"I was living my life," says Sania Mirza on the 'trend-setter' tag
"And I don't necessarily think that I was some kind of a great rule-breaker or some trendsetter. That's not what I was trying to do. I was living my life," she said.
Sania Mirza is not apologetic for being one of a kind. A few people chose to call her a trailblazer while some labelled her a rebel. She says she is none and just lived life "on her own terms".
Splashed with mind-blowing success and achievements that no Indian female tennis player could enjoy and which are unlikely to be emulated in the imminent future, Sania has lived an inspiring life.
During a free-wheeling chat at her villa in Dubai, Sania implored the society to accept differences in opinion and not brand as "villain or heroes" the people who dare to do things in their own way.
Not a trendsetter
"I don't think that I broke the rules. Who are these people who are making these rules and who are these people who are saying this is the norm and this is the stereotype. "I think each individual is different and each individual should have the freedom to be different," Sania told PTI in an exclusive interview, before bidding adieu to her tennis career.
The 36-year-old Indian added, "I think that's where as a society we can probably do better, a little bit where we are trying to hail people or make people the bad guys just because they are doing something differently.
"And I don't necessarily think that I was some kind of a great rule-breaker or some trendsetter. That's not what I was trying to do. I was living my life.
"We all say things differently, we all have different opinions. I think once we all accept that we are all different, and we can co-exist with those differences is when it will not be about breaking the rules anymore."
Holder of six Grand Slam doubles titles and a year-end WTA Championships trophy to go with a career-best singles rank of 27, if Sania is not a trend-setter then what is she?
"I do look at myself as trying to be as authentic as possible. That's what I've tried to do. I've tried to stay true to myself. And I have tried to live life on my own terms.
"I think everybody should be able to do that and have the freedom to do that without being told that you are breaking the rules because you are doing something that you want to do," she said.
"That is something I take a lot of pride in because I think that it's not that I was necessarily different. I might have been different to you, but that doesn't mean that I am someone who is a rebel, or someone who is breaking some kind of rules.
"It's just my individuality and another person's individuality."
Society as hindrance to women athletes
A lot has changed in Indian sport in the last few years, but in the not too distant past, women athletes struggled for acceptance and recognition, and were not even considered worthy of pursuing a career in sport. And if one was from a Muslim family, it was more difficult.
There are Muslim women wrestlers who battle outside the mat just to be able to pursue their passion. In the case of Sania, she was fortunate that her parents shielded her from negative comments which could have affected her morale, and let her follow her tennis dreams.
They managed to strike a fine balance where she could pursue tennis without hurting religious sentiments. She, mostly, had her arms and legs covered while playing.
Sania says not supporting women athletes is not restricted to just Muslim families. "I don't think it is just a Muslim community issue. We need to get that very straight. It's in the sub-continent itself otherwise if that was the case we would have a lot more young women playing from all communities.
"You hear a Mary Kom, saying that they did not want her to box. It really does not have to do with a community per se. I came from a family that was very much ahead of their times, that put their young girl into tennis which was a sport which was unheard of from Hyderabad and then dreaming of playing at Wimbledon, it was not heard of.
"I don't know they (parents) felt pressure or anything but they did not make me feel that pressure. They kept me protected, I did not really understand it much until I grew a bit older.
"I did hear the whispers here and there from aunts and uncles, 'kaali ho jayegi to kya hoga, shaadi kaise hogi (if your complexion becomes dark who is going to marry you). This type of stuff, every girl will tell you from this side of the world.
"A young woman is considered compete only when she looks good or rather looks a certain way, gets married, have a kid. These are the tick marks that a girl should have to become complete.
"One of the reasons for my comeback and play as a mother was to show that you can be a world champion and and still have a complete life. "It does not mean that you have to sacrifice some parts of your life. That you can't be a mother, a wife or a daughter. You can still do it and be a world champion," Sania asserted.
If success came Sania's way throughout her career, the controversies too chased her, and many a times unnecessarily. She was accused of disrespecting the Indian flag when that was not the case.
She was chided for "supporting" pre-marital sex when she had not said anything like that. She was also accused of shooting inside a mosque for commercial benefit when actually she had not entered the restricted area.
A Fatwa was also issued against her for wearing an un-Ismalic dress (skirt). Asked what hurt her the most, Sania chose not to go back to the disturbing incidents of the past.
"Honestly I don't remember. It's been too long. And honestly it doesn't bother me at all. I think that everything that happened in my life has made me the person that I am today and it has made me very strong as a human being internally and it has made my self-belief even stronger.
"My honest truth is I don't remember. I have a great ability to omit a lot of bad in my life. It is not something that is relevant in my life, it's not bringing me any positivity," she said.