Sania Mirza, Generation Next
By Anand Philar
Thursday, 20 January , 2005, 10:54
Sports in India, apart from cricket of course, thrives and survives on heroes and heroines. Now that Sania Mirza, just 18 years old, has made history by becoming the first woman from her country to make it to the third round of a Grand Slam event, one hopes that her exploits will trigger a fresh wave of teenaged girls with double-fisted backhand and pony tails.
It will take a while before the significance of Sania’s performance is truly appreciated. No doubt, few would wager a bet in her favour when she takes on Serena Williams in the third round in Melbourne.
But then, in the past couple of years, especially since winning the junior doubles crown at Wimbledon in 2003, Sania has progressed a great deal. With age on her side, sky is the limit for this talented and pretty Hyderabadi girl, regardless of the result of the third round match..
One quite liked the brave and positive words she uttered soon after winning her second round match in less than an hour. Of course, there was a lot of bravado talk about possibility of even beating Serena and if Sania can back her words and come good, then women’s tennis will see the birth of yet another teenage star. If nothing else, Sania’s time will surely come.
Since the splitting of Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi tandem and their lack of results in singles as also the pronounced absence of new crop of players, the future of Indian tennis indeed looked bleak.
But now, with Sania making waves Down Under, it is to be hoped that she will inspire a new generation of players from a country that still looks back to the likes of Krishnans and Amritrajs who had made their mark on the highly competitive men’s tour.
Paes and Bhupathi enjoyed rare success in the doubles with a series of Grand Slam victories. However, the controversial parting of ways has considerably dampened Indian hopes of finding worthy successors.
If today’s young Indian men have a choice of homegrown heroes to emulate, then Sania had none. Of course, Nirupama Vaidyanathan (now Sanjeev), did score some good wins internationally, including a second round finish at the Australian Open some seven years ago, but for the best part of her career, she was pretty much left to fend for herself.
Incidentally, one had a chance meeting with Nirupama during the recent Chennai Open where she was one of the television commentators. Having retired from tennis, Nirupama has given herself up to a good life in sunny California after marriage.
"Frankly, I got a bit fed up of all the travelling and the hassles that you have to put up with when on the tour. I had to attend to just about everything myself, like sponsorship, ticketing, travel plans, practice sessions, etc.,. I could not afford a full-time coach and manager. So, you end up doing everything and it becomes difficult to keep your focus on tennis," she confessed.
While it is indeed time to rejoice Sania’s third round entry, the onus is on the country to now take this youngster under its wings and provide her every possible assistance so that she can concentrate on tennis. If nothing else, she should be spared of the endless travails of say Leander whose early days were.
To Sania’s good fortune, she came to the attention of Mahesh’s father, CGK Bhupathi when still in her early teens and it has helped her to pursue her tennis career in a planned manner.
In the recent times, there have been quite a few women players who showed early promise, but never made the transition from junior to senior ranks, much less the WTA tour. When viewed in this perspective, Sania’s performances are indeed worthy of high praise.
As Nirupama pointed out, and something that Leander himself experienced, it is not a life of roses on the pro tour. The competition, constant travel and the daily grind of practice and matches, could prove deterrents to a youngster’s dream of pursuing a tennis career. Add to that the enormous expenses that a player has to deal with and you get the picture.
In India, especially, sponsorship for sports other than cricket, is hard to come by. Given the amateurish set-up of our National sports Federation and the unwillingness of Corporate India to invest in young talent until the youngster makes headlines, have all contributed to the premature death of talent.
One classic example is that of Prahlad Srinath from Mysore, who despite making it to the Davis Cup squad and showing definite signs of promise, simply gave up on his tennis dream after failing to rope in adequate sponsorship. Had he been backed when he was in his teens, perhaps, India would have found worthy successor to Leander and Mahesh.
It is much worse in the case of an Indian sportswoman in view of the cynicism with which our society views the very thought of a girl taking up professional sport. Good education, marriage and family over-ride all other considerations.
However, India has seen a few rare gems like PT Usha and Anju Bobby George who broke through traditional barriers to excel in their chosen discipline.
Thus, Sania Mirza deserves every bit of encouragement as she chases her dream. She has shown the courage to shed inhibitions and go for it. Far more than her two (so far) victories so far in Melbourne, we need to acknowledge and appreciate that Sania has dared to dream and pursue it actively.
Yes, another notch for Indian sportswoman.
The views expressed in the article are the author's