Walk the Talk
Wednesday, March 02, 2005 at 0000 hours IST
‘I know my Indian culture... I’m not going to pose in a bikini’
18-year old Sania Mirza became India’s equivalent of Tiger Woods when she became the first Indian woman to reach the third round of the Australian Open. Although she went down to Serena Williams, she put up a spirited fight and won international acclaim for her hard-hitting serves and tremendous energy. Days later, she became the first Indian woman to win a WTA event — on home turf in Hyderabad — which sealed her status as a youth icon. She’s now endorsing a range of products from mobile phones to cosmetics but tells Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of The Indian Express, on NDTV 24X7’s Walk the Talk, that her love and passion for tennis holds centrestage in her life and she hopes to be among the top 50 players by the end of the year.
• She is perhaps the most loved teenager in this country since Sachin Tendulkar burst on the scene. Sania Mirza, welcome to Walk the Talk in your school, which you left last year.
It is an even greater pleasure to be here. It’s just so lovely to see my school uniform again.
• But you don’t have to study, no exams, no nothing...
Yeah that’s the better part of it. I don’t have to write my exams, and I don’t have to study. But I do have my exams coming up shortly in my BA Mass Communication so...
• But more than that exam... You know, the next tournament.
I think those are tougher exams than what I actually gave last year over here, sitting in that hall downstairs. Getting up at six in the morning and playing week after week.
• What’s tougher: the Class XII student fighting for grades and percentages to get into college, or now — getting up, exercise, gym, training...
Well, for me, I don’t know... It’s right now...
• The media?
Yes, that’s tough. But for me right now, it’s tennis and it’s really bad because I have to get up in the morning and... You know, every single day of my life, just practicing eight hours a day. I am sure it is the same thing for all the people trying to get 95 per cent in their boards also. So I guess it’s wrong to compare these two things.
• But 95 per cent, even 99 per cent in the boards, tells them you need to earn your living next year...
Yes, but I think for some people it is very important to get 95 per cent or 98 per cent. But when I gave my boards I just wanted to pass.
• But you did fine.
Yes, got about 64, so it was okay.
• Tell me, what’s your day like now?
Well, right now, I am on an off because my ankles are both injured. So I am just taking it easy, sleeping late, getting up late...
• But usually, during your training time, what’s your day like?
Well, when I am training, I get up at six in the morning. I am at the courts by 7:15 am, warm up, practice till about 9:30-10 am. I come back, have breakfast, go to college, do whatever little work I have in college. Then by 2 pm, I have to come back. I am back at the tennis court at 2:30 pm, have lunch, maybe in the car or something. I come back at 6 pm, go to the gym, then return by 7:30 pm. I am dead by 7:30 pm, sometimes I may go for a massage after that, or I am just asleep by 10:30 pm.
• Is there any difference in the way you train from the way your rivals train?
Well, I really don’t know. Maybe some of them train less than what I do, some of them may train more than I do. So I really don’t know how to compare that. But I know I am training hard, eight hours a day, 365 days a year. I don’t think it is easy.
• It is tough on the body as well.
Definitely. That’s why we end up with so many injuries, I guess. Right now, both my ankles are injured and I have a little bit of thigh strain. So injuries are just a part of every athlete, whether tennis player or cricketer.
• That’s what happens to sportstars in this country. Sachin Tendulkar gets a bad elbow, the entire country gets a bad elbow.
I know. Everyday I read about my ankles more than I know about my ankles. Well, that’s the way India treats their stars, treats their idols.
• And loads of advice, from homeopathy to acupressure...
Loads of advice, homeopathy to allopathy to physiotherapy...
• So, who looks after your body and your fitness?
Over here, I train with a guy called Fayaaz, he is from EST — that’s Azharuddin’s gym here. My physiotherapist, well, the Indian cricket team’s, actually the Hyderabad cricket team’s is Mr Badrinath. He’s treating me right now, I did take a stint with Andrew Leipus too, but he is not here any more so...
• I believe Azhar takes a lot of interest in your fitness...
Yes, he does. He is a great inspiration for me. I mean he is such a great athlete and...
• He has been one of our fittest cricketers.
He probably is one of the fittest.
• I have not seen someone his age with such a flat stomach.
Definitely, at 42-43... He gives me a complex. He is unbelievably fit, and whenever he is in town he tries to advise me.
• Is there something that he complains about?
Yes, that I eat too much... Everytime I am with him, I have to tell him my whole diet for the past one week, which I hate doing. So I try to cut down when I am around him. I try not to eat so I don’t have to lie to him.
• So when one Hyderabadi questions another on what you eat and how much you eat, it’s all about biryani isn’t it?
Definitely, but I have cut down on my biryanis quite a lot.
• Do you think that tennis involves a lot of self denial. You know, not just fitness and eating but also the kind of life you lead, the circuit?
I guess in any sport you have to give a lot of sacrifices, but tennis is never-ending. Definitely, it is one of the toughest sports I have seen.
• Cricket has a season...
Yes, in tennis, you are playing all year round. And you are missing out on your normal life I guess. But now it all seems worth it, you know, when you perform. I guess when you don’t perform, that’s when it really hits you that maybe I am taking a wrong decision. But what the hell, I mean you have to take risks in life.
• Were there moments when you thought is this worth it?
When I was younger...there were definitely moments.
• Younger means what... when you were six?
When I was 13 or 14, when I wasn’t winning so much, but everyone was saying you are good, you are going to start winning. And I was like, when am I going to start winning. Suddenly, everything just clicked. Now, I am so passionate about the game that even if you ask me to stop, I don’t think I can stop playing.
• So what’s the target now? You have done your top 100 much ahead of target, isn’t it? You have saved yourself six months.
No, I have saved myself 10 months, I said by the end of 2005 I would like to be in the top 100. I am testing myself by saying I want to be top 50 by the end of the year. Let’s hope I can do it. Let’s hope it comes before time as well.
• It’s one thing to get from 150 to 99, or top 100. It’s quite another to get to top 50. How much of a leap do you think that is? How difficult is it?
See, in terms of points, I need about 300 more points to get into top 50. Just by these two tournaments, I think I have got about more than 150 points. If I have a couple of more tournaments like these, anything can happen. But it could also happen that I have a bad phase and I don’t play like this. But it’s okay, I am not going to be disappointed. Of course, I am going to be a little upset, but I guess that’s just a part of it.
• When you see see the women in the top 50 today, do a lot of them look beatable?
Definitely. Actually last year, I played Nicole Pratt and the year before I played Amely too. She is around 45, Nicole is around 51. I played three sets against both of them. My fitness level wasn’t as high as it is now, my serve wasn’t as strong as it is now. So I guess I can match quite a bit...
• But your return of serve was always a killer.
My return of serve, yes, it is one of the strongest points of my game.
• We have seen you turn around your game from difficult situations, match points, deuces....
My return of serve definitely is one of the strongest points in my game, and I am very confident. I think it is just because of my timing...that I have the timing.
• In fact, when you were playing in Australia, one of the commentators said that we have seen in Sania’s game the same element of touch and timing that is the hallmark of Indian tennis. He said we saw this in Amritraj. This is very true of Indian cricketers as well, particularly the Hyderabadi cricketers — Azhar, Laxman, the touch, timing...
Yes, but I am not much of a touch player. I am a very offensive player. I don’t like drop shots and chip-and-charge, you know. I am more of the hitting kind, the winning kind.
• But you have got timing.
I have got timing and I think that is why I hit the ball harder than some of the boys do. Because I have the timing, though I don’t look muscular or anything. I hit the ball as hard as perhaps some of the men do.
• What was the thought in your mind when you were up against Serena? Watching you on TV, one could see some sense of amusement. It was like you were enjoying it too much.
Well initially, yes, I was enjoying it, no doubt about that. I was very happy to be playing against Serena, so excited that I was playing Serena Williams... I could not believe that three nights back, I was sleeping in my bed and seeing my draw and thinking that I might play Serena in the third round, and today I am playing her. So, it was an amazing feeling. And I was tense because I was thinking so much about the match. I was tense, when I am never tense during my matches. As everyone could see, in the first sets, I had a few unlucky points, some net calls that came over to my side instead of going that way, and that made the difference.
• You know, your father complained to me that you are not somehow focussed, not so intense in the first set. Then he said that if she loses one, then she is like a wounded tigress.
Well, I think the first set... It was just that I was playing a big tournament, a big round, a big player, a massive player, if you can say that... So I knew I had to go out there and just have fun and enjoy. But then I was just thinking so much about playing Serena in front of such a big crowd, and so many people cheering for both of us... I was obviously the underdog there. Playing the second set, I think I matched her in the second set, and she obviously was getting under pressure.
• Let me move beyond top 50. What is your ambition?
My ambition, to be honest, is to be in the top 25. Because I believe in being realistic. Maybe if I get into the top 25 in the next two years, maybe then I would say that I want to get into the top 10.
• The last Indian to get somewhere up there was Vijay Amritraj.
Yes, so right now, I want to be in the top 25, maybe in about two to two-and-half years from now.
• That’s a good time frame. How long do you see yourself playing?
It really depends on my body, you know, because we are ending up in so many injuries.
• It’s a very high-stress game now.
Definitely. And it is so physical. You need that 110 per cent every time you walk in the court. It is tough to do that. I have been doing it for 13 years now, and I already feel it. But you keep doing it till as long as you can... Till I am enjoying the game. I think that’s what matters.
• But tennis is a very young people’s game now. It’s one thing for us to say that Sania Mirza, at 18, carrying hopes of an entire country... But 18 is a pretty mature age for women’s tennis, isn’t it?
Yes it is. I know people are retiring at 22-23, they are ending up in so many injuries. Martina Hingis did. So many people... Henin underwent injury. I was just reading in the papers today that she came back after about a year and won her match. So people are ending up in so many injuries... So anything can happen, I could play till 29, I could stop at 22.
• But you see in the top 25-top 50, women of your age group, some even younger.
Definitely. But I guess it’s just the way they’ve been trained all these years. You know, the number of coaches they have had, the best coaches in the world, the best training partners. They are at a certain advantage with their height and physical fitness too — they are 6 feet tall, I am five seven-and-half. But over here, I look like some giant. Then when I go abroad...
• You talked a lot about your foreign competition having had the benefit of scientific coaching, foreign coaches, very controlled environment. Do you regret not having had some of that?
Well, I don’t need to regret it, because I’m still 99 in the world. But maybe some people should think that I do have a disadvantage. Because people tell me you are 18 and still 99. But they don’t understand the amount of hard work that’s gone in being an Indian tennis player. You don’t have proper courts...
• You are far too spunky and far too talented to be satisfied with being in the 90s or 80s. You are aiming higher. For that, do you think it’s necessary to go to a regulated foreign coaching environment?
I did go to Brett last year for a few weeks. Because of my ankles, I am just going to maybe try and play a few tournaments, see how I feel. After that, we will see how it goes.
• So you might consider shifting and training for longer periods?
It really depends. I don’t know. Training for longer periods, maybe, but I don’t know if I want to shift my base.
• Why, is it tough to stay away from home?
Yes, it is. Tough to stay away from biryani. I hope Azhar isn’t watching.
• Azhar will watch. If he doesn’t we will let him know because all of us have a stake in your not eating too much biryani now.
I am not.
• That’s the other thing Sania, you are carrying so much hope and expectation you know. You saw the crowds you had, and now you know that you are a star. You can’t hide from the fact. How much more pressure does it bring on you?
It definitely brings a lot of pressure on me. People are always expecting much more from me than what I actually can do, I feel. And till now, I don’t know how I have always lived up to a lot of expectations, maybe not to all of the people’s but to a lot of expectations. So, I am very happy at the way I have come through in my career till now. But the pressure is always going to be there, I guess. It’s just a part of it...
• Do you ever exchange notes with other people who have handled the pressure? You have met Rahul Dravid. Recently, of course, you met Azhar. Have you met Sachin?
I have met Sachin, but we never had this kind of talk. It was just very general talk you know, not exactly about how to handle pressure or stuff like that. But I would love to do that.
• But if you met him on a flight, or had lunch with him, what are the three questions you would ask him?
How do you hit like that — I feel he’s got amazing timing to hit those sixes. I would like to ask him how do you do that when you are so small?
• What’s the second question?
How does he handle so many expectations the way he has been over these years? Then how does he cope up with these injuries?
• All right. Injuries, the power, and the pressure. What about the adulation and the money?
I don’t think Sachin needs any more money.
• Let’s not get into the question of who needs what. All those kids who are watching, I think, also figure how much money you are going to make in the times to come.
Well, you know...
• Why don’t you ask him how to manage your money?
First thing is, I don’t really care about money. Even today, I don’t exactly manage my money. My parents do everything. I don’t even know how much the tickets cost. So I am not really a money-minded person. I am playing tennis right now for the passion, and because I love the game so much.
• That’s the question I want to ask you. When you go out to play, where does the passion come from? Does it come form hating the opponent, wanting to beat her, or does it come from being wrapped in the Tricolour and playing for the nation? Is it money, is it glory, what is it?
It comes a little from everything, I guess. Yes, it does come from playing for India, having the Indian flag behind you, people saying Sania Mirza from India. It feels very proud to be an Indian.
Secondly, I think it comes from ‘I want to hit her with that ball in her stomach’. I think it comes from that too, I think that’s one of the reasons I hit every ball so hard. I don’t know if money really drives me. It doesn’t really motivate me.
• I have talked to people like Vijay Amritraj, Leander. You can see they always performed much better when they were playing for the flag, as against the logo. You know, their Davis Cup performances were much better. How does it work for you, playing for India vs playing for yourself?
I give my 200 per cent everytime I walk on court. And even when I am not playing a team event, I am still playing for India, I am still playing for my country. Even though it is an individual sport, I am still playing for the nation.
• But will you play for the Fed Cup?
Definitely, it is great to watch all these people with Indian flags and banners saying ‘Come on India’.
• Is there a difference between Advantage Sania and Advantage India?
There definitely is. I think Advantage India sounds better.
• And you are very conscious of your Indian identity.
Yes, I am.
• It’s not just the nose-ring, which, I think, will become a huge fashion statement.
I don’t know. I have had this a long time now. But yes, I am very conscious of my Indian identity. I am very proud to be an Indian.
• Were they surprised on the circuit when they first saw you — an Indian woman, a young Indian woman?
In the beginning, yes. They probably thought it was a fluke. But when they kept seeing me more on the circuit, it got into their heads that, you know...
• Especially at Wimbledon, I believe they didn’t even have the Indian flag.
They didn’t and they were like, sorry we have not had an Indian girl come and play here. That’s why Wimbledon was so special for me. Because two years later, I went there and won the tournament.
• So tell me about the incident. I believe they got the wrong flag.
They got the wrong flag and my father just went up to them and said you know you’ve got it wrong.
• And you got furious.
Yes, because they should respect people’s flags, and they should respect whichever country they come from, whether it is a tennis-playing country or a non tennis-playing country. I was very furious. Two years later, when I won it... I am sure they are not going to forget the Indian flag for a long time now.
• That’s the Indian identity. Are you also conscious of your cultural, religious identity? I know you are religious, you pray...
Yes I am. I pray five times a day. I am very conscious about the pillars of Islam. I know my Indian culture, I know what my background says. You know, I do advertisements and stuff like that but if you ask me to pose in a bikini I am not going to do that. My religion doesn’t permit it, nor do a lot of other things.
• You are a religious family but not conservative.
We are conservative too, but to some extent. I mean, maybe the dresses I wear are not exactly right, but I guess Islam does have forgiveness. I don’t know if I am doing anything wrong... I am sure God will forgive me.
• I think any God will forgive you. And any God will forgive anyone who is in competitive sports, but most of all a person like you. Keep getting better and better Sania, we are all with you and may God be with you.
Singles is my first preference: Sania
Sunday March 12 2006 00:00 IST
Sania Mirza/ PMG/Globosport
Indian Wells, California, is one of the prettiest resorts in the world and the tennis courts are located in what is probably one of the most picturesque places that I have had the good fortune to visit. This is the first time I will be playing out here and the atmosphere is electric.
My elbow injury has not healed entirely though it is better. Of course, the obvious solution would be to rest it for some more time but it doesn’t quite work that way on the professional tennis circuit. Virtually, every player in the top 100 is struggling with some injury or the other and the golden rule is to take a break only if the injury threatens to get worse by continuing to play.
The problem stems from the fact that in order to compete at the highest level today, one has to push oneself to the very limit and this punishment to the body obviously results in injuries. The problems assume greater magnitude for players like me who come from a background, where we have had no professional advice from world class physical trainers during our formative years. Professional tennis is a tough sport and one is expected to bear the pains and aches, which are a part and parcel of a tennis player’s life.
By not playing in Doha, where I was in the main draw last week, I’ve already lost the opportunity to defend my last year’s ranking points, which resulted in a drop in my singles ranking for this week.
I need to earn a few points in the coming few weeks to get back into the top 35 in singles and having reached my best ever rank of 64 in doubles, I also have the opportunity to break into the top 50 of the world in doubles with a couple of good performances. Rest is not really at the top of my list of priorities though I will be monitoring the pain in my elbow and wrist very closely under the supervision of the physiotherapist.
Of course, singles is my priority for sure but the rise in my doubles ranking gives me a special thrill for some very personal reasons. It has been a long grind in doubles right from the junior days, when no decent player wanted to play with me for the simple reason that Indian women had no history of being great doubles players. It was a twist of fate that helped me combine with Alysa Kleybanova to lift the girls doubles title in Wimbledon 2003.
We decided to play together at the very last moment because neither of us could find anyone else to play with and miraculously we won the most prestigious title in the world.
Even on the professional circuit, I have never had any regular doubles partner and it has not been easy to work my way up in the hierarchy of doubles specialists of the world.
Ai Sugiyama, my doubles partner for the week is one of the leading doubles specialists on the circuit and one who is highly respected.
The fact that she agreed to play with me in this major tournament is an honour for me and though we are unseeded, I’m looking forward to learning a lot from this wily exponent of the doubles game.
Sania is WTA Newcomer of the Year 2005
NEW DELHI, MAR 22 (PTI)
Sania Mirza has bagged the WTA Newcomer of the Year 2005 award for her outstanding performance last season.
The 19-year-old Indian won the award on the basis of her victory in the Hyderabad Open and reaching a career-best ranking of 31 after being 163 at the start of the year.
Sania received the award at the second annual joint ATP and Sony Ericsson WTA Awards ceremony last night in Miami, Florida, according to information received here.
Roger Federer and US Open Champion Kim Clijsters were named the 2005 Players of the Year and also won the Fans' Favourite Award. Federer's fellow players also voted him the Stefan Edberg Sportsman of the Year for the second straight year.
Clijsters, who rose to number 2 in the WTA rankings after a wrist injury sidelined her for most of 2004, picked up four awards in all. This included the Comeback Player of the Year by the media and the Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship award.
Sixteen different players were honoured with 21 awards. Comeback Player of the Year honours for the ATP went to James Blake, who lost out Roger Federer in the Pacific Life Open finals.
Spanish sensation Rafael Nadal was adjudged the Most Improved Player after he captured a record 11 titles including four Masters Series shields and the Roland Garros crown.
2004's top junior Gael Monfils made a momentous climb of 200 spots up to a year-end number 31 in his first full year on the ATP circuit to earn the Newcomer of the Year honour.
Bob and Mike Bryan earned the ATP Doubles Team of the Year award and were also chosen as the overwhelming fan favourites.
Tatishvili ousts Mirza on rain-marred day in Miami
MIAMI (AFP) - Georgian teenager Anna Tatishvili saw off Indian tennis star Sania Mirza on a rain-wracked in the 6.9 million-dollar Miami WTA and ATP Masters Series tournament.
Tatishvili, who trains in Florida and received a wild card into the draw, beat Mirza 7-6 (8/6), 1-6, 7-6 (10/8) to claim her first match victory in her fourth WTA tour event.
After letting slip a 4-0 lead in the third set, she fended off Mirza's chances to take the match, despite admitting to nerves on the big stage of Stadium Court.
"I just really wanted to win," Tatishvili said.
"She hung in there and she was playing some great tennis," said Mirza, who this week received the WTA award for best newcomer of 2005, but who fell in an opening match for the third time in seven events in 2006.
"I guess it's a bit tough when you're not really playing the best tennis and the other girl is just playing some unbelievable shots," she said.
Hyderabad's young tennis players celebrate Sania Mirza's new WTA title
By Narendra, Hyderabad: Budding tennis players in Hyderabad today expressed pleasure over tennis ace Sania Mirza's selection as the best newcomer of the year for 2005 at the coveted WTA tennis awards.
People danced with joy and wished Sania luck in her life ahead.
"I am feeling very happy for her. I hope that she gets more awards. She should continue playing nicely and she should see that she does'nt become overconfident and play coolly," said Junaid, a young tennis player.
Janaki, another budding player, said she was awestruck by Mirza's aggressiveness, and added that she was the perfect role model for girls like her.
"She has a good forearm. She is very aggressive. She has beaten all good players and has also given a tough fight to other players. She has done well in her first Grand Slam. So, I think she is doing well," she said.
Narendranath, Mirza's former coach, says the recognition by WTA was a great honour.
"It's a good recognition to have because it's an organisation controlled by all tennis professionals and for them to recognise her as a potential newcomer is creditable," he said.
Nineteen-year-old Mirza was honoured with the best debutant award at a glittering ceremony on Tuesday in Miami where world number one Roger Federer and U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters were named as professional tennis players of the year for 2005.
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 slipping from a career-high ranking of 31 at the end of 2005 to 45th.
Under the tutelage of Roger Federer's coach Tony Roche, Mirza has changed her service action and believes she's making progress. Off court, however, the Indian teenager has plenty to talk about.
Mirza has already had a taste of the celebrity that surrounds tennis greats, despite her achievement being no match for what the top names in the tennis circuit boast off.
That she was the first Indian woman to accomplish either feat has sent her popularity soaring among her one billion compatriots.
In just one year, she has become a sporting idol, a fashion icon and, like Maria Sharapova, needs her own entourage of burly security guards whenever she steps out from home.
Well this is my first post...interview after the defeat..
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. What a see‑saw, long, exciting match.
SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, I guess it's a bit tough when you're not really playing the best tennis and the other girl is just, you know, playing some unbelievable shots. She came up with some great shots, some matchpoints. It could have gone everywhere till the last point.
But, you know, I guess my forehand deserted me and that's my strength. If I can't hit forehands inside the court, I don't know, I lose like 75% of my game.
So I guess that was what went wrong really. I mean, I served well. She was ‑‑ hats off to her, though. I mean, she hung in there and she was playing some great tennis.
Q. Had you ever seen her play before?
SANIA MIRZA: I hadn't even seen her before (smiling).
Yeah, I mean, she's young and she's a great player. I'm sure we're going to see a lot more of her. It's obviously hard when you're playing a person who's playing so well in the first round. She's playing with no pressure and she's just going for it; on matchpoint, she's going for winners. I was just trying to, since I couldn't hit winners off my forehand, trying to put the ball in play.
So, you know, I guess I was missing on those couple of winners where I should have hit on the matchpoints that I had.
Q. You just received Newcomer of the Year, I believe, which I know is a wonderful honor, but it is about last year. You're in this year. So much happened for you last year. How can you recapture some of that momentum now after this first part of the season which I know hasn't been what you would have wanted?
SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, I mean, the second year on the tour is obviously much tougher than the first. Everyone knows how you play and everyone knows your weaknesses and your strong points. They all come in with a game plan.
I guess when you ‑‑ in the first year, you're a rookie and every win that I have is a surprise. But today, when I went into the match, obviously everyone expected me to win the match, but that wasn't the case last year.
I guess that's the same for her this year. If she becomes full‑time, then next year it's going to be harder.
Q. It seemed like a lot of the crowd was yelling "Anna" a lot. How did that affect you? Did that affect you?
SANIA MIRZA: Well, you know, you need to block everything out. I guess, you know, she's young and everyone wants her to play well. I guess a lot of people like underdogs and, you know, I mean, what the hell, she played great.
Yeah, I'm used to playing with the crowd on my side, but it doesn't really affect me as much because you're just there and you've got to play your game.
Q. You made quite a lot of use of the challenges. Talk about that.
SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, I mean, it's great. It felt really nice. Just I think sometimes in the important points you do get the points, like I did on one of them, just scraped the line.
So it's pretty good, and I think it's a great rule, and hopefully it will continue for the years to come.
Q. I have some non‑match questions. These are things you probably talked a million times about, but what kind of pressure do you feel having so many people from India watching you, and the expectations on you? How do you handle that?
SANIA MIRZA: Well, you've got to do what you've got to do. I mean, expectations are always going to be there, there's always going to be pressure. It increases by the day. You need to learn how to cope with it. Sometimes you feel it and sometimes you don't. You just learn. By this match, I've learned a lot. Every day you learn.
I guess that I've matured a lot as a tennis player over the past one year, and my expectations have increased. I'm sure a lot of people will be disappointed tomorrow and after this match, but what can you do? It's not the first match that I've lost, and it's definitely not the last. So I'm going to lose some close matches, I'm going to win some.
Q. A lot has been made, and again it's been written quite a bit, about you've been criticized by people back home about sometimes the attire you wear. How do you deal with those kind of issues, when people make a big deal about what you choose to wear?
SANIA MIRZA: I mean, I keep stressing I'm just here to play tennis. That's what I'm going to do the best I can. You know, when I retire, I'm sure no one will remember me. So, you know, it's just a matter of a few years and I just have to focus on my game and I think try and block out as much as possible.
Q. Some people see you as a symbol of independence. I mean, do you even look at it in those terms? There are people who say you are sort of leading the way.
SANIA MIRZA: I guess I'm just going to repeat my answer: I'm just here to play tennis, and I'm going to do whatever I can to be the best that I can as much as I can.
Q. In India, what is it like when you walk out on the street?
SANIA MIRZA: Well, it's hard. I mean, it's hard to, you know, hard to walk out. In India usually I don't walk anyway so (smiling)...
Yeah, little things like my cars are pretty dark tinted and stuff. You just have to get used to it, I think. Sometimes I like being outside India where there are not too many Indians, which is very rare (smiling).
But I, you know ‑‑ it's fun. I'm enjoying every moment of it.
Q. Do you have a bodyguard there for your protection?
SANIA MIRZA: Uh‑hmm, uh‑hmm.
Q. Is that something that ‑‑ how do you deal with that?
SANIA MIRZA: I think it's better to be safe than sorry. So, you know, it's just a precaution. Obviously, all that's gone on in the past, you know, we just thought maybe we should just have someone.
Q. Was it hard to have to give up the match with Shahar Peer earlier in the year? I know you wanted to play.
SANIA MIRZA: Well, I mean, that wasn't the reason we didn't play together. That's all I have to say. You know, we're great friends, but that wasn't the reason we didn't play together.
Q. What do you do to relax? What do you do to get away from the pressure and intensity?
SANIA MIRZA: Sleep. I don't know. I mean, yeah, I love the fact that when you sleep, you forget about everything, about your worries and about your pressures and about even happiness for that matter. You know, you go into this other world. I love the fact that you can block out everything for a couple of hours.
Q. Do you like movies? Do you like television?
SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, but, I mean, it's not that every moment of my life I'm thinking, "I've got pressure, I've got pressure." Whatever I do when I'm not on the tennis court, you know, I'm doing all kinds of things.
SANIA MIRZA: Well, I mean, just like any other 20‑year‑old. I'm not a party person, I guess that's the difference. I'm just a stay‑home person. If I have a day off, I'll probably wake up at 12 in the morning and, you know, just relax and have some friends over or something.
Q. What do you want to achieve more than anything else? What would you like to be able to accomplish in the next few years?
SANIA MIRZA: Well, you know, I think I shouldn't put any numbers on my ‑ my vocabulary, I'm losing it, sorry ‑ on my goals. I just want to say that I'm going to try as much as I can, and hopefully injuries not being a major part of it, which I've been injured quite a lot in the past year and a half. I'm still injured.
So, you know, I would love to be No. 1 in the world but, you know, even if I go down as 31 as my highest ranking, I'll still be satisfied.
Q. Do you see yourself as a role model for young girls, whether it's India or anywhere?
SANIA MIRZA: I don't know. I mean, you know, obviously, the way the expectation and pressure, the responsibility, because you know people are looking at you and they want to be like you. It feels nice that people are inspired by you. You know, just the fact that there are so many girls picking up tennis racquets now is something amazing in India.
So it feels really nice, and hopefully I can keep up to their expectations.
Q. When you go back home, are you mobbed? Do you need bodyguards?
THE MODERATOR: That's been asked already.
Q. I just had a question, you have quite an elaborate brace.
SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, I injured my wrist three ‑‑ four weeks ago and injured my elbow playing in India, so I need a new arm (smiling).
Q. You wear it to practice also then?
SANIA MIRZA: Yeah, I always have to have it on because I ‑‑ well, not to get into details, I just hurt the back of my elbow so it hurts every time I serve.
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2006 12:08:39 AM]
On Tuesday, she flashed a smile for the flashing bulbs, her award in her arms. On Friday, Sania Mirza couldn’t even match eyes with the 16-year-old wildcard, Georgian teenager Anna Tatishvili, who will al-ways remember this match — her first victory in the fourth WTA Tour event.
Just five days earlier, Sania was the toast of the tennis fraternity. She had been voted the Most Impressive Newcomer on the WTA Tour, an award that Sania had every justifiable claim to.
She hob-nobbed with the Who’s Who in tennis, shared the same stage as Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters and sat next to Rafael Nadal during the award ceremony. The world was a warm and happy place for the 19-year-old.
The 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-7 (8) loss on a rain-wracked Friday night changed that. It was the third time in seven events that Sania failed to cross the opening round.
Sania could well be forgiven for thinking she’s in a bad movie where she’s losing to competitors younger to her, losing matches that she should’ve won, like the one against Tatishvili, where she was 4-0 up in the third set. The problem: It isn’t make-believe, it’s real.
Though it’s just been three months into the year and too early to make judgments, Sania’s win-loss record isn’t too encouraging. It’s a disappointing 4-7, which means that she wins after every two losses. The now-hot, now-cool play is not doing her ranking any good. She’s dropped out of the top 40 and is now cooling her heels at 41.
The WTA award is an affirmation of her talent. No arguments there. Sania plays an aggressive game, constructed around her explosive forehand which is, undoubtedly, the biggest in the game today.
But what beyond that? Experts believe that Sania has the ability and the talent to be at a cer-tain level, like in the 30s, but is still not good enough to go beyond. She doesn’t have a serve, won’t come into the net and gets injured too often.
Things that Sania has had to listen to everyday since she made it big. Sania is aware that she’s an unfinished product and is determined to prove them wrong.
Who could’ve imagined two years ago that an In-dian teenager would play with the likes of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova on equal ground and come off the court, having won more than lost. Sania did that and she’s raring to do even more.
She knows it takes a lot of hard work to crack the top 25 and she has set about working on that. Her serve and volleying needed to improve so she headed to the sunny shores of Australia to learn from the best in the business, Tony Roche.
She realised that she’s not the fittest in the world and has confessed to playing tournaments not fully fit. But she hopes to change that by having on board a trainer who will help her keep the niggles at bay.
Sania was under no illusions about how tough the second year would be. She was prepared for it and she realises that when one is not playing their best, winning becomes that much more difficult.
She’s ready to hang in there, improving slowly, much to the dismay of the Indian fan, who equates every drop in ranking to a falling Sensex.
New stars emerge every Monday and like Sania is discovering, there are hundreds of eager, hungry teenagers, fed on a diet of tennis balls and laps around the tennis court since the age of five, who want fame and titles, right here, right now.
Only the ones that sustain that hunger and show the temerity to take a few hard blows, stay around for the next few years.
Boy, they do love to panic.
She may be losing matches, but her game has shown big improvements.I wouldn't say she has no serve any more. I was impressed with what I saw. Good use of spin,placement, and the ability to hit the extremes of the court consistently.Her slice serve has really improved, curves away nicely, and tough to attack. More work needed, but the signs are good. Tony R was well worth the hefty paycheck.
As for torrent you just have to be patient,and keep trying. It took me two weeks to download the Federer-Nadal match! It often gets stuck, because its a file-sharing network. You should eventually be able to download it.
have to overcome my inadequacies in public glare: Sania
Sunday April 2 2006 00:00 IST
A lot has been said in recent times about the need to cut down on my unforced errors.
I have to agree with this point of view. However, the problem needs to be understood in proper perspective and is best left to my team, which obviously is in a better position to analyse, deduce and to come up with a solution.
First, let me assure you in most cases, the figures for unforced errors that appear on tournament sites and hence lapped up by most enthusiasts and writers rarely match with the far more detailed point-by-point figures recorded by my coach sitting by the courtside.
The reason is simple. The tournament official mechanically adds on to the figure of unforced errors for every shot that a player hits out of court or into the net as long as he has got his racquet onto the ball.
He just does not take into account that the error may have occurred after the player was made to move around the court by the opponent from one corner to the other or tricked into misreading the length, speed or trajectory of the shot, forcing him to mis-hit the ball.
This goes down in my coach's book as a forced error. There was one match where the official site said I had 85 unforced errors and my coach had that figure at 43 in his notes (which, incidentally, is still way too high!!).
One must also understand that having a minimum number of unforced errors does not guarantee you a win, at least in professional tennis.
If you were to decide not to make any errors and just push the ball back, the opponent may hit a winner off every one of those balls and the points may not go down as unforced errors on your part, but you would still lose the match 6-0, 6-0!
What happens on a lot of occasions at the professional level is a player uses different methods to try to make the opponent ‘go for more’ on his shots and induces errors from him by forcing him to take a lot more chances.
If I hit a dozen shots in the safe mode, say 5 ft inside the line and with plenty of topspin for safety and find that the opponent is hitting a lot more deeper, flatter and harder to take control of the points, I would be forced to go nearer to the lines and with a lesser safety margin over the net.
If in so doing I miss the ball, to the casual bystander, it may appear as if I made another unforced error, but the more informed spectator would see that the opponent had `forced' me to go for more and hence, the error.
I also believe that in analysing the negativity of unforced errors, one needs to take this figure in conjunction not only with the higher number of winners that the player hits but also with the number of unforced errors the opponent makes, because the latter may well be a result of the pressure the player exerts on his opponent by threatening to go for the more risky strokes.
Having said this, I would be the first to reiterate that my own number of unforced errors needs to come down substantially, but the solution is not as simple as some would like to believe.
In my case, one must also consider that my biggest strength is the power in my groundstrokes and this comes from hitting a lot flatter than normal.
In order to generate this kind of power, I need to take a few more risks and clear the net with a lesser margin than someone who plays more defensively.
It is also a fact that I use a lot more wrist in my strokes and it is always more difficult to maintain consistency in movement of the wrist than it is to be consistent with the upper arm.
This is a style that has brought me to a career-high of 31 in the world. To believe that by merely becoming a lot more safer in my approach and by changing the way I hit the ball (at this stage of my career) I could get to top-10 would be very naiive.
The more practical solution is to reduce errors by improving my physical fitness to reach more balls in a better position, a better choice of strokes at critical junctures and by technically trying to improve shots that cause the maximum number of errors (including my serve). All these can take months and years to perfect and there are no short-cuts in the brutally competitive world of international tennis.
This is where the Sharapovas of the world have an edge over players like me. While they have been trained for a decade on these aspects and fine-tuned with the best technical guidance and methods in the quiet and safe pastures of their training grounds at a time when they were still developing in their formative years, I have to quickly overcome all my inadequacies under the blinding glare of the whole world if I am to survive at the highest level!
NDIAN WELLS, March 7 (Reuters) - 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."
Indian star's goal: Be a player, not a symbol
With Muslims at home alternately idolizing and attacking her, Sania Mirza tries to have fun and improve her game.
By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published April 12, 2006
Sania Mirza has drawn attention for her dress, not always favorable: Her tennis attire provoked a Muslim group to declare a fatwa.
KEY BISCAYNE - The Newcomer of the Year in women's tennis - her long black hair bobbing from the back of a visor and a diamond-studded nose ring sparkling - is busy blasting forehands on a remote practice court beneath the hot South Florida sun.
She is virtually hidden from view, rare for someone with a fan club of half a billion.
Gradually, a handful of spectators roaming the jammed Tennis Center grounds at Crandon Park, home of the recent Nasdaq-100 Open, wander over.
They recognize the 19-year-old with the bionic groundstrokes and exotic good looks.
"That's the girl from India; she's so cute," whispers an older woman to her friends.
It's hardly the kind of reception Sania Mirza receives back home, where she no longer even attempts to take a walk in public. Mobs of adoring fans have made that impossible, clamoring for the autograph of the athlete whose posters are said to be as popular as any of India's marquee Bollywood stars.
In some ways, she's a typical teenage girl with an eye for fashion and - at least until she grew weary of answering questions about them last year - a penchant for those trendy attitude T-shirts with the bold, sometimes in-your-face sayings.
Yet while countless kids her age move in a world of MySpace, her space requires 24-hour bodyguard protection in India as a precaution.
Many female teens have to deal with a parent's disapproval over what they wear, not a fatwa from a fringe Muslim group.
The religious order was issued against Mirza by a cleric from her hometown of Hyderabad in southeastern India. The edict deemed her tennis miniskirts and attire too revealing and "un-Islamic" and demanded that Mirza, a devout Muslim, cover up.
Still, the vast majority of India is swept up in the phenomenon dubbed "Sania Mania." Indian women hail her as a pioneer for pushing gender barriers. Young girls flock to tennis courts to follow in her footsteps. And the Indian media, with more than 100 newspapers and dozens of 24-hour news channels, provide endless coverage of her.
She is a young woman caught between being a symbol of modern India and an object of ire from less progressive segments of the society; the best Indian female tennis player ever in a balancing act as a national treasure and a teen.
Somehow Mirza, who answers questions confidently and often bluntly, maintains her concentration with an entire nation hanging on her every move.
"Expectations and pressure are always going to be there," she says. "It increases by the day, and you need to learn to cope with it."
In 2005, she coped quite well indeed.
Mirza became the first Indian to win a Women's Tennis Association singles title, accomplished in her hometown at the Hyderabad Open with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in attendance.
With an aggressive, go-for-broke style, Mirza raced up the rankings from the obscurity of No. 163 (No. 326 in '04) to a career-best 31 last season. And she was featured on the cover of Time magazine's Asian edition in a story titled "Asia's Heroes."
But 2006 has taken a different turn. Mirza has struggled, dropping to 37. Maybe it's a nagging elbow and wrist injury that requires a cumbersome brace on her forearm, hampering her power game. It could be opponents are starting to figure out how to play her.
Or perhaps it's the weight of carrying a country's hopes and dreams each time she steps onto a court.
"I'm just here to play tennis," she insists. "I'll do whatever I can to do the best I can. I just have to focus on my game and block out as much as possible."
One measure of how big Mirza has gotten in India is that she rivals the country's vaunted male cricket players in popularity and endorsements.
In a recent national poll rating the country's young icons, Mirza finished second only to cricket superstar Sachin Tendulkar. Earning one of India's most prestigious sports awards in 2005 made headlines there, but being named the WTA's Newcomer of the Year on March 21 created a media frenzy.
"That's really big news for India, because Indians are not very prominent on the international circuit, particularly women," veteran Indian sports journalist and author Gulu Ezekiel says by phone from New Delhi. "Her photo was splashed all over the papers. She's been on TV. Even with her disappointing start this season, she is still very big."
Yet in the United States, Mirza can walk through the bustling Nasdaq grounds and, except for stopping to pose for a snapshot with an excited Indian woman, barely draw a glance.
As she heads for the locker room, her father, Imran Mirza, a former club cricket player who serves as her coach, lingers briefly to talk.
He is proud of his daughter, but he worries about the pressure and expectations.
"Yeah, it is beginning to get to her, because it's not like a million people are rooting for her; it's like a half-billion people are," he says. "Everybody is following her so closely. So it is getting to her."
Imran, a builder, and Naseema, who runs a printing press, raised their two daughters in a Westernized Muslim household. But he has grown concerned about the attire worn by players on the WTA tour and reactions from more conservative Muslims.
It is a conflict not entirely resolved.
"The thing is, she's never tried to justify what she's doing from the Islamic point of view," he says. "Because she's as much a Muslim as any other Muslim as far as the beliefs go. And we never tried to justify what she's doing.
"In Islam, the best thing that you have is that there's forgiveness for everything. Sania has never said, "I'm doing the right thing.' She says, "I'm doing it and God will forgive me for it.' So that's the attitude we have, and then we have to face what comes."
For what it's worth, Mirza has not been playing in miniskirts this season. She has switched to shorts.
For all the unwanted attention over her attire, Mirza aimed the spotlight directly at her T-shirts last year and wound up with another distraction.
At a postmatch Wimbledon news conference, she wore a shirt bearing a slogan that has made the rounds on bumper stickers: "Well-behaved women rarely make history."
She wore a playful one that read: "I'm old enough to know better but still too young to care," and an edgy one with the words, "Don't Get in My Way."
In August at the U.S. Open, where she became the first Indian woman to reach the tournament's fourth round, she wore this one to a news conference: "You can either agree with me, or be wrong."
But she turned some heads in another Open news conference a few days later wearing a T-shirt with the message, "I'm Cute? No s---."
Some, like veteran tennis writer and NBC analyst Bud Collins, have been turned off by the displays.
"I've only met her once and she seems like a very good kid," he says. "Obviously, she's lively and under a lot of pressure. But I think she could help herself. She wears atrocious clothing sometimes. T-shirts that are profane sometimes. That's starting behind. She's charming enough. She's a good player. She has a big forehand, huge at times. So I don't think she needs to do that. But she's growing."
Mirza, meanwhile, has grown exasperated by all the questions about her T-shirts.
"I think I've said this enough, a number of times," she said with a laugh to a reporter's question at the U.S. Open, "but oh, my God, this is the last time I'm going to wear a T-shirt in a press conference that says something. It's no big deal. I'm 18 years old. Give me a break. I'm just trying to have some fun here. I'm bored of the stripes or checks or lines."
In fact, other WTA players talk highly of her.
"She's a very relaxed girl and a great player," says Kim Clijsters, one of the tour's top players who competed with Mirza in an exhibition. "I'm sure she'll let her tennis do the talking. I like that she keeps going for her shots. She's gutsy. I see her around the courts; she's professional, and a nice girl, too."
One other tour star can relate to the glare of publicity faced by Mirza. Maria Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004 at 17 and has become an international celebrity, defeated Mirza in straight sets in the U.S. Open quarterfinals but was impressed.
"I don't know her personally too well, but she's a great young talent and there's a lot of potential," she says. "I still think she needs experience, just like I did and still do. She has pressure on her. But in a way, I think it's wonderful to have a whole country supporting you. It's an honor."
Oh, yes. She hasn't worn any messages in months.
A long rain delay has pushed Mirza's showcased Stadium Court match with little-known Anna Tatishvili to past 10 p.m. But the crowd has remained.
Loud applause greets the announcer's booming introduction - "SANIAAA, MIRZAAA" to the blaring soundtrack of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's That's the Way I Like It.
Mirza sports a white hat, white shorts, a pink shirt, her trademark black socks and the brace on her right arm and wrist.
High up in the stands, two women watch intently. Belinda Padmini and Dsoula Harigopal, 35-year-olds from India and now Miami residents, have been waiting for a chance to watch Mirza play.
"She's from my hometown in India and it's a big thing that she has done so well," Harigopal says.
"And for a Muslim woman," Padmini adds. "But it shouldn't matter what she is. I'm Catholic and she (Harigopal) is Hindu. We're just proud she's Indian."
Mirza has beaten two top-10 players, but she loses a tense, three-set match this night with an array of unforced errors. It's clear she still has a way to go to join the WTA's elite.
But she has come far, much further than India's first female tennis player of note, Nirupama Vaidyanathan, whose top rank was No. 134 in 1997.
Though Mirza's main sport as a young child was swimming, her mother began taking her to local tennis courts on the way to swim lessons. Mirza enjoyed herself. So her parents thought she might like to give the sport a try, signing her up for lessons at age 6 with no particular expectations.
The instructor at first declined to coach the little girl, insisting she was too small. Within a month, however, she had changed his mind, displaying a natural ability and determination. By 7, she was playing tournaments and progressing rapidly on the pock-marked clay courts, later joking that "I twisted my ankle about a dozen times a day."
Today, the 5-7, 130-pound sensation has numerous Internet fan sites in India, where her off-court dress includes the traditional salwar kameez (loose pants and long tunic) and black-rimmed glasses.
She rides in cars with dark-tinted windows back home to protect her privacy. She has also had to change her cell phone number because of endless calls from Indian reporters.
And the clash of cultures continues to be part of her life. When Indian actor Khushboo spoke out to promote safe sex and condom use, she sparked a fierce backlash among some conservative groups. Mirza came out in support of Khushboo's message and was harshly criticized. Mobs burned both women in effigy, and they eventually issued apologies.
Mirza and Israel's top female player, Shahara Peer, drew protests from some Muslim and Jewish groups when they partnered in doubles in October at Bangkok. Despite the flap, they have stated they intend to join forces again.
Meanwhile, Mirza has to keep her mind on the game. Tony Roche, coach of top-ranked Roger Federer, has been working with her on serves, and she's hoping to get healthy and back on track. In her free time, she tries to relax. "I'm not a party person," she says. "I'm a stay-at-home person. If I have a day off, I probably wake up at 12 and have some friends over."
She would love one day to become No. 1. But another reward sustains her.
"It feels nice that people are inspired by you," she says. "Just the fact that there are so many girls picking up tennis rackets now is amazing in India. Hopefully I can keep up with their expectations."