Matthew Cronin | March 08, 2006 16:49 IST
India's Sania Mirza is hoping to renew her doubles partnership with Israel's Shahar Peer despite protests from some Muslim and Jewish groups.
Mirza, whose poor recent form has seen her slip from a career-high ranking of 31 at the end of 2005 to 45th, said she would have played with Peer at this week's Pacific Life Open, but the Israeli player had already booked a partner.
"You shouldn't mix up sports with anything else," the 19-year-old told Reuters at the March 8-19 tournament in Indian Wells.
"If I had to follow the stereotype of what a woman athlete should be in India, then I wouldn't be playing tennis because there aren't many girls who pick up rackets when they are six. If you believe it's right, if your loved ones believe it's right, then it's right."
Mirza and Peer united for the first time when they reached the quarter-finals of the event in Bangkok last October, but their partnership was met with anger by some religious groups.
"We are playing sports," Peer said at the time in Thailand. "We don't think about politics. It's a good idea to bring (cultures) together, but we will play together because we want to and will have good results."
Mirza enjoyed a breakout season in 2005, capturing her first WTA title in Hyderabad and reaching the fourth round of the U.S. Open before succumbing to Russia's Maria Sharapova.
But her results in 2006 have been poor. She has won just three singles matches in five events since the turn of the year.
"You should never be satisfied. People come up with that I'm the first Indian woman to accomplish blah, blah, blah, and that's the hardest part for me," said the 28th seed for Indian Wells.
"I would like to believe I'm tough enough to cope with all this pressure, but everyone has their moments," she said. "We're not machines, we're human. We have our breakdowns and feel lonely.
"I know the pressure is getting harder by the day," she said. "People in India get very emotional about their heroes, but I'm going to try to block out as much as I can."
Under the tutelage of Roger Federer's coach Tony Roche, Mirza has changed her service action and believes she's making progress.
"The second year is tougher," she said. "People know your weaknesses more. That's why I'm changing my serve now because people were taking advantage of it. It couldn't get worse, so it had to get better."