Stanford, California: Sania Mirza fancies her chances of cracking the world’s top 20 despite a weary 6-3 6-2 loss to Anna Chakvetadze in the Stanford Classic final on Sunday 29 July.
It was a breakthrough week for the 20-year-old from Hyderabad, in which she reached her first WTA Tour Tier II final and knocked off three top 25 players in succession: Tatiana Golovin, Patty Schnyder and Sybille Bammer.
It was the first time Mirza had done so in her career and her memorable week helped her equal her career-high world ranking of 31.
“I believe in realistic goals,” said Mirza, who won a lower grade WTA event in Hyderabad two years ago to become the first Indian woman title winner on the tour.
“From the beginning of my career, I could have said my aim was to be number one in the world and be the greatest player even, but I’m a practical person.
“That’s why I have said that top 20 is my goal and I believe it. Before I was saying the end of next year, but it could be the end of this year, or by the end of the US Open.”
Part of the reason for Mirza’s progress is that she is slimmer and faster.
Oddly, Mirza credits that to right knee surgery in early March, when she could not get on court, but logged numerous hours on the treadmill during her two-and-a-half month layoff.
“I feel fitter than I ever have, I look fitter and move better than ever,” Mirza said.
”I spent a lot of time in the gym and when you can move faster to set up your big weapon, your forehand, it pays off. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise to have that injury.”
Once a free-swinging competitor, she feels she has more options now.
She is more comfortable with what she brings to the court and says that while she is largely in tune with her style, she is giving variety a chance.
”You have to be versatile,” she said. ”Some people like it the harder you hit. Being aggressive just doesn’t mean hitting the ball hard. I’ve learned that it’s also important not to give players their rhythm.”
She is also adding a growing maturity to her approach.
“Experience helps,” she said. ”You can adjust more because you’ve had more matches. You mature every match and learn to take the positives and negatives out of everything.”
Mirza would not go as far as saying that she is going to sweep through the US hardcourt season, but she is hoping to be seeded at the US Open and after her run at Stanford, now feels at home in the higher echelons.
“It shows me I can play good tennis for a whole week,” she said. “It gives me confidence that I can win a lot more tournaments and go deep in a lot more tournaments.”
Mirza will face her doubles partner, Israel’s Shahar Peer, in the first round of next week’s San Diego Classic.