Sania tries to get media off her back
Starlet slams faith obsession
From Talek Harris in Hong Kong
January 4, 2006
INDIAN sensation Sania Mirza has hit out at the obsession with her religion, saying more attention should be paid to her tennis than her Muslim faith.
The 19-year-old, who has just completed a three-week stint working on her serve and volley with Australian tennis guru Tony Roche, is regarded as a trailblazer for Indian and Muslim women, but wants people to stop blurring her profession and her beliefs.
"I think everyone mixes up religion and sport. I'm a sports person and religion is something very personal," she said.
"Yes, I'm a practising Muslim but I don't understand why only I'm asked about my religion. Everyone's got a religion out there. I wonder why no one else is asked about it.
"I feel it's a very personal thing. It's my personal choice and I don't feel the need to justify it to anyone."
Mirza grabbed the headlines in 2005 when she became the first Indian woman to win a WTA tour event and soared more than 100 rankings places to finish the year at 34.
But she attracted criticism from religious conservatives who said she was standing "half-naked on the tennis court while playing, which is against Islam".
Later she created a storm with comments interpreted as condoning pre-marital sex.
But the Hyderabad native, who will start her season at the Champions Challenge in Hong Kong this week, said she had learned not to pay attention to such views.
"Obviously India's a big country. There's a billion people and a billion opinions but that's the way it goes," she said.
"My job is to go out there and give 100 per cent every time and let my racquet do the talking.
"If I start wondering what a billion people are going to say every time I don't think I could really play.
"I've learned in the past year that everyone's going to have their own opinion but it's my choice whether to take it on board.
"I don't think everyone's opinion really matters to me as long as I go out there and do my best."
Mirza thrives on the enormous expectations generated by her Hyderabad Open win and by reaching the Australian Open third round and US Open fourth round last year.
"I think everyone expects me to do all kinds of things, probably things I can't even do, but that's just the part of the package that comes with playing well you have to take it in your stride," she said.
"In some ways it does motivate me too. I like the pressure and I think the day I stop liking the pressure will be the day I'll say I don't want to play any more. I like playing when people are expecting things."
She is also happy to be a role model in India, where her exploits have supplanted cricket on the back pages and where she says tennis is now becoming more popular.
"I love the fact I'm being an inspiration to a lot of young girls, especially in India, to come up and play tennis where cricket is the big sport in the country," she said.
"People are really starting to playing tennis now so I'm happy and I think it's going to help the game a lot.
"It's just a way of giving back and hopefully tennis is going to be very big and we'll have not just one but a lot more India girls and guys coming up."
Mirza expected a tougher season this year now that she is known on circuit.
But despite missing almost five months of last season with ankle and back injuries, she said she would not modify her aggressive style.
"I love hitting the ball hard. I don't think I'm as patient as a lot of people expect me to be on the court I think that's the reason I've pulled off a lot of matches I'm not supposed to," she said.
"I'm not saying everything in my game is perfect but I think the main strength in my game is aggressiveness. I think if I remove that and just rely on my forehand and backhand it's going to be zero. "It's going to take my oxygen away so I want to keep my aggressiveness and build up a few other things like a good defence."
But I know I have a fickle heart
and a bitterness
and a wandering eye
and a heaviness in my head