At the age of 34, Sania Mirza is set to represent India in a record-equalling fourth edition of the Olympics. The Indian star has overtaken the likes of 2012 bronze medalist Saina Nehwal, track legend PT Usha and ace archer Bombayla Devi Laishram to reach a tie with Shiny Wilson, the only other woman to have played in four editions.
Mirza, who will be playing the women's doubles event with Ankita Raina, recently spoke about the longevity of her career and her hopes at winning a medal in Tokyo.
"If somebody had told me at the beginning of my career that I would play four Olympics, I would have probably laughed about it because it showed a lot of longevity," Mirza said. "I'm honored, of course. I feel proud to put myself in this position - four times - which happened over the years [...] I feel it is special to compete in Olympics after becoming a mother."
Sania Mirza also discussed the experience of missing out on a medal at the Rio 2016 Games, where she lost the semifinal and bronze medal play-off in mixed doubles with Rohan Bopanna. Mirza claimed that a lot has changed since her first appearance at the Olympics in 2008, and that she enters Tokyo as a much more experienced player.
"A lot has happened," Mirza said. "I'm going with a lot of experience. Last time [in the Rio Olympics] we almost won [with Rohan Bopanna in mixed doubles] the medal. It was heartbreaking. I'm looking at competing at the highest level. I'm glad I'm able to do that in the last few months."
Having last won a title at the 2020 Hobart International, Sania Mirza has managed sporadic matches on tour over the last year and a half. She spoke about her preparations leading up to the Olympics and how the experience of playing for the country can be "more special".
"As athletes, we always dream of doing something special for the country," Mirza said. "When the National anthem is playing it is a very special feeling and particularly standing on the podium. It is something which dreams are made of. Whenever we play in a team event it becomes a more special event."
"Wimbledon is a Grand Slam," she added. "That is separate. But it was good to get matches before the Olympics."
"Everytime I played in the Olympics it was the best player of that time, Ankita is no different" - Sania Mirza on her doubles partner
Sania Mirza also heaped praise on her doubles partner Anikta Raina, pointing out that the 28-year-old is in good stead ahead of the Games by virtue of her performances over the last couple of years.
"Everytime I played in the Olympics it was the best player of that time. Ankita is no different," Mirza said. "She has been playing really well over the last couple of years. She has put herself in a good position compared to other girls [...] It is good to play with someone who is close to 100 in the world rankings, which was never the case before. That is probably the biggest difference this time around in Olympics."
It is pertinent to note that Ankita Raina has made huge strides in both singles and doubles of late. The top-ranked Indian peaked during the Australian summer this year, nearly making the cut for the Melbourne Slam in singles while also capturing her maiden WTA doubles title at the Phillip Island Trophy.