Mumbai: When Sania Mirza became the World No.1 women’s doubles player in April 2015, at the WTA Family Circle Cup in South Carolina, US, the opponents were Casey Dellacqua and Darija Jurak. But Mirza had overcome much more than just tennis players to reach the top. She had fought her own body, which broke down with frightening regularity, an overzealous media and public, who accused her of being everything from immodest to anti-national, and gender inequality, which saw her sacrificed by India’s tennis administrators to appease her male colleagues. Now, having achieved many of her goals, Mirza, 29, has released an autobiography, Ace Against Odds, co-authored by her father, Imran Mirza, and journalist Shivani Gupta. In it, Mirza talks about how controversy and criticism have dogged her through her career, but despite it, she has a clear and opinionated voice that encourages Indian women to fight social conceptions and blaze their own trails, like she has. Edited excerpts from an interview:

In Ace Against Odds, you mention a time when you were so tired of interactions with the media, you were crying in your room while a photographer waited outside. Have you gotten more used to the attention after over a decade as a pro?

I have. The incident that I’ve narrated in the book happened before a photo shoot for the Time magazine cover. When you’re 18 or 19, it’s a lot harder to deal with things, both good and bad, and emotion just sort of takes over. It’s a lot easier now because I’m more used to it, but also just because I am older.

One thing that stands out in the book is the graphic description of the pain you faced due to injuries. Did you ever resent tennis when you were in so much pain you weren’t able to eat?

I never resented the game, but I did stop watching tennis and having anything to do with tennis around me when I was injured. I am a bit of a control freak, and it was difficult for me to accept that I cannot do something I love so dearly. I was almost punishing myself by shutting tennis out. It’s a weird and twisted way to look at it, but when you’re in pain and depressed—which I was a couple of times, but more so in 2010—you try to find ways to cope with it.

Was it tough reliving some of the injuries you suffered while writing the book? Did you feel the pain while writing it?

I did. The toughest injury was the one in my wrist. When you have surgery, you expect the problem to be fixed, but my wrist got worse after surgery. That was horrible because I felt like I was out of options. My wrist hurt so much it was impossible for me to even lift up a phone or comb my hair. But the emotional pain was even more because I still wanted to fight through it. As a tennis player, you are used to being in pain. I can’t remember the last time I woke up without a pain in my body. Somewhere or the other it hurts.

It was painful to look back at those injuries, but it also felt kind of nice to write about those moments because it made me realize how strong I was, mentally, to come back from them.

You seem to remember a lot about the time you spent with family and friends on the tour. Were you pleasantly surprised to have remembered so many of the little incidents and not just the big games and achievements?

I’ve had some amazing moments on tour and they are the reason I’m still here. When I was out in 2010 because of injury, I could have just stopped; I had already had a decent career. But it was because of the nice moments that I wanted to come back.

As far as remembering the small incidents goes, I have to give some credit to my dad because he remembered a lot, particularly about my childhood. I also have a bit of a photographic memory. That’s the other secret. I remember things like the faces of certain fans in certain countries. It’s weird.

The chapter titled ‘My best game ever’ was about a game you played at 19 against Svetlana Kuznetsova, at the Dubai Open. Do you ever have any regrets that you reached your peak at such a young age and didn’t push on?

By best game, I mean the way I played. I beat players who were better than Kuznetsova after that and had many amazing victories. But against Kuznetsova that day, I played as if possessed. That’s never happened to me before or since. I had twisted my ankle during the match and was down 0-4, 15-40. And then, I don’t know what happened. As a tennis player, sometimes you get into a zone and you feel like you’re in a trance. Suddenly, I didn’t feel pain and I felt like my racket was a wand.

You are a rhythm player. Is it scary walking on to the court not knowing whether you’ll be in rhythm or not?

Every day it is scary. I play high-risk tennis, so, on any day, if I’m a bit off with my timing, it’s very easy for me to go from looking completely good to looking completely bad. I have to follow a particular routine before I go on to the court. I have to be sweating before I go out; my body temperature needs to be warm enough. Every time, I have butterflies in my stomach.

We know as tennis players that we can’t be at our best every single day. You can only be at your best once or twice a year. We have to find ways to win matches when we’re not at our best.

You’ve written a lot about the controversies you’ve been involved in. You are someone with strong opinions, particularly about bias against women. Have the controversies made you apprehensive about expressing these opinions?

They haven’t because now that I’m older it’s a lot easier to understand a lot of things. It’s easier for a 29-year-old to answer certain questions that I was asked at 17 and 18. It’s easier for me as a woman to understand the struggles and obstacles we have to go through. When I was a teenager, the rest of my friends’ biggest worry was how to sneak out at night, and my worry was to answer a national or international media that was asking me all sorts of questions that had nothing to do with me or my sport. I had to grow up in front of the world because I became famous at 16 when I won the junior Wimbledon (doubles title). It’s difficult being famous when you’re young. Fortunately, I had a good team and system around me, including my parents, which is why I’m sane at 29. A lot of people who are famous when they’re young kind of lose it at some point.

This year’s Olympics will be played on hard courts, your favourite surface. Are you focused on winning your first Olympic medal?

Every time we enter a tournament, we enter to win. Whether we can or not is a separate issue. It’s my third time in the Olympics, and I think people are forgetting that just to represent your country at the Olympics is a big deal. We’re so engrossed in trying to win more medals, but it’s really not that easy. Rohan (Bopanna, Sania’s mixed doubles partner for the 2016 Olympics) and I have a legitimate shot at winning a medal, but then so do the other 15 teams in the draw. As athletes we can only promise to give our best.

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