Sania Mirza: The poster girl of Indian tennis made the nation proud with numerous honours

The girl from Hyderabad created multiple firsts to increase the growing popularity of the sport in the country.

Sania MIrza file photo; Credit: Sania Mirza Twitter page

It is safe to say that Sania Mirza was the pioneer in increasing the popularity of women’s game in India. In the male category, there have been players like Vijay Amritraj, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes setting the trend with multiple honours. But, the scenario in the women’s game was different as there were no prominent female tennis players in the Indian setup. And the wait was finally over with Sania stepping up to keep India’s flag flying high at the global stage.  

Started playing at the age of six, she became the player to watch after winning the Bronze in mixed doubles of the 2002 Asian Games alongside Leander Paes. She then won the Wimbledon Championships Girls’ doubles title in 2003 partnering Alisa Kleybanova. It was at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad, she announced her arrival, picking up four Gold medals.

Spotlight moment

She started the calendar year 2005 in impressive fashion, reaching the third round of Australian Open before losing out to eventual champion Serena Williams. Her major breakthrough came later in the year at the AP Tourism Hyderabad Open. The local favourite Sania defeated ninth-seeded Alona Bondarenko in a thrilling three-set final to become the first-ever Indian woman to win a WTA title. It was the moment Sania rose to fame in the country.

The year kept getting better for her as she stunned the reigning US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova at Dubai Tennis Championships in the second round. After bowing out of the second round of Wimbledon, Mirza once again caught the eye of the nation with a fourth round US Open finish. Among the players she defeated, the victory against Marion Bartoli was the standout result.

Despite losing to Maria Sharapova in the round-of-16, Sania’s US Open performance elevated her status in the country to become a crowd favourite. She ended the year with a semifinal run in the Japan Open. A memorable 2005 helped her win the WTA Newcomer of the Year. Two years later, she broke into the Top-30 ranking, reaching a career high 27th place.

Doubles glory

Sania enjoyed most of her success in the doubles circuit. Partnering alongside Bhupathi, she tasted her first Grand Slam success in the 2009 Australian Open, winning the mixed doubles final. She won two more mixed doubles titles – 2012 French Open alongside Bhupathi and the 2014 US Open partnering Bruno Soares.

Mirza also formed a lethal combination alongside former World No.1 Martina Hingis in the women’s doubles. The duo secured three successive Grand Slam titles – 2015 Wimbledon, US Open and the 2016 Australian Open. Infact Mirza won back-to-back WTA Finals titles. In 2104, she partnered alongside Cara Black to win the trophy before retaining it with Hingis in 2015. The year was extra special as Mirza became the first Indian to clinch the World No. 1 spot in WTA’s doubles rankings.

The impressive aspect about Sania was the fact that she hardly had any female role model in Indian tennis to look up to during her budding years. Still, she managed to create a name for herself, fighting against all odds to become the pioneer of women’s tennis in the country. Her achievements reach beyond the Grand Slam titles as Mirza gave hope to a generation of young female players. It is enough for her to attain legendary status in Indian tennis.

Karthik Raman

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