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India's Latest Tennis Sensation

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October 2003
India's Latest Tennis Sensation

In cricket-crazy India, tennis is not a big sport. Certainly not amongst Indian girls. Despite this, 16 year old SANIA MIRZA became the first Indian girl to win a Wimbledon Championship, and in so doing captured the fancy of the nation.

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By DEEPA AGARWAL

There is little about Sania Mirza that hints at stardom, except when she talks about her friendship with Leander or Mahesh (needless to mention, of the "Paes" and "Bhupathi" fame). On the face of it she could be any other 16-year-old, especially when she confides about how she adores Hugh Grant and our very ?apna' Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai. She loves listening to music, especially rap, relishes biryani in true Hyderabadi style and as she disarmingly admits, enjoys meeting people and talking.

But dig just a wee bit deeper and you will realize that Sania Mirza is not your ordinary girl next door. She along with Alisa Kleybanova defeated Katerina Bohmova of Czech Republic and Michaela Krajicek of the Netherlands 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the finals to emerge as the 2003 Wimbledon Girls Doubles' champions. And there's more to her glory than just that! She is the first Indian girl to win a Grand Slam title of any kind; the first to be ranked in the top 10 in the world junior rankings; the first to have become the No.1 Girls Doubles player in the world and the youngest ever Indian medalist at the Asian Games. The enormity of her success can be gauged by the fact that she is the first Indian girl after Rita Davar, who incidentally lost in three sets in the 1952 Wimbledon Junior Singles final, to appear on the honors roll at Wimbledon.

Seems a lot doesn't it, especially for someone who is known for her technically "wrong" forehand grip and "wrong" serve? Well, talk to this teenage tennis sensation from Hyderabad, and she will prove her critics wrong. "I am glad to have done so well in the junior doubles, but now I want to make a mark in the senior singles circuit. I want to improve upon my game in the next few years, especially my physical fitness. I am hoping to train either with the Nick Bollettieri Academy in the U.S. or with Bob Brett in France or maybe with some other coach in Spain," she asserts.

Defending Indian infrastructure and training she affirms, "In a country where cricket is more of a religion, I have been very lucky to have received so much support, whether in terms of sponsorships or training. Of course our tennis standards are in no way near international levels, but right now the All India Tennis Association is extremely supportive of new players and is trying to give them exposure. For example, two years ago when I went to the Grand Slams I was the only one, but this year there were seven of us. The tennis fever is catching on and India will soon make its mark on the international tennis map."

Basking in the glory of her Wimbledon win, she reminisces about how it all started nearly ten years ago. "I was just another six-year-old playing tennis in the club during my summer holidays when my coach pointed out to my parents that I hit the ball unusually well for my age. My parents, realizing my talent, encouraged me. From then on, we have never really looked back. I started to play state-level and national tournaments, and gradually moved on to international fixtures."

Mirza's ability to hit the ball hard has been her strength so far. To put things in perspective, at Wimbledon, Mirza served at an awe-inspiring 104 miles per hour (mph), comparing well with Serena Williams' 107 mph. India seems to have a strong representative in the power-packed women's tennis game. In fact, Mary Pierce, a two-time Grand Slam champion also known for her power-driven game, who partnered Mirza in the Doubles at the WTA Indian Open in Hyderabad earlier this year, is known to have said that Mirza hit the ball harder than her. "That was one of the best compliments of my career," Mirza admits.

Following her Wimbledon triumph, Mirza returned home, and deservedly received a hero's welcome. The Indian media went berserk and her success story proved to be an ideal front page splash in all the leading dailies. A celebrity in her own right, she is now being compared to the other greats from Hyderabad, namely former Indian cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin, weightlifter Karnam Malleswari and All England Badminton Championship winner, P. Gopichand. Described as the proud daughter of Andhra Pradesh (AP), she was presented Rs. 1 million and a house by AP Chief Minister, N. Chandrababu Naidu.���

Responding to a question about coping with the expectations, media attention and as one daily put it ?the hopes of a billion people,' Mirza very matter-of-factly answers, "Success and adulation have definitely not gone to my head. I just go and play my game. If I have given the game my best shot, it doesn't really matter what others say."


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