From cow dung courts to Wimbledon glory – The Sania Mirza story


    We often look at great personalities in World sport for inspiration. We remember the big names and applaud their feats, their astounding achievements leaving lasting impressions in our lives. While we are busy recollecting the greats in and around Europe and the West, we can forget those living closest to us. Mirza is one such. 

    Growing up in Hyderabad in India, Sania Mirza challenged the existing barriers in Indian society to rise up the in ranks of Tennis to finally be the world’s number one alongside Martina Hingis in doubles, taking her nation to glory. Playing the racket sport which was quite alien in the cricket frenzy subcontinent since her early childhood, it took massive dedication and hard work to climb to these great heights.

    Newly crowned Wimbledon doubles champion and three time Grand slam winner, Sania Mirza elevated herself when she took the #1 spot in the World women’s doubles ranking to be the first ever Asian to achieve such a feat.

    Mirza takes credit in being the first South Asian to achieve such a great feat. Coming up the ranks in a sport such as tennis which is quite unusual in the cricket crazy subcontinent, she was almost an outlaw in the system challenging the status quo to the top.

    “Our culture is not really a Tennis based culture. It is more of the sub-continent that has issues. The basic issue is not that we don’t have talent. I have a Tennis academy of my own and I see so much talent but studies, lack of belief and especially for girls no matter whether it is India, Sri Lanka or Pakistan, they are not supposed to be on the Tennis courts.

    For girls to be fair and cook is taught to be more natural rather than things to do outside the box; like tennis which is played by 200 countries. Besides it is the most global sport in the world. “

    “There is not enough financial support coming in for the kids and then the parents lose hope. It is an expensive sport and because of that we see only one person coming out every 30 years and after Ramesh Krishna (former Indian tennis Grand Slam champion) it was me. We have not had anyone to play in the singles for a long time from the sub-continent.”

    “Sometimes you have to fight the system. But you’re fighting against so many odds and sometimes you will fizzle out and then obviously studies become a better reason to move into.”

    Every champion has hit rock bottom at some point in their lives. Tragedy hit Sania Mirza in 2007 at a crucial point in her career as she had to leave the sport temporarily owing to a critical wrist injury. It was a life changing decision that Sania in her terms had to make in order to decide her future in the sport.

    “I have had five major injuries in my career which almost ended my career. I have had three surgeries in my life and two ankle casts. Every time I dropped to 250-300 every time and my dedication took me back to the top 30 once again.”

    “I have an advanced form of arthritis which nobody knows very well. In the morning when I wake up, my joints are not great. Today my foot was killing me but I can’t be going around saying this is the problem but you have to keep moving. If I want to play tennis and keep doing what I love I have to make some decisions and move on. I was still 60-70 in the world when I stopped playing singles.”

    “I had to stop not because I wanted to, but because my body wasn’t allowing me to play anymore. It was a tough decision that I had to think practically, if I kept playing I would have had another surgery because my joints were giving up on me. I had an unbelievable singles career. People try to act saying I never had. I was ranked 27 in the world.”

    Perseverance and determination has always been her key for success. Returning to play after a major injury can always affect you both mentally and physically but according to Sania it was her friends & family who were able to pick up her broken pieces to make her look confident once again.

    “When you come back from surgery you have to start from zero. Emotionally I had to comeback. You’re a person who is not healthy. You have to know to walk again, you know that’s when team around you helps; your family, your support system and good friends. Thankfully I was able to come back to the top of my game. I was blessed enough to complete all my goals at the end. At one point I had to change my goals and here I am.”

    Married to Pakistan’s cricketer Shoaib Malik, Sania confesses that getting the best of both worlds is definitely tough but it is a challenge she is willing to take for the rest of her life.

    “We both come from careers that are emotionally charged. Even when we are playing, we have to put everything we have and you have to leave it on the court. When you come back home, it is tough to manage with another person who has done exactly the same on his side. It is like a tough day at the office every day for us.”

    “Every marriage is tough. I travel 30 weeks of the year and I will not lie and say it is easy because it is not. I think that kind of helps that we both do the same thing and it helps us to know what pressure go into be a professional athlete. Hopefully we can keep doing it.”

    “People used to laugh when I said I wanted to become a professional Tennis player. For a girl to pick up a Tennis racket and play at Wimbledon was ridiculous according the people’s opinion. They thought it was a joke. When I was growing up, there was no system in place, especially in Hyderabad at that time.”

    “I started playing in Tennis courts that were made out of cow dung. To come from there, I do not want kids to have the experience that I had. I didn’t have anyone to look up to at that time but they do now. Thankfully they can imagine ‘to be Sania or someone better than Sania’ which I will be more than happy about. It is about giving back something to the sport.”

    Alongside her commitment to sport, Sania Mirza also is the United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia and is the first to be appointed from South Asia to such a position. She relates that the United Nation cause for gender equality reflects on her own career as she has been fighting for the cause all throughout her career.

    “It is all equal rights and equal rights are important. This is what I have been fighting for so long. I always followed my heart and I have always believed as a woman we should be able to get the same opportunity as we do. If we achieve that, a woman can achieve the same thing a guy does; even better than that.”

    “Women empowerment is feeling about you. If you feel that you’re equal, everyone else will think you’re equal too. That’s where empowerment needs to begin. As a girl at 22 years, it wasn’t easy for me as I come from a Muslim background. It was not like all the girls were picking up Tennis rackets and saying I want to play Wimbledon. It was obviously against a lot of odds. But having said that, I was given the opportunity by my parents and I have achieved. So every woman on earth has to believe that they are good enough. They need to demand that respect.”

    The journey thus far for the Wimbledon champion has been one with thorns and pricks. Sania believes that if she had the will power to go through all of this, then definitely the path ahead will be an easy one.

    “I learned in my life not to plan too ahead. I am going to take life the way it comes. In 2010 my wrist was so bad and I couldn’t do anything. For me to imagine in 2010 that in 2015 I will be #1 in the world, I would have laughed it off saying you’re being ridiculous because I wasn’t even able to pick up a telephone and playing tennis was so far off.”

    “I could wake up tomorrow and be like not playing tennis anymore but now I enjoy it. I like competing. When I don’t compete, I miss competing and as long I feel that way working hard and going to the gym and going at 12 midnight to play a few shots will not be a pain for me and I will keep doing it. I think that has kept me going so far and I believe I can go on like this in the years to come.” thanks our neighbouring icon profusely for her time. We wish her the very best and hope she can inspire many more future stars.