Sania Mirza: The girl who fought for the right things

Sania Mirza wants to be remembered as a girl who fought for a just cause.

How the cap she wore after graduation her Australian Open Grand Slam career at age 36…You can’t handle the truth‘ — or the T-shirts she made famous as a teenager — ‘You can either agree with me or be wrong‘ Her responses usually have a short but direct message.

Sania Mirza is a fighter. Not only on the court, where she is an experienced participant until her last Grand Slam tournament. But also from him.

“When an Indian athlete achieves something, she not only struggles on the court or on the field, but she also struggles with her chances off the field due to high pressure, social thinking,” she tells Sportzshala in a candid chat. before the final tournament in her legendary career.

There are several universally accepted truths about being an Indian woman in sports: casual sexism and thorny issues ranging from clothing choices to unconventional careers.

For Sania, these barriers were reinforced not only because of her gender, but also because of her religion and then her marriage to a famous Pakistani cricketer. She encountered an evolved version of the garden variety of sexism that most Indian (athletic) women face.

And she fought it with a courage that redefined what it means to be a modern day Indian athlete. Even the Indian woman, as many girls have grown up watching her hold her racket and words like no other Indian sportsman has ever done before.

Fight for the right things. At the same time, frank. Win consistently. Is this her biggest legacy as she retires?

“A lot of people ask this question and I find it weird because you really think of yourself as a legacy?”

A classic remark by Sania Mirza. The embodiment of an eloquent oxymoron. You have heard this for years. Sania has always been one of India’s most eloquent and witty sportsmen and also the GOAT of Indian tennis.

“If I really think about how I want people to remember what I did or who I was, I would definitely say what I achieved, yes; I was number one in the world and India was number one in the world for two years. ”

“But I would like people to remember that this girl fought for a just cause. She believed in herself when no one else did. No matter how many odds were against you, she didn’t think those odds were enough, she always thought you could fight those odds.

“Those are the things that are more important to me, everything else goes without saying… win grand slams and be #1.”

To truly appreciate the greatness of Sania Mirza, you have to see her accomplishments on the court with her unique array of off-court obstacles.

Imagine this:

You are 18 years old. Debut in the main draw of the Grand Slam tournaments and play with Serena Williams. Nervous and exciting.

Later that year, you have already become one of the country’s biggest sports icons. First Indian woman to win a WTA title, playing in the second week of the Grand Slam against Maria Sharapova. Great moment for the whole nation.

You are 18 years old and a fatwa has been issued against you by a group of Muslim clerics for wearing “obscene” clothes – the very work clothes that made you famous in Indian history.

You are 18 years old and cannot leave the house without security. Everything you wear is carefully inspected. You are asked questions that none of your co-workers should be able to answer.

Being in that position at a very young age was like walking a fine line between the feather on her cap and the millstone around her neck. How does a teenager cope with this unusual burden when he already carries the burden of a professional athlete and role model?

“It would be a lie if I said that I never felt the weight…”

“We are all human and I think people sometimes tend to forget that just because we are athletes and doing this kind of high pressure work. But I think for the most part I accepted it. It may have been tough on and off the court at that moment, but I think it made me who I am.”

Her next line paints the whole picture, answers a question many have asked.

What made Sania Mirza the way she is?

Win titles, deal with trolls, speak your mind when silence could be easier.

“Everything is interconnected. You can’t separate the good from the bad, or the bad from the good, you have to take everything together. either, from the point of view of my personality, of who I became, what I had would have happened.

If these numerous instances of probing and prejudice fueled her personality, then she had more than enough ammunition for her two-decade career at the Indian Sports Centre.

When Rajdeep Sardesai, one of India’s most respected journalists, asked her about “calmed down” when I interviewed her about her autobiography in 2016, and she quickly delivered a lesson like an ace: “You say disappointed that I don’t choose motherhood over being number one in the world. But I’ll answer your question anyway, it’s a question that I face all the time as a woman, that all women have to face – first marriage and then motherhood. Unfortunately, that’s when we settled down, and no matter how many Wimbledons we win.”

When deal with constant ridicule on her patriotism due to her marriage to Shoaib Malik… and conveys it all with grace while winning medals and trophies for India.

During maternity leave and a successful return with a young son in tow, who even had a problem with a visa. Indeed, one of the highlights in Indian tennis – the first qualification for the playoffs of the Fed Cup in March 2020 – came after Sania became a mother.

When even a statement had to be made to clear up her remarks about premarital sex because it was asked to a jock and a harmless response led to the effigy being burned.

Now she jokes about the situation… she never knew how one strange question could be twisted to make her words clickbait. Back in the 2000s, before the full proliferation of social media, she got first-class real estate in print publications … but not always for her tennis achievements.

How do you even prepare for a situation where you have to prepare to play on grass and clay?

“I had to deal with it. So I didn’t have a way to deal with it. The only thing my parents always told me was to be true to yourself, to who you are. This is the formula I still use. , and in the process there are people who don’t like me and there are people who love me.”

Borrowing the cliché: love her or hate her, she can’t be ignored. The “Sanya Mania” of the 2000s was as much a constant feature of the Indian sports conscience as were the biggest cricket stars.

In her next opportunity, Sania wants to pass on her hard-earned experience to others, especially the next generation of Indian women who are part of a more inclusive but no less discriminatory ecosystem.

The first step is to mentor the RCB team in the first ever Women’s Premier League.

“People were asking what was going to happen next, and I was really looking for an opportunity where I could help the younger generation of athletes from our country cope with the situations that I faced,” she says.

“That’s what I want to do… I’m making the world a better place and I’m so excited to meet the girls to share how I felt in moments when I know the whole country was watching.”

“When we started talking to our RCB I said I didn’t know anything about cricket and they said that’s not what we need you for. We want you to come and help them with your experience of what it’s like to be someone to be in the spotlight, to have so much pressure on you, so much money and so many sponsors who ride on you.”

A role created especially for Sania.

The whole country is looking at her – this is not an exaggeration. In a cricket-mad country, Sania single-handedly created a space for women’s tennis. In an increasingly polarized society, she has remained strong despite criticism that she is the national symbol of feminine perfection and self-confidence.

From Wimbledon junior champion to world No. 1, from teenager to mother, her journey has been in the spotlight every step of the way and she has shone through it all with a personality as outstanding as her forehand.

Another issue is that India has yet to see another player as successful in tennis; her on-court career was legendary even without any off-court battles.

At some point, Saniya Mirza became an emotion that resonated with a huge and diverse section of the people in India. She was synonymous not only with Indian tennis, but also with women’s sports in India. When my aunt found out that I was playing tennis, her first question was: “Did you talk to Sanya?”

As she speaks fluently ahead of what will be her last tournament – retiring on her own terms, which she has gone to great lengths to ensure – the composure that has made Sania who she is becomes clearer than ever.

“Authenticity, I don’t know if that’s the mantra… I’m just as authentic as can be. I try to wear my heart on my sleeve and sometimes what I feel on my T-shirt and hats,” she smiles.

One of these infamous T-shirts decades ago read:Well behaved women rarely make history.’ Sania has really gone down in history in a way that has changed the idea of ​​who a well-mannered Indian woman is.


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