Home > industry > Sania Mirza’s dream run to the top in doubles

Every once in a while, the dreams and courage of one person forces us to reset our ambitions as a nation.

Saina Nehwal, two Thursdays ago—even though only for a brief while—gave us a glimpse of what it is like to have an Indian woman rule at the top of the world in badminton. Sania Mirza, whose career has run curiously parallel with her fellow Hyderabadi—with similar sounding and oft-confused first names—ascended the peak of women’s doubles in tennis on Monday.

“It’s a dream for every kid to be No. 1 one day," Mirza said during the trophy presentation of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, US. In the company of Swiss legend Martina Hingis, she beat Casey Dellacqua and Darija Jurak 6-0, 6-4 in Sunday’s final to win the tournament.

It was their third title in a row, having captured the prestigious Indian Wells and Miami titles, and the final step took Mirza to world No. 1.

“For me, the last five weeks have been very special," Mirza told a press conference in Charleston after the match on Sunday. “When we came into Indian Wells, honestly, I was two-and-a-half thousand points away from being No. 1. So for this to happen over three tournaments is pretty amazing. And no one can take it away from me. I’m going to be the No. 1 in the world. Even 50 years from now I’ll go down as the former world No. 1, and that’s something that’s very, very special."

Having broken into the top five in women’s doubles on 7 July last year, Mirza had spoken about her ambition of making a run for the top spot. After her partnership with Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh failed to reap more than a title in Sydney in January, she teamed up with Hingis. Mirza could not have picked better—with 14 wins in a row now, they have become the team to beat. The Swiss, who won Wimbledon at the age of 16 in 1997, seems to have brought the experience and tactical nous that the Mirza-Hsieh combine lacked.

Though they won the tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami without dropping a set, Mirza and Hingis were made to work hard at Charleston. They fought back from match-point down in the semifinal against Yaroslova Shvedova and Anabel Medina Garrigues, to eventually beat them 7-5, 4-6, 13-11.

“It’s always a special moment," said Hingis of her partner’s rise in the rankings. “That was the first thing, like that was the goal coming here already. That was the bottom line, like trying to continue our winning streak, and getting Sania to No. 1. And I was like, so, now finally we did it. How does it feel? I think now the pressure is off. I know we can play at any time, any surface, anywhere."

For 28-year-old Mirza, the success was sweeter, as she was crowned No. 1 on her wedding anniversary.

“Five years. Yeah, it’s gone pretty fast," she said of her high-profile wedding with Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, something for which she faced controversy and harassment in India. “He’s actually having a barbecue and cutting a cake by himself as we speak! I was like, well, at least he’s able to enjoy it. No, he’s really happy. I think, you know, as a woman, after you get married, a lot of things change. You know, sometimes you want to have kids; you take a backseat. As women we all understand that, but I think he’s been a great source of support for me. You know, he’s never stopped me from doing what I wanted to."

Making her marriage work with another professional athlete, from across the border, has been just one of the challenges Mirza has had to surmount during her journey from the cow-dung courts of Hyderabad to the strange green clay in Charleston that marked one of her biggest achievements.

“When I was playing in Hyderabad, six years old, there were no clay courts; there were no hard courts. We used to play and practice on courts made out of cow shit. No jokes. I mean that was the only court that was available. So to come from there and pick up a tennis racquet and have the guts to say, okay, ‘I am going to go and play at the highest level in the world’ is against all odds," said Mirza. “To come through all that after all these years, and I mean for my family, the sacrifices we put in. We all have a story. Every tennis player out there has an amazing story. And it all just seems worth it today."

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