Written by Namit Kumar
July 8, 2022 12:26:39 am
Sania Mirza, now in the final year of her career, was the only Indian in the main draw at SW19. (File/PTI)
A day after the end of Sania Mirza’s fairytale run in her last Wimbledon where she fell a step short of getting to play for the Mixed Doubles career Grand Slam, her father Imran put her achievements in perspective. “We wanted to prove that even after childbirth, a woman can go on to have a big sports career. That she can be a top athlete (after that). I think the fact that she is still the World No. 23 in her final year on tour proves that,” Imran told The Indian Express.
Partnering Croatia’s Mate Pavic, the duo were a set and a break up against defending champions Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk before the tide turned in the semi-final. With plenty of home support pouring in for Skupski from Centre Court after the conclusion of Rafael Nadal and Taylor Fritz’s quarterfinal, ultimately it wasn’t meant to be, as Mirza and Pavic bowed out 6-4, 5-7, 4-6.
Mirza, now in the final year of her career, was the only Indian in the main draw at SW19. Her sixth-seeded pairing with Czech Republic’s Lucie Hradecka suffered a shock first-round defeat, but Mirza kept the Wimbledon fairytale in the mixed doubles. She and Pavic needed a final set super tiebreak to get past the first round, and edged their quarterfinal 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 against the fourth-seeded pairing of John Peers and Gabriela Dabrowski
Wimbledon, where she is a former junior and women’s doubles champion, has always been a special event for her, and despite a heartbreaking loss that meant she did not get to play for the title one last time, her father, Imran, is confident that it will not deter the rest of the year.
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“We know that the match is not over until the last point. If you look at the two matches before, they were even closer than this one. So, you have to be able to get to the end,” he told this newspaper. “At the end of the day, as a professional athlete, you can’t let these results get to you.”
Sania Mirza in action. (File)
Vishal Uppal, who has worked closely with Mirza as the captain of India’s Billie Jean King Cup team, said that the loss was difficult, given the fairytale end that was on the cards for her at SW19. He added that she will be looking to stay healthy to end the season on a strong note.
“Playing finals in her final year would’ve been the sweetest farewell and possibly winning it would’ve been an unforgettable memory,” he told The Indian Express. “It was not meant to be, but she has achieved a lot in her career to fondly look back on.”
Uppal has been working with many up-and-coming women’s players in the recent past. He spearheaded the recently concluded double-header of ITF $25,000 tournaments at The Tennis Project in Gurugram that produced Indian winners – Harman Kaur Thandi and Sahaja Yamalapalli – and has been working towards giving Indian women’s players as much top-level exposure as possible.
Sania Mirza with her child.
It’s not Mirza’s serve or forehand that he would wish to impart to his players, he says, but her fighting spirit.
“I would like them to look at her attitude. She does not back down from a fight. While I think a lot of our players have the skills, they can watch Sania and learn what a difference the right attitude can make, what self-belief can do for you,” he said.
After 7 Grand Slam titles, the World No. 1 doubles ranking, and becoming the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of a singles Grand Slam (US Open 2005), Mirza has established herself as the most successful Indian tennis player of this generation.
WTA Finals, fitness is the priority
Imran says that playing the US Open this year as the final Grand Slam of her career is a huge goal. But her schedule will need to be managed for that, in case of physical issues or an injury. While Mirza and Pavic were up a set and a break in their semifinal on Wednesday, the former had called for the trainer to treat an injury in her calf.
Sania Mirza. (Scrrengrab/Instagram)
Imran maintains that his daughter’s priority remains to qualify for the year-end WTA Finals, which would be a fitting farewell. Mirza is the only Indian to have ever won the year-end Championships, having done it twice in doubles – in 2014 alongside Clara Black and in 2015 alongside Martina Hingis.
“Sania has always said that the year-end championships mean a lot to her. It is the most elite level to succeed at, among the world’s best. In many ways, it is like a World championship of tennis,” he said. “Even Leander (Paes) and Mahesh (Bhupathi) have never won at that level and we would love to see her compete there again. She and Lucie (Hradecka) are currently 10th in the race [top eight qualify] and they aim to make it.”
Imran asserted that he was proud of his daughter for fighting until the last point at Wimbledon, just as she has her whole career, and that they will be returning to Wimbledon one way or another.
“Wimbledon is very special for us, just as it is for every tennis player. When we first came here, it was quite daunting for us. Now, it’s like a second home. We look forward to coming back here.”
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- Sania Mirza