Over the last decade, the flag of women’s tennis in India has been held high by Sania Mirza. Whether it was her exquisite run of form in 2005, the career high ranking of 27, the mixed doubles titles with Mahesh Bhupathi or the innumerous medals won for India at multi-sport events, Mirza has truly been a beacon of hope for the racquet sport in the country.
However, despite all the success, there is one trophy which has eluded the Hyderabadi – a women’s doubles title at a Grand Slam.
Up to the year 2010, Mirza’s main focus had been on the singles game. For most of her career until then, she played with different partners mostly to compliment her singles game at different WTA tournaments. But a spate of injuries meant that she had to reduce her workload and focus her attention only towards doubles.
Partnership with Elena Vesnina
In the year 2011, Mirza strung a successful partnership with Elena Vesnina. The duo began well, winning the title at Indian Wells, and a second Grand Slam trophy seemed a possibility for the Hyderabadi. But unfortunately, the pair faltered at the final hurdle at Roland Garros, going down in straight sets.
They continued their form into Wimbledon and reached the semifinals, but again failed to win that coveted trophy. The Indo-Russian pair could not progress deep into the draw at Flushing Meadows but had put together a brilliant 2011, making them favourites to win a Slam in the upcoming season.
The first Major of 2012 saw the duo again progress to the semifinals but falling to an all-Russian pair in three tough sets.
Mirza and Vesnina continued their impressive form, reaching the finals in Dubai and Indian Wells. But the lack of a trophy to show for their efforts resulted in the pair splitting ways.
Vesnina paired with fellow compatriot Ekaterina Makarova to win her first doubles Grand Slam trophy at the French Open in 2013.
Trying to find the right combination with a number of different partners
Meanwhile, Mirza found a new partner in Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The Indo-American pair won titles in Brisbane and Dubai but failed to make a mark at the Grand Slam level.
Mattek-Sands caused a major upset on the singles circuit when she knocked out 2011 champion Li Na at the 2013 French Open. Her success at Roland Garros prompted her to focus on singles, thus resulting in a split in the partnership between her and Mirza.
The grasscourt season of 2013 saw India’s highest ranked player pairing with Liezel Huber with whom she had a controversial incident at the 2012 Australian Open. However, the duo could not get much out of their pairing and they split after Wimbledon.
The Hyderabadi then paired with Chinese Zheng Jie and managed to reach the semifinals at Flushing Meadows.
Partnership with Cara Black
The collaboration that was going to take the world by storm would be the one with Cara Black. Towards the fag end of the 2013 season, Mirza paired up with the Zimbabwean to win back-to-back titles in Tokyo and Beijing.
The 2014 season started with a first round loss for the pair in Brisbane. But they regrouped for the Australian Open, only to go down fighting to eventual champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci at the quarterfinal stage.
The Indo-Zimbabwean pair won their first title of the year in Oeiras but lost to the top duos of Vinci-Errani or Peng-Hsieh in most of the other tournaments.
After a shock loss at Wimbledon, Mirza and Black got their act going in Montreal again, falling to the Italian World No. 1 duo at the final hurdle.
What do Mirza and Black need to do to win at Flushing Meadows?
With the last Slam of the year fast approaching, Mirza and Black will look to convert their form from the past year into a Grand Slam win. The major challenge which the pair would face is overcoming the higher-ranked teams that they face.
Vinci and Errani have played with each other for the most part of their careers, even representing Italy in the Fed Cup. The Italians are on a roll this year, having reaching all the Slam finals. They were shocked by Peng Shuai and Su-Wei Hsieh in the only Slam that they didn’t win this year, at Roland Garros.
Along with these two teams, plenty of other high quality duos would be gunning for a Slam title at the US Open.
Mirza has been among the top women’s doubles players for the past few seasons. And her present career high ranking of world number 5 should serve as enough indication that she is capable of winning a Slam trophy.
The Hyderabadi could take a leaf out of Leander Paes’ book. Paes, along with Radek Stepanek, put up a splendid display against the Bryan brothers at the 2013 US Open to win a Grand Slam at the age of 40.
That sort of performance from the world number 5 could win her India’s first ever women’s doubles Grand Slam title.