It’s been an eventful week for Indian tennis with plenty going around. Leander Paes qualified for the ATP World Tour Finals for the 13th time by winning the Japan Open doubles title with Czech partner Radek Stepanek last weekend and followed that up with a win in the ATP Shanghai Masters today over countrymen Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna. India’s former top ranked men’s player Somdev Devvarman puts his shoulder to test once again as he participates in the ATP Vienna event starting Monday by virtue of his protected ranking. And the Fenesta Indian National Tennis Championships were held in New Delhi this week with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Prerna Bhambri winning the singles titles.
But the tennis news in the country has been dominated over the past week by Sania Mirza. The 25 year old queen bee of Indian tennis was back home in India for a week in between tour events and the media were more than eager to get a bite from the 2-time mixed doubles Grand Slam champion.
Ever since she married Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik and failed to return to the big stage in singles, there’s been a rising anti-Sania sentiment among the Indian public, more so with Indian tennis fans. But that hasn’t stopped her from making headlines every time she has something to say.
Here are some of the stories that have put Sania in the news over the last seven days
- Sania was at hand for the opening of the Fenesta National Tennis Championships when she noticed the prize money for the women’s event was not equal to the men’s event. Sania brought this to the attention of AITA president Anil Khanna, who immediately rectified the inequality and promised to try and ensure parity in future editions
- Sania announced the launch of her own tennis training academy in the outskirts of Hyderabad. The academy, expected to be launched in March next year, is being constructed on a four acre land and will have nine hard courts to start with and nine more hard courts and three clay courts will be added. As Sania said, this was her way of giving something back to her nation. “I had been thinking about it for past few years now. I always wanted to give something back to sport and to India in whatever way. Sharing experience and trying to provide players a platform to perform at the highest level is the best way to give something back to the game. Hopefully, if not in the next 5 years, may be in 10 years, 12 years, we will have players coming out of that academy.”
- Sania could likely partner Bob Bryan, one-half of the top-ranked Bryan brothers, in the mixed doubles event at the Australian Open in January. While this needs to be confirmed, what Sania did confirm is that she will not be playing mixed in Melbourne with any of the Indian boys. Sania maintained that this was not a fall-out of the Olympic selection fiasco but one has to read that statement with some amount of skepticism.
- Sania is also uncertain about returning to singles next year. The Indian, who gave up her focus on singles due to injuries and in order to qualify for the Olympics doubles events, says she wants to play singles but is not sure if her body will be able to stand up to the rigours of playing singles week-in week-out. And then there’s the complex problem of scheduling. With her doubles ranking at no. 13, Sania will be able to get into the main draws of all the top doubles events but her singles ranking (currently at no. 286) is not high enough to even earn her a spot in the qualifying draws of those events.
- And Sania was also on hand to deny stories appearing in the media that she was set to appear in the reality dance show ‘Nach Baliye’ with husband Shoaib Malik. Sania confirmed that neither she nor Shoaib or their managers had even been approached for the show.
For someone who has been accused of being unpatriotic and a failure, Sania certainly is still able to steal the headlines even when she is not competing on the court. For more than 7 years now, Sania has been the top Indian woman tennis player by more than a mile. Even in singles, where she just played in 9 events in 2012, Sania is still ranked nearly 250 places higher than any other Indian in singles. And she continues to be one of the top doubles players in the world.
Love her or hate her, you just cannot ignore Sania Mirza.