Sania Mirza was the heartthrob of millions. Good looks combined with tennis skills made her a heroine, a poster girl. The whole nation looked up to her to bring home more and more laurels and proudly followed her career.
At the age of 22, Sania is the 91st ranked women tennis player in the latest (September 8) WTA list. That sounds good. An Indian girl in the top 100. But what is bothersome is the route map to her present grade.
Sania Mirza started 2005 with a rank of 134. From there onwards, it was a steady climb. By the end of August 2005 she had brilliantly fought her way to the 42nd place. In August 2007 she reached her best ever rating, 27th in the world. That was incredible. Many expected her to break into the top 20 this year. But instead it was a downward slide from then on.
What went wrong? A lack of focus and commitment? Nonchalance? Immaturity? I suppose a bit of all these plus fitness problems and a penchant for getting into controversies. Some of the issues she had to face were ridiculous. They were not of her making but brought severe pressures on her.
However, Sania Mirza cannot shirk the responsibility for appearing at the Beijing Olympics march past in training clothes. The explanation that she had to come straight from practice was childish. All those thousands of athletes who took part also had to practice.
Sania Mirza could have taken a cue from Leander Paes (once ranked 73 in men’s singles) for commitment and fitness. Or she could draw inspiration from the other three Indian girls who are doing brilliantly in their chosen sports.
Saina Nehwal is just 18. She reached the quarterfinals in badminton at Beijing Olympics with a great performance. The girl is now ranked 14 in the world. The other two are in squash racquets. Joshna Chinnappa, 22, the National Women’s Champion, is 39th in the world (slipped two places recently). There is an interesting aside about Joshna. When someone mentioned that she was the Sania Mirza of badminton, her repartee was, ‘No, Sania is the Joshna Chinnappa of tennis’.
Then there is Dipika Pallikkal, the beauty who will be turning 17 this month. (A rising hope squashed?) This brilliant squash player is the world’s 57th ranked women. She slipped three places in the latest ranking. She certainly has a bright future if she does not follow Sania Mirza’s pattern.
There are great comeback stories in sports. Let us hope that Sania Mirza returns with all glory. But that would take a lot of character and hard work. Among the current top ten women tennis players, four are her age or younger. On the other hand is the example of Lindsay Davenport. Even at the age of 32, she is ranked 21.
Sania can still do it. She should ignore everything else and concentrate on her game and fitness.