BRINGING to a close a career in which she smashed stereotypes, Sania Mirza delivered almost the perfect ending in her final Grand Slam appearance. The mixed doubles final at the Australian Open was going to be her last game at a tennis major. In an intriguing twist, she was alongside Rohan Bopanna; her first playing partner. But a farewell seventh Grand Slam title eluded Sania as she and Bopanna went down to Brazilians Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos. The 36-year-old, not only India’s but South Asia’s most successful tennis player, is due to retire after next month’s Dubai Open. Dubai is where Sania resides after her marriage to Pakistan cricket star Shoaib Malik. So it will be at home where she swings her racquet for the last time. It was at the Australian Open 18 years ago when she made her maiden Grand Slam appearance, beaten by Serena Williams in the third round of the singles contest. Early in her career, she’d already become the most successful woman player in India’s tennis history, and even when an injury cut short her singles career, she fought on. Sania became an accomplished doubles player, winning her first Grand Slam title at the 2009 Australian Open alongside compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi. She would go on to win the mixed doubles titles at the French Open in 2012, and the US Open in 2014, before teaming up with the legendary Martina Hingis of Switzerland to win the women’s doubles titles at Wimbledon and US Open in 2015 and the Australian Open the following year. Four years after becoming a mother, she came within touching distance of winning another.
Sania may not be leaving on a winning high, but she’s a champion in every right. In a society where she, like other woman athletes, frequently faced obstacles, she rose to great heights to inspire women from across the region. The whole of South Asia will miss her on-court presence.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2023
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