Sania Mirza - the epitome of struggle and success

“I was a little girl, Alone in my little world,Who dreamed of a little home for me....I had a dream.”

The average Indian woman, who constantly grapples between the fulfilment of her aspirations and goals and the demands of the fundamentalists, who won’t quit raising fingers whenever she steps out into the world with the aim of conquering it, has slowly but surely started carving out a niche for herself in society. By rising above the age-old conventions and norms and setting aside the life of compromise and sacrifice that she was expected to lead, the Indian female’s journey from oblivion to recognition has been a story of determination and courage, where she has managed to silence every critic who has dared to question her skills and capabilities.

As women stamp their authority across all fields, the world of sports is no different. From an era where the sparse Indian sporting glories were limited to the men’s events, with the female athletes failing to be worthy challengers, let alone competitors, to an age where Mary Kom and Saina Nehwal bring as many laurels as Sachin Tendulkar or Leander Paes, the sportswomen have stoutly set aside each controversy, rising above the odds to achieve what had once seemed impossible.

Sania’s story of success in the face of intense struggle

Earlier this week, Sania Mirza entered the history books as she became the first Indian to win the prestigious Wimbledon in the women’s doubles event. Partnering Swiss Martina Hingis, the duo defeated the Russian pair of Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova 5-7, 7-6, 7-5 in a hard fought battle that lasted almost two and a half hours. Mirza’s ecstasy knew no bounds, with her face breaking into childlike giggles, as she was handed her 4th Grand Slam trophy and her first in the doubles arena.

What the gleaming eyes and smiles managed to hide, however, was the sense of deep pathos and pain, arousing out of a continuous disregard for her achievements by her own countrymen. She has been subjected to one humiliation after another ever since she turned pro in 2003.

The Hyderabadi, who has been at the top of the doubles rankings since April this year, has perennially been at the centre of controversy, with critics belittling her credentials, arguing that she has only managed to find success in the doubles circuit, an easier alternative to the highly competitive singles.

These claims can be refuted by having a look at Mirza’s single’s career, where she managed a career high ranking of 27, a commendable feat considering the lack of precedent that she had, not only in tennis but in sports overall.

Sania Mirza
Prior to tasting great success in the doubles, Sania Mirza put on equally good performances in singles as well

Before a career-threatening wrist injury in 2012, which forced the 29-year-old to shift her full attention to doubles, Mirza had become an inspiration for the millions of girls in India as she excelled in a sport that many lacked the courage to pursue.

Her groundstrokes, especially her forehand, which made her a force to reckon with, ensured singles medals in the Asian Games in 2006 and 2010, besides silver at the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Unlike in the men’s arena, the best women’s singles players often participate in doubles, increasing the competition on offer. As doubles relies more on net-play, Sania, who played from the baseline during her singles heydays, has had to readjust her style after making the switch, something which veterans like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi didn’t have to contend with.

The challenges for her, then, have been greater.

The controversies continue

Sania, who has been in the news more for her off-field controversies rather than for her 25 WTA titles that she has to her name, has been attacked persistently by orthodox Muslim clerics, who believe that no woman should venture out, leave alone play tennis. They have termed her a disgrace to her religion, a person who was only ‘corrupting’ the young minds of the nation.

As the happy little girl, who had been defined by a deep-rooted passion for tennis ever since she was 6 years old, came face to face with the cruel reality of being a sportsperson, Sania found herself becoming the scapegoat in the federation’s politics on more occasions than one.

Days before the 2012 London Olympics, Bhupathi and Bopanna both refused to partner Paes in the men's doubles event, and Paes demanded that he be partnered with Mirza for the mixed doubles event. In a strongly worded letter, Sania accused the All India Tennis Association of offering her as bait to keep Paes happy despite her wanting to play with Bhupathi, and since then, she has remained an outspoken Indian who refuses to be bogged down even when her nationality is questioned.

An Indian we can all be proud of

In an emotional moment on television last year, Sania broke down on air after BJP leader K Laxman questioned Telangana’s move to name her as brand ambassador of the state. Laxman called her “Pakistan’s daughter-in-law”, referring to her marriage with Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik.

Even when no justification was needed, Sania, on her social networking site, took all efforts to ‘prove her Indianness’, stating that she would remain an Indian till ‘the end of her life.

1. I am married to Mr. Shoaib Malik, who is from Pakistan. I am an Indian, who will remain an Indian until the end of my life.

— Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) July 24, 2014

Her triumph at the US Open last year in the mixed doubles, a few days after this controversy which had managed to humiliate one of India’s biggest tennis icons in the worst way possible, was dedicated to ‘her country India’. But she also came to the cruel realization that despite all the accolades she brings, a section of this country will never really adopt her as her own.

Sania Mirza remains an enigma who has managed to wade through her stream of struggles, staying afloat despite the obstacles which promised to push her down. Even when she played without sponsors, she refused to lose hope, and continued to believe in herself when the world had ceased to.

Even if Pakistan decides to celebrate this historic Wimbledon feat (yes, reports have emerged that the country was in a state of jubilation after her triumph!), the nation of 1.2 billion can rest assured that when Sania turns out for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, she will be fighting to give it her all, for her country India.

Mirza continues to bring laurels to the country, as she has now taken her second consecutive Grand Slam of the year. Following a victory at Wimbledon with doubles partner Martina Hingis, the doubles World No. 1s have again taken the win at Flushing Meadows, and have been crowned the women’s doubles champions at the US Open.

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