Olympic-bound Sania Mirza back in TOPS

Multiple Grand Slam winner Sania had opted out of the scheme when she was selected last in 2017 because of an injury breakdown which had led to a lay-off.

Six-time Grand Slam winner Sania Mirza at a training session at her academy in Hyderabad.   -  V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

Sania Mirza was one set away from at least a silver medal in the Rio Olympics in 2016, in partnership with Rohan Bopanna in the mixed doubles semifinals. Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram turned the match around on its head, and eventually Sania and Bopanna were denied a bronze medal by the Czech pair of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka.

After giving birth to Izhaan and navigating through the pandemic, the 34-year-old Sania, ranked 156 in doubles, has set the Tokyo Olympics as the main target for the season.

When she left the WTA Tour in October 2017, Sania was ranked No.9 in the world. Quite judiciously, Sania has preserved most of her 12 protected ranking entries to get ready for the Olympics and to compete in the Games in Tokyo.

She has played six tournaments on her return over the past two years. She won Hobart immediately on return and competed in the Australian Open. She availed of wild card entries in Doha and Dubai, conserving her protected ranking entry.

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With the rules allowing her extended period of protected ranking entry till October 2021, Sania will have the option of choosing a doubles partner for Tokyo, ranked in the top-300. A top-10 player gets direct acceptance into the doubles draw of 32, with a partner.

Considering all the facts, the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) has, in its meeting held on Wednesday, drafted Sania back into the fold for Olympic preparation with adequate government funding.

It may be noted that Sania was part of the TOPS scheme earlier in the current Olympic cycle, but had withdrawn herself from the scheme when she left the Tour in 2017.

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For the present, Sania is busy preparing in Dubai, with the country’s No.1 singles player Ankita Raina, for the Billie Jean KIng Cup World Group play-off to be played in Jurmala against Latvia on April 16 and 17.

The onus will be on the Asian Games gold medallists, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, to ensure a men’s doubles entry for Tokyo, so that India can field a mixed doubles team for a shot at a medal.

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