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Sania creates a flutter

By Nirmal Shekar

MELBOURNE, JAN. 17. For all the attention she received, Sania Mirza might have been excused if she felt a bit like a newly-crowned Grand Slam champion here on Monday. The teenager from Hyderabad turned out to be just the right sort of spicy story to kick-start a Grand Slam championship with.

And what did she do? Well, she won a Grand Slam tennis match. Which, of course, is a bit like saying a woman just got elected President of the United States. These things are rarer than real sightings of Yeti, and not long after Mirza's 3-6, 6-3, 6-0 defeat of Cindy Watson of Australia at Melbourne Park in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday, the young woman found her 15 minutes of fame surrounded by curious mediamen.

An Indian woman on a sporting centre-stage? Not surprisingly, the questions flew thick and fast. How many women play sport in India? Are parents loathe to allow their daughters to take to sport? Do girls' schools have sports facilities?

Obviously it is going to take more than a solitary Grand Slam match victory by an Indian woman to significantly alter popular Western images of the Indian woman. But Mirza's brilliant come-from-behind _ she was trailing by a set and 2-0 _ victory over the experienced 26-year-old Watson may have made a tiny bit of difference.

This is only the second time an Indian has made it to the second round in women's singles in a Grand Slam event. Nirupama Vaidyanathan, who beat Gloria Pizzichini of Italy in the first round here in 1998, was something of a pioneer. Mirza, holder of a wild card and ranked 166, won eight games in a row from 2-0 down in the second set against Watson, also a wild card holder world ranked 285.

Stereotypical image

If the World Wide Web has done little to bridge gaps in understanding and developed nations still cling to images of the stereotypical generic Indian woman _ a sort of grotesque caricature _ then perhaps the fault lies in our own society's largely unchanging cultural values. For, even in this age, the successful Indian sportswoman is present mostly in the periphery of our collective consciousness.

A long jumper world ranked in the Top Ten, a world class shooter or two, world champion chess players, the odd badminton and tennis star who finds success on the big stage, hockey and cricket teams that can match the best in the business...Indian sportswomen have indeed come a long way. But, it appears that it is going to take more than all this to deconstruct colonial era myths.

Once in a long while, when a Nirupama or a Mirza crops up, politely answering questions with the coquettish smile in place, the outside world drifts back into some half-forgotten fantasy vis-a-vis the exotic Indian woman. Success at beauty pageants and sexist Indian TV commercials help keep the fantasy alive, fully clothed in Kancheepuram silk, if you please!

Then again, on the playing front, the great disparity that still exists between men and women's sports in popularity, support and money in India do not help the cause of the sportswomen. And it is precisely because of this even a single Grand Slam match victory _ such as the one achieved by Mirza against a lower ranked opponent _ assumes enormous significance because it might just focus a beam of light on a dark area.

"It is huge for me. It is huge for India," said Mirza. "I cannot put it in words. This is what we play tennis play and win at the Slams."

Moments in the sun

For about an hour on a bright, lovely summer's day, it appeared that Mirza might trample on her gifts _ the wild card and the luck of the draw _ as her shots flew all over the place like water from a misbehaving sprinkler. Then, drenched in her own misadventure, the young woman found her moments in the sun and was home and dry soon.

"It was my first Grand Slam match. I was a little nervous," said Mirza. Of her 43 unforced errors in the match, 34 were made in the first two sets. "I just slowed the game down and took control in the second set," she said.

Actually, more than the errors, it was Watson's consistent defensive play from the back of the court and the feathery backhand slice that took the pace off the ball which hurt Mirza, who had to generate her own pace all the time. But even when she was losing, it was obvious that Mirza was by far the superior shotmaker. And once she regained confidence on pulling level (2-2) in the second set, Mirza, who hit 22 forehand winners, was unstoppable.

Mirza will play Petra Mandula of Hungary in the second round on Wednesday.

Poor tennis

Later in the afternoon, Carlos Moya, a two-time Chennai Open champion, lost in the first round for a second week in a row. The Spanish fifth seed was beaten 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 by his countryman Guillermo Garcia-Lopez on a day when the former women's champion Mary Pierce also lost in the first round.

Moya, who had beaten Garica-Lopez in the semifinals in Chennai two weeks ago, has been playing shockingly poor tennis since leaving India. Today, he put up a semblance of a fight in the third set before Garcia-Lopez, calling the shots from the baseline with far flung groundstrokes, broke his famous compatriot in the eighth game and served out the match.

If King Carlos took a fall, then the Monarch of the men's game had a customary romp. Roger Federer, defending champion and top seed, galloped past the gifted Fabrice Santoro of France 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 in an hour and 34 minutes _ it might have been much less if not for the first game of the second set, which was decided after nine deuces _ with the nonchalance and energy of the teenagers who race by you on roller skates on the Yarra riverbank.

So relaxed was the champion that he appeared to be practising his defensive batting technique between points. "I got a good technique. You saw that," he said with a smile at the post match press conference. "I have never really played (cricket). Get a few nice balls from some real cricket players, that would be fun to see how it is for a change."

Can you hear the McGraths and the Pathans heave a huge collective sigh of relief?

Men (prefix denotes seedings): singles: first round: 20-Dominik Hrbaty (Svk) bt Robin Soderling (Swe) 6-4, 6-2, 1-0, retd., 22-Ivan Ljubicic (Cro) bt Luis Horna (Per) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3; 28-Mario Ancic (Cro) bt Oscar Hernandez (Esp) 6-3, 6-2, 6-1; Tomas Zib (Czech) bt Wang Yeu-tzuoo (Tai) 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4; 1-Roger Federer (Sui) bt Fabrice Santoro (Fra) 6-1, 6-1, 6-2; Marcos Baghdatis (Cyp) bt Federico Luzzi (Ita) 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3; Bjorn Phau (Ger) bt Albert Costa (Esp) 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-3; 13-Tommy Robredo (Esp) bt Scott Draper (Aus) 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2; 30-Thomas Johansson (Swe) bt Peter Luczak (Aus) 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0; Peter Wessels (Ned) bt Lu Yen-hsun (Tai) 6-3, 6-4, 6-4; Agustin Calleri (Arg) bt Max Mirnyi (Blr) 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4; Takao Suzuki (Jpn) bt Jan-Michael Gambill (U.S.) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3; 10-Gaston Gaudio (Arg) bt Justin Gimelstob (U.S.) 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-3; 8-Andre Agassi (U.S.) bt Dieter Kindlmann (Ger) 6-4, 6-3, 6-0; 29-Taylor Dent (U.S.) bt Florent Serra (Fra) 7-5, 6-2, 6-4; Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Esp) bt 5-Carlos Moya (Esp) 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; 11-Joachim Johansson (Swe) bt Sjeng Schalken (Ned) 7-6(6), 6-2, 6-3; 27-Paradorn Srichaphan (Tha) bt Potito Starace (Ita) 1-6, 6-2, 7-5, 6-4; Janko Tipsarevic (Serbia) bt Daniele Bracciali (Ita) 7-6(4), 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-1; Rainer Schuettler (Ger) bt Olivier Patience (Fra) 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-2; Bohdan Ulihrach (Czech) bt Ivo Karlovic (Cro) 6-3, 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-2; Michal Tabara (Czech) bt Thomas Enqvist (Swe) 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3; Kevin Kim (U.S.) bt Lee Hyung-taik (S.Kor) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1; 4-Marat Safin (Rus) bt Novak Djokovic (Serbia) 6-0, 6-2, 6-1; Olivier Rochus (Bel) bt 21-Nicolas Kiefer (Ger) 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3; 16-Tommy Haas (Ger) bt Xavier Malisse (Bel) 6-3, 6-2, 6-3; 24-Feliciano Lopez (Esp) bt Paul Baccanello (Aus) 7-5, 7-5, 6-2; Karol Beck (Svk) bt Todd Reid (Aus) 6-2, 6-2, 6-1; Sargis Sargsian (Arm) bt David Sanchez (Esp) 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2; Mardy Fish (U.S.) bt Juan Monaco (Arg) 2-6, 6-0, 6-4, 4-6, 9-7; Jarkko Nieminen (Fin) bt Davide Sanguinetti (Ita) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.

Women: singles: first round: 7-Serena Williams (U.S.) bt Camille Pin (Fra) 6-1, 6-1; 5-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Rus) bt Jessica Kirkland (U.S.) 6-1, 6-1; Evgenia Linetskaya (Rus) bt Lubomira Kurhajcova (Svk) 6-4, 6-1; 17-Fabiola Zuluaga (Col) bt Selima Sfar (Tun) 6-3, 7-5; Sania Mirza (Ind) bt Cindy Watson (Aus) 3-6, 6-3, 6-0; Martina Sucha (Svk) bt 16-Ai Sugiyama (Jpn) 7-5, 6-4; Elena Baltacha (G.Br) bt Katarina Srebotnik (Slo) 5-7, 6-4, 6-4; Alina Jidkova (Rus) bt Virginia Ruano Pascual (Esp) 4-6, 6-1, 6-4; Marion Bartoli (Fra) bt Claudine Schaul (Lux) 6-1, 6-3; 15-Silvia Farina Elia (Ita) bt Julia Schruff (Ger) 6-3, 6-4; Anna-Lena Groenefeld (Ger) bt Severine Beltrame (Fra) 6-1, 6-3; Petra Mandula (Hun) bt 30-Flavia Pennetta (Ita) 3-6, 6-1, 6-3; 28-Shinobu Asagoe (Jpn) bt Anca Barna (Ger) 6-4, 6-2; Dally Randriantefy (Mad) bt Zuzana Ondraskova (Czech) 6-1, 6-1; Stephanie Cohen-Aloro (Fra) bt 24-Mary Pierce (Fra) 6-2, 6-2; Sophie Ferguson (Aus) bt Nuria Llagostera Vives (Esp) 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-4; Li Na (Chn) bt Laura Granville (U.S.) 6-2, 4-6, 6-2; 22-Magdalena Maleeva (Bul) bt Magui Serna (Esp) 6-1, 6-1; 9-Vera Zvonareva (Rus) bt Liu Nannan (Chn) 6-4, 6-2; Marta Domachowska (Pol) bt Li Ting (Chn) 6-1, 3-6, 6-0; 29-Gisela Dulko (Arg) bt Kristina Brandi (Puerto Rico) 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; 11-Nadia Petrova (Rus) bt Virginie Razzano Pascaul (Fra) 6-1, 6-2; 4-Maria Sharapova (Rus) bt Sesil Karatantcheva (Bul) 6-3, 6-1; Maria Kirilenko (Rus) bt Aniko Kapros (Hun) 5-6, 6-2, 6-4; 2-Amelie Mauresmo (Fra) bt Samantha Stosur (Aus) 6-2, 6-3; 21-Amy Frazier (U.S.) bt Marissa Irvin (U.S.) 7-5, 6-1; Vera Douchevina (Rus) bt Jill Craybas (U.S.) 3-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4; Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) bt 32-Iveta Benesova (Czech) 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1; Dinara Safina (Rus) bt Zheng Jie 7-5, 3-6, 6-4; Lindsay Lee-Waters (U.S.) bt Zsofia Gubacsi (Hun) 6-3, 7-5; Mariana Diaz-Oliva (Arg) bt Saori Obata (Jpn) 6-3, 6-4.

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