After the lady with the golden wrist, who?

Sania Mirza and her Czech partner  Barbora Strycova after winning Pan Pacific Open
Sania Mirza and her Czech partner Barbora Strycova after winning Pan Pacific Open

Winning six grand slams along with 40 WTA titles made Sania Mirza world number one doubles tennis player despite losing 17 finals. It is not easy for anyone to achieve this feat and sustain it for a long time. But Sania has done it. Recently, she paired with Barbora Strycova of Czech Republic winning Pan Pacific Open at Tokyo to retain her number one WTA ranking with total 9730 points, five more than her estranged partner Martina Hingis. Sania and Strycova had earlier ousted Hingis and CoCo Vandeweghe 7-5, 6-4 in the final of the Cincinnati Open last month. Sania and Strycova have lost just once since pairing up in Cincinnati. As a pair it was their third tournament.

India has produced many fantastic male tennis players like Ramanathan Krishanan, Jaidip Mukerjea, Premjit Lall, Vijay Amritraj, Anand Amritraj, Romesh Krishanan, and Leander Paes. Among women players we find Nirupama Vaidyanathan who had to slog for years to push her ranking to a career-high of 134, while others like Manisha Malhotra, Sai Jayalakshmy, Rushmi Chakravarti, Radhika Tulpule and Megha Vakharia had their own share of success. A few years ago no one would have imagined that a female tennis player from India will be world no.1. Sania’s upsurge has been phenomenal. Her life is a saga of achievements which value more looking at the circumstances in which she started.

India has done well in sports like hockey, badminton and tennis all of which involve the use of wrist. In 1966 Krishanan, Mukerjea and Lall took India to the challenge round of Davis Cup for the first time beating West Germany and Brazil. In the Challenge Round, they faced defending champions Australia. Though India lost 1-4, the doubles match between Krishanan and Mukerjea and the then world champions Tony Roche and John Newcombe still haunts the Australians. The Indian pair unexpectedly won it hands down 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.

In the long history of Indian tennis, female players do not figure. Even after Sania’s success no other woman player of such potential is in sight. Born in Mumbai and brought up in Hyderabad, Sania took up tennis at the age of six initially taking tips from her father. Mirza won 10 singles and 13 doubles titles as a junior player. She won the 2003 Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles title, partnering Alisa Kleybonova. She also reached the semifinals of the 2003 US Open Girls’ Doubles, with Sanaa Bhamari, and the quarterfinals of the 2002 US open Girls’ Doubles. On the senior level, she made her debut in April 2001 on the ITF Circuit aged merely 15. In that year she reached quarterfinals in Pune and a semifinal in Delhi. In 2002, she turned around a season of early losses to winning three straight titles.

Sania attained great success in 2006 when she defeated higher ranked players like Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova and Martina Hingis. This was the turning point of her tennis career. She had the best results of her career during the 2007 summer hard court season, finishing eighth in the US Open Series standings. Her biggest strength is her positive attitude as her coaches Sandeep Kirtane and Sunil Yajaman noticed in her. It is this streak to go for her shots irrespective of the situation in a match that has helped Sania face the odds with equanimity. At junior level, Sania has a 93-45 win-loss career record in singles and a 59-38 record in doubles. She has won seven international junior singles titles from 11 finals, and 10 doubles titles from 14 finals. She has had a career-best singles world junior ranking of 27 and junior doubles ranking of 23.

Sania always plays with full aggression. Hingis once said she was lucky to have Sania as her partner as she is a great player. Her service is her main weapon which is a weakness in Indian players. Though Krishanan tamed every player of the world but he could never win Wimbledon because of weak serve. She has power and deception in her strokes. She adjusts with her partner quickly in mixed doubles covering rear court very effectively while her partner is on the net. Her cross court shots usually baffle the opponents. She has the potential to hit cross court or down the line shots with one action. It is very difficult for the opponent to read which way the ball would go cross court or down the line. Sania Mirza is doing a great job for the nation but who’s next?