Sania Mirza talks about her successful doubles season
It has been a hectic, but very successful season for Sania Mirza. The tennis ace is understandably proud to have won five doubles titles this year, “the best by anyone”, and to have had a dramatic finish by winning two big titles back to back in Tokyo and Beijing, with Cara Black.
After spending four days in Dubai, where she did “lots of shopping”, Sania is happy to be back in her home city Hyderabad, to unwind. “The plan is to chill for the next two weeks with family and friends. I will get back to training after that,” she says, more eager to get on with the game rather than rest, relax and enjoy the fruits of hard work for a longer time. She is excited about training because the best of Indian players will train together at her Academy in Hyderabad, and in Chennai.
“Everybody is going to be there…Somdev, Rohan. There will be many trainers. It is a great opportunity,” says Sania, quite pleased that the Indian Tennis Players Association (ITPA) will be doing something concrete.
Yes, Sania is also looking forward to training with Cara Black who has won 10 Grand Slam titles in women’s and mixed doubles. The Zimbabwean, who has returned to the circuit after child birth, has actually come as a whiff of fresh air in Sania’s career, even though she has enjoyed considerable success with Bethanie Mattek Sands and Jie Zheng.
“I wanted to play Tokyo and Beijing with the same player. Things fell in place and I had fixed up with Cara long time back. Then me and Jie Zheng won New Haven and reached the semi-finals of the US Open,” Sania says, admiring the timing of things.
“Cara is going to be here for three weeks. I am really looking forward to training with her. Though we have been successful, we need to work on a few things and improve. It is easier to be with someone who is focusing only on doubles. She does not have many people to train in Australia. Her husband has been a trainer for Pete Sampras and is with the Australian Football League. My trainer will also be here,” says Sania, very keen to resume training with a battery of experts.
Their style of play complements nicely to form a winning combination. Sania with her explosive ground strokes and Cara with her ability to finish points at the net, make it difficult for their opponents.
“Cara probably is the most experienced. She has played at the highest level for a long time. I have a lot to learn from her. She is a great girl as well and we have a great relationship,” says Sania.
Professional tennis is as demanding as it is rewarding. Having quality training stints lays the foundation not only for success, but to ensure that the players stay away from injuries. Sania has had her share of injuries and surgeries. It forced her to take a hard decision to stick to doubles and let go singles.
“I miss singles. I know that I was good at it. I could have tried and got back into the top 30. It was the harshest decision of my career to stop playing singles. It was more about the body. The recovery was getting difficult. I had to be realistic. You can’t push yourself much as there is always a fear that it may lead to injuries. Doubles obviously helps in the longevity of your career. I still train the same way, but only the practice style differs. Many come to me on the tour and say that I should be playing singles. But I had to accept the reality,” says the 26-year-old, ranked No.11 in the world in doubles.
After winning two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles from three finals with Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania has not had matching success, especially with foreign partners. Though she is committed to Horia Tecau for the Australian Open, Sania said that she had an open mind on the subject to play with Leander Paes or Rohan Bopanna, with whom she has enjoyed a fair degree of success.
Sania is particularly pleased about establishing an academy on four acres of land, with a swimming pool, gymnasium and a running track, etc. She hopes to train and guide players at the centre with world class coaches and trainers.
“Some of us have become big stars in the last ten years. We want the legacy to go on even after we stop playing. I didn’t have this type of facilities when I was growing up. It is a great opportunity and we are ready to share our experience and support anybody who loves tennis, wants to try the sport. It is great to have the family involved. We are also ready to advise anyone,” says Sania, suggesting that a lot of factors have to be kept in mind to make a successful career in the game.
Moving on, Sania has also heard about the calls for Roger Federer to quit the game because he is not the same force any more. She expresses her surprise at it. “We need to respect one of the greatest players of all time. I am sure he knows better than all of us. He is still competing at the highest level, and is in the top 10, not 100 or 120. He still feels that he has a chance against the top players,” Sania says, even as she appreciates the anxiety of his ardent fans, who cannot accept anything other than victory for Federer.
Sania concedes that she is one of the biggest fans of Sachin Tendulkar, who has also announced his retirement from cricket.
“At the end of the day, we have to respect Sachin’s decision. No one wanted him to retire. He thinks he is done. He has been one of the best cricketers in the world. We need to accept his decision and move on,” she says signing off.