‘I deserve to tell my story’

Sania Mirza serves an ace with her autobiography.  

Books by tennis stars are a rarity in India. After Vijay Amritraj’s An Autobiography, which he penned in 1990 with the assistance of English journalist Richard Evans, it was 23 years before Nirupama Vaidyanathan came up with a refreshing The Moonballer, coincidentally launched in Chennai by Amritraj. On the occasion, Amritraj had remarked, “Knowing how difficult it is in India for any athlete in any sport to do well, for Nirupama to come up and spearhead an era of women excelling in sports, be it a Sania Mirza or a Saina Nehwal and many others, was great.”

Now, Sania Mirza, the affable Hyderabadi and national tennis icon, presents her journey in the form of a delightful autobiography aptly titled Ace against Odds. Co-authored by her father Imran Mirza and journalist Shivani Gupta, the book is an account of the hardships and triumphs that finally propelled her into the league of big tennis.

The intense scrutiny she was subjected to by a prying, and sometimes uncharitable, media is something she fought to handle. And this strong persona resonates from the book. In person, though, she looks cool and casual, in a plain white top with ripped jeans, hair open and big hoops in her ears. “It wasn’t something that happened over a year; the idea came to me about six or seven years ago. I was asked about it a lot of times but it did not happen earlier because I wasn’t ready then. It was all about when to release it and I wanted to say it my way, in my words. Also, a lot was happening on and off the court. I’m glad I finally got it done,” she says.

Mirza looks visibly tired. It is her fifth or sixth interview of the day and she is staying at The Leela Palace in New Delhi to launch her book. But it’s obvious she’s used to handling fatigue, as she makes it a casual and breezy interaction. It’s the same endurance that saw her fitting her book into a tightly-packed tour schedule. “It was challenging but the process was a lot of fun, and I think it was worth it. It starts from when I was four years old, so even though things kept evolving over time, both on and off the court, there was not much that I needed to change; I just had to keep adding to the narrative. We have a lot of downtime when we are playing or relaxing. And there is a lot of time when your mind is blank, so that helps,” she laughs.

The autobiography, with a lively foreword by Martina Hingis, recounts Mirza’s journey with minute details embellishing the memorable moments of her career. “I am happy and honoured to call her my partner and a friend for life,” Hingis raves about the woman who inspired a legion of young pony-tailed aspirants in India to take to tennis.

More than three years of research, coaxing and cajoling by Gupta finally persuaded Mirza to pour her heart out and share some of the most difficult moments of her life with her fans. “She was reluctant to discuss the wedding issue,” says Gupta, who finally managed to convince her. Mirza says she felt she owed it to herself, her family and her fans to tell her side of the story, but she also agrees that it was partly a desire to set the record straight. “Over time so much has been written about me. I think people deserve to know; if they have read about a sportsperson for 15 years, what that person feels as well. I deserve to tell those stories.” But a bigger reason, she emphasises, was “to try and inspire younger girls. Hopefully they will have a base now where they say, ‘this is how she did it and may be we can do it this way as well’; because I never had that base, never had anyone to follow or look up to.”

The pacy narrative is laced with little-known anecdotes, beginning with the family migrating to the U.S. in 1990 and the resolution to return to India within two years. “That was the best decision I ever made in my life,” Mirza’s father says in the book. A much-awaited section of the book is the fascinating account of Mirza’s first meeting with Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and their eventual romance and marriage. Malik, however, has little role to play in the book, however, and there are no accounts of him. “The autobiography is about my struggle with life, my accomplishments, my story from my side. Yes, he (Malik) has been a part of it for the last six years but he is not its focus. He will have his autobiography. But he was very supportive, of course, as always,” says Mirza.

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 12:07:05 PM |

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