Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sania Mirza: The Fall of a Tennis Star & Controversies Surrounding Her

Sania Mirza's star was on the ascendant till last year. Even if she was not winning tournaments, the Indian tennis sensation was creating records and occasionally defeating players ranked much higher to her in the WTA rankings.

She had even reached a career high of 27, which was almost unbelievable in a sport as competitive as tennis that is played in over a 100 countries. Then what went wrong for Sania in the year 2008?

Away from court for a long time, she seems to have lost the touch and though she is still making news--either it's because of her new Mercedez Benz for which she has purchased a special number (ending in 786 from Transport Authority) to the doctorate degree conferred on her, tennis doesn't figure much. [Now she is Dr Sania Mirza]

Such has been her fast decline that Mirza is now out of the Top 100 players. Though senior players publicly say that she may bounce back, the truth is that tennis fraternity feels Sania hasn't been as focused on the game lately and she frittered away whatever she had earned after much hard work over the years.

There is a feeling that she has became a sort of glam-doll and her interest is fading in the game. Nobody can belittle her contribution to the Indian tennis but the fact that the nation had high hopes from her, as she had the potential to be the world-beater and get into the top 10.

She was getting noticed after winning junior Wimbledon. Already in 2006 she had beaten Williams sisters in a doubles match, while pairing with Kim Clijsters, bagged the WTA newcomer of the year award and also received the honour of Padma Shree.

The shy girl who once had a crush on the 'Temperamental Tatar' Marat Safin and had befriended his sister Dinara Safina, to know him better, was coming of age. She was recognised on the international circuit.

It all started the last year. In October 2007, Sania was ranked as high as 29. She had become a media darling by then. However, it was the time when there were initial murmurs about her attitude.

She was getting lots of advertising offers and had become brand ambassador for several companies. That was the time when her friendship with Shahid Kapoor also got reported for the first time.

Once she walked out of a press conference over a non-issue, shouting and angry. Controversies had also started chasing her. The issue of disrespect to flag was also raised though earlier she had got praise for refusing to play in a match outside India when she found that the tricolour was not hoisted properly.

It was probably a camera trick that showed her feet towards the flag. As is the normal practice, those hungry to get publicity filed law suits of disrespect to flag against her, to get cheap publicity. This apparently made Mirza upset and angry.

But that was just the first such incident though earlier there was a 'fatwa' against her dress and a needless controversy was created. Sania was getting too touchy and irked by every such incident.

Her statement on AIDS and premarital sex were apparently twisted. By now she was fed up of controversies. It was her unwise decision of not playing in India for a while, that created a furore. Even tennis legends like Vijay Amritraj disapproved it.

As a celebrity she should have known the price of her being a star in a nation that has seen few women players who have shone at the international arena. She had talent and the glamour quotient turned all eyes on her.

The Hyderabadi girl shut herself from the media. An injury was the last thing she would have wanted at that juncture and she was away from the sport as well. When she returned Sania found it hard to match the expectations.

Sometime later she had admitted that one point of time she even thought of quitting tennis. Isn't it lack of mental toughness? She skipped major tournaments and when she played, she looked under pressure an was not the same player. By December 2008, Sania's ranking slipped down to 102.

She was struggling to make her way past the first round. However, she was still making news with her statements and moves off the court. Her 'friendship' with Telugu film star Navdeep and other off-court activities made headlines.

There was even talk about her acting in a movie that was planned on her. Has Sania Mirza really lost the touch. Or has she simply lost the drive and interest in the game, feeling that it's time she enjoys her life rather than hardwork on the circuit that deprived her of a normal adolescence.

It has been a fairy tale story for Sania so far. Tennis is a competitive sport that requires both physical and mental toughness and she hasn't shown the commitment to bounce back for quite sometime.

It has been difficult to make a return, even for greater players in the past, when they came back to the court afer a hiatus. One wishes that Sania saga will not end in near futre. But the yar 2009 will be crucial for her. If she doesn't succeed in getting her touch back, it will probably be too difficult for her later.

The Success Story of Saina Nehwal

Saina Nehwal, India's ace badminton player, has almost lived in the shadow of Sania Mirza till now. Both have been from Hyderabad and the comparisons were inevitable.

Though Sania Mirza can't be written off, the Indian media and public hasn't done justie to Saina Nehwal. She is poised to achieve greater heights and has already reached the Top 10.

But it has all been admired, never celebrated. When she returns after winning a title, Saina has no autograph hunters and no queues to catch her glimpse.

She featured in the top 10 of the World Badminton Federation, no mean achievement. But neither any of her match is shown generally on TV channels nor she gets the publicity.

At least in the good old days of Doordarshan, we had an occasional match of Table Tennis, Badminton and even Volleyball to watch. In fact, the glamour associated with tennis and the image of a sex symbol has helped Mirza

But the comparatiely quiet and cool-headed Haryana-born Hyderabadi shuttler [Nehwal'] hasn't got her due share of acclaim. This is a sad aspect that our society doesn't the due credit to heroes of sports other than tennis and cricket.

Update [2009]:

Sania marrying childhood friend Sohrab Mirza

Sania's career seems on an upswing again. After a spate of good performances recently, the news from personal front is also interesting for her fans.

She is tying the knot with Mohammad Sohrab Mirza, a Hyderabadi youth, who studied with him at the same school. Sohrab is barely 24 and runs the family business. He plans to go to United Kingdom for his MBA.

The good news is that Sania is not going to stop playing tennis. Her father Imran Mirza recently set all speculations to rest when he announced that the dates of nikaah would be announced in near future. On the left is the photograph showing the couple--Sania and Sohrab.

Update [2010]:

Sania Mirza and her 'childhood lover' parted ways. The engagement was broken a few months back and now Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik enters her life. The media is informed that they are now going to marry and she will settle in Dubai after the walima in Lahore.

Despite traditional hostility with Pakistan, Indians aren't angry. The glamour girl has every right. So what if she couldn't find a suitable Indian boy. Surprisingly, Sania chose Shoaib who is currently banned by the Pakistan Cricket Board, though on his earlier visits to Hyderabad his name was linked to a girl, Ayesha Siddiqui.

Ayesha breaks silence and police swings into action. She says that Shoaib married her over phone. But Malik flatly denies that his telephonic nikaah. First calls her 'Aapa' and a few days later agrees to give divorce to her.

TV channels have found a juicy story. Hyderabadi Muslims are sad. First Azharuddin gave it away and now Sania. Shouldn't she have handled it gracefully and acted carefully. One wishes she learnt something from her idol, Sachin Tendulkar, who has more than a billion fans but remained focused on game and showed the world how to handle fame.

One does feel tempted to ask what was the hurry to marry. Shouldn't she have waited. She showed immaturity in choosing life partners [first Sohrab, now Shoaib] and in dealing with the entire episode.

Let's hope that the marriage brings her bliss. However, this may not be the end of Sania saga.


On April 12, Sania Mirza became Mrs Sania Malik as she married Shoaib Malik at Hotel Taj Krishna. The nikaah was solemnised in the presence of Imran Mirza's close family members and relatives. On the right is the wedding photo. The couple on the stage looks happy posing for the photograph.

Best of Luck.