Sania is an icon for Indian sport: Masaba

POSITIVE OUTLOOK: Masaba Richards is passionate about tennis, enjoys dancing and is happy for Sania Mirza. — Photo: Vivek Bendre

POSITIVE OUTLOOK: Masaba Richards is passionate about tennis, enjoys dancing and is happy for Sania Mirza. — Photo: Vivek Bendre  

MUMBAI, FEB. 23. Masaba Richards withdrew from the senior girls' singles event at AITA National Series junior tennis to avoid facial skin rash noticed after playing in noon heat.

The 16-year-old is worried her condition may result in moving away from competitive tennis to serving and slicing in mornings and evenings at Practennis courts, when the slanting rays are more benevolent.

She is passionate about the game, enjoys dancing and is overjoyed at Sania Mirza's success. Like any tennis teen, Masaba is fascinated by the Indian's ability to stand up against leading women pros.

"Sania is an icon for Indian sport. Winning a WTA event was considered beyond our reach, she showed it was possible (at Hyderabad)," said this daughter of Vivian Richards and Neena Gupta. "I would love to meet her and tell her that she is a wonder woman."

Talking about the Sania surge on Indian tennis makes her aware of her own limitations despite the inbuilt athletic and power advantage.

"Sania showed will power and aggression at the Australian Open. Playing Serena Williams is tough, she won points and games, at one stage managed to make Serena restless," observed Masaba, about the road travelled by her senior, now below 100 in WTA rankings. "Two years ago I would have been there but gave up on tennis.

"Defeat I cannot accept, so after bad losses earlier, wanted to quit as a competitor but my mother told me to continue," said the Mumbai junior, who played an inter-school event in Sangli in 2004.

"I have learnt to handle it now, but lost time then and was away from tennis again last year due to the 10th exams. Sania may have also gone through the same experience at some stage, she showed dedication and made sacrifices."

Tennis has touched her in a positive way, Masaba reveals, giving her confidence to handle herself. "I play now because I enjoy, coaches Shalini Thakur and Rama Rao make it interesting," says the ex-Hansraj Morarjee schoolgirl now studying International Baccalaureate (IB) syllabus at Jamnabai Narsee.

"Tennis taught me to focus, take care of myself, specially the diet and training parts. The sprint training especially, I love to run fast."

The pace of life may have been different for this 16-year-old, compared to other Mumbai kids of the same age, due to unique merging of cricket and dramatics influences.

Masaba comes across as a teen comfortable with taking things in her stride. Dance and tennis expend energy, watching tennis on television helps update personal file on stars and their styles.

"Serena Williams is the only women player I like to watch. She's got aggression, killer instinct, is elegant in the way she presents herself."


Andre Agassi, Roger Federer are favourites in her must-see list. "Agassi I like because of what he is, the whole package I mean. Federer for his court movements. Marat Safin is one I wish to meet," says this teen whose cricket interests are limited to teams, not individuals.

"I watched Australia and India during the World Cup," reasons this Viv Richards child, slamming the door on further queries. "Cricket is not interesting due to rigging allegations."

A strong statement from a 16-year-old, though like any youngster in this net-savvy world, life is a kaleidoscope of experiences. Skin rash is part of growing up.

"Father taught me to never give up, mom kept me going when I had given up tennis. Dancing keeps me busy, I spend time in the gym working on stomach muscles, listen to Madonna, watch movies," says this Zubeida fan, singling out Khamoshi as a memorable experience.

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