Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis are that happy tennis partnership in which each brings something unique to the table; they complement each other and visibly enjoy playing together, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So much greater that they have had a spectacular 2015 playing doubles together: nine titles, including Wimbledon, the US Open and the WTA Finals.

Quite the proud record. And any consideration of their partnership has to start, I think, with that bit about how they enjoy playing together.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi used to pump fists and bump chests, but somehow there was always a whiff of forced mechanics to the team they made. Rarely were there any smiles attached. They were a seriously good doubles pairing who could have won a lot more than they did.

But if you watched them, you sensed they didn’t really like playing with each other. Didn’t like each other, actually. Sure enough, their partnership didn’t last, and the tension between them has been public knowledge for years.

But with Mirza and Hingis... Pick almost any clip of them on the court—try this one of the Wimbledon final, for example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXYSC_3AXA8—and you will see regular wide smiles from both ladies. When they win and hold up trophies, of course. But more tellingly, you will also catch the smiles as they get into position between points, as they settle into their chairs. They feed off each other’s joy and energy and that fuels their charge, whatever the match situation.

Lesson: if you like your partner, that’s a good fraction of the battle won.

Their success is also about how their skills complement each other. Mirza has always had a fierce forehand. I have seen her send it shooting past opponents, leaving them looking flat-footed. I have seen her patiently hit it crosscourt over and over again, then suddenly rifle it down the line for a screaming winner. Mirza is not big and powerfully built, yet somehow she packs some fearsome power into that forehand.

Sadly for this fan, Mirza never quite made it as a singles player. Several injuries were unexpected obstacles in her career. Besides, at the highest levels of the game, you get found out if you have just the one weapon, especially in singles where you are on your own on court. The rest of Mirza’s game isn’t as stellar as that forehand. Perhaps that explains why the highest she was ever ranked was No. 27, in 2007.

Hingis, on the other hand, is the ultimate touch player who rode her quickness, court sense and intelligent shotmaking all the way to the top of the game. She relies on guile and angles for her shots. She does hammer the ball when she’s at the net and gets the chance for an easy putaway, and she will do it with a shriek of triumph.

She was the queen of women’s tennis in the late 1990s, racking up the titles, including five Slams. In 1997, she was the No. 1 women’s player in the world, something remarkable considering that, at 16, she was really still a young girl. In fact, she won three of the four Grand Slams that year and was the losing finalist at the fourth (the French Open).

But by the beginning of the 2000s, tennis saw the rise of players who would dominate the game for several years to come with their power and athleticism. Venus and Serena Williams packed simply too much firepower for Hingis; and there were other heavy-hitters such as Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Mary Pierce to contend with too.

And like Mirza, Hingis suffered from a series of injuries. By 2003, she saw the writing on the wall and retired; she was just 22 years old. She did make an attempt to return to pro tennis a few years later, but this time, there was nothing like the success she had had in her late-teens prime.

For both Hingis and Mirza, then, doubles was a natural place for their talents. They had each won doubles titles—women’s and mixed—at the Grand Slams before, with other partners. In fact, Hingis even won Legends titles, for older retired players.

In March 2015, these two women joined forces. Once they did, they must have wondered why they had never done so before. Nine titles came in the next eight months and they are now comfortably the best women’s doubles team in the world.

Watch these two play—or at least follow their fortunes—for the joy and skills they bring to the court. But watch also because they have both emerged from tough tests. Hingis once tested positive for a drug. She argued that the amount detected was so small, it was likely that she had inadvertently ingested it. Regardless, she was suspended for two years.

Whatever you think about that, arguably Mirza has had it even worse. For years, she has faced all kinds of hateful comments from her fellow Indians. For example, for a photograph taken from an angle which showed her feet near the Indian flag. For another example, because she wears short skirts. For a third example, because she is married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik.

Her successes on the tennis court, I always feel, are a statement against the shallow bigotry that is directed at her: whatever you say about me, I imagine her saying to the yahoos, has zero effect on how I play and win.

Hingis and Mirza play some compelling tennis together. If they stay fit and injury-free, there’s no reason why they cannot rack up another nine titles, or more, next year. I will be watching, for sure. Frankly, I can’t get enough of those smiles.

Once a computer scientist, Dilip D’Souza now lives in Mumbai and writes for his dinners. His latest book is Final Test: Exit Sachin Tendulkar.

Twitter: @DeathEndsFun

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