that would make her eligible for events abroad.
To her credit, the gifted tennis player from Hyderabad, whose forehand was a force to reckon with, only improved with each passing month in the crucial transition from the junior to the senior level.
One of the most amazing chapters in Sania’s career is marked by the way she fought back from a six-month break because of a wrist injury in 2008. This was after she was ranked World No. 27 a few months earlier!
“Yes, I remember I couldn’t even pick up a racket then and the future looked grim,” she had said once.
But she came back to dominate the sport and completed a rich haul of six Grand Slam titles, eight Asian Games medals (including two gold), and two Commonwealth Games medals.
“This journey in life and in sport has been truly fabulous — full of emotions that only I and my family members can experience,” Sania told this reporter once. Her only regret was missing out on an Olympic medal despite making four appearances.
When many had written her off after she got married, Sania served another reminder - that she was a fighter par excellence and her passion for the sport couldn’t be diminished.
The world No.1 ranking for an Indian woman tennis player was beyond the realms of imagination but Sania showed that she belonged to a different category when she became the top-ranked women’s doubles player on April 13, 2015 and held on to that spot for a stunning 91 weeks.
The list of achievements is endless and Indian tennis history will be incomplete without Sania being right there at the top. Most importantly, all this would probably not have been possible but for the support of the Mirzas - father Imran, mother Nasima and younger sister Anam.
So, when Sania, at 36, took the bow finally, it became apparent that neither was there anyone like her in Indian women’s tennis before, nor would there ever be in the future.
Or, will the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy produce the greatest ever women’s tennis player from India? Only time will tell.