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Sania Mirza's dad writes: Will miss her grit and supreme confidence to win against all odds

Having donned several caps for her superstar daughter - as her coach, psychiatrist, travel agent, et al, an emotional Imran Mirza looks ahead to a quieter life post-Sania Mirza's retirement from tennis.

Imran Mirza with her daughter Sania Mirza at Wimbledon

Imran Mirza with her daughter Sania Mirza at Wimbledon (Source: Twitter/Imran Mirza)


Imran Mirza

Published: 9 July 2022 5:45 AM GMT

In the back of my mind, we always knew that this inevitable day would be coming - the day Sania Mirza would decide to hang up her racquet. Yet, it's only too human perhaps to delay a fairytale, not bolt to the 'happily ever after', isn't it?

So upon the fine January noon in Australia when Sania, her eyes moist, voice choking, decided to tell the world that 2022 would be her farewell year on the tour, moments after her first-round loss in the Women's Doubles alongside partner, Nadiia Kichenok - I, too went into a stupor, seeing it happen in front of my eyes. This was happening…all too soon.

It's not like the topic of retirement hadn't been discussed, stubborn questions rising again and again but unless it is said out loud in the open, for the whole world to hear, it rarely sinks in. As a family, we knew the countdown to the end had started ever since the pandemic happened and travelling with my grandson, Izhaan, became a hassle.

One's health is of paramount importance and that was the top priority as far as I was concerned - for Sania and for her newborn son. Fortunately, the pandemic struck at a time when Sania had achieved virtually everything she had ever dreamed of in her career - Grand Slam titles, a World No. 1 rank, a semi-final run at the Olympics - you name it, Sania did it.

But even I didn't know this would be the year for goodbyes - till it happened.

The cat was out of the bag - Sania would be retiring and everything from then onwards would be for 'one final time'.

An overwhelming sense of nostalgia was the first to hit when the news started to sink in - the tour has been extremely kind to us and we have forged so many beautiful friendships from it, all of which we will be sorely missing. After all, there is rarely much 'good' in goodbyes but the sense of satisfaction and relief was also there - that we can call it quits with a phenomenal two decades of her career our way and do justice to it with a final lap.

Curtain call

Sania Mirza on her Wimbledon debut (Source: Getty)

It's been some odd seven months now since that day - yet with every tournament, Sania keeps playing, she keeps surprising, her grit and supreme confidence to take out the very bests of the game with her trademark whipping forehand ever-surfacing each time she steps on the court.

Once on the court, Sania never fails to surprise, her passion shining through till the last point of the match - that's what I have always enjoyed about her tennis, this champion spirit to give it your all and a never-say-never attitude, which I will miss once she bids adieu.

For more than three decades now, I have watched Sania evolve as my daughter, an athlete, an icon, a woman, and now, the mother she is today, from the closest quarters and it has been a surreal journey so far - quite the whirlwind and the road has rarely been easy.

From the first time she picked up the big tennis racquet as a kid to now, as she, a 6-time Grand Slam champion and former doubles World No. 1 gears to pick it up for one final time, on the tour - I am overcome by a wave of emotions, given the odds she has had to battle to reach here, be who she is.

Raising a grounded superstar

Imran Mirza with Sania as a toddler (Source: shethepeople.tv)

Growing up, people - even our immediate relatives were quick to point fingers, and pass comments whenever they heard about Sania continuing her tennis career. Nay-sayers were plenty to crowd us but it was Sania's immense sense of belief and passion for the sport that kept the whole family committed to overcoming all roadblocks and achieving something that had never been achieved before in the history of Indian Women's tennis.

Over the years, I have worked as her coach, mentor, psychiatrist, travel agent, financial controller, manager, and advertising agent and donned several other roles, being her go-to support system.
I knew that if I failed even in one of these roles, Sania's career could have failed. Of course, I got immense support from my wife and younger daughter, Anam, who worked tirelessly and selflessly in helping Sania overcome all obstacles, but it has been an uphill climb but now also oh-so-fulfilling as the sunset beckons on the horizon.

As parents, we tried as hard as we could to take away all pressure of winning from her. As long as she had tried her best, even as a junior, we were happy and used losses to motivate her to improve in the future. My wife and I also formed a cocoon around Sania so that the many controversies in her hurricane-like career were shielded from her.

Sense of an ending

As I close my eyes and think about Sania's retirement, a montage fleets before my eyes. From a young and feisty Sania lifting the girls' doubles at Wimbledon in 2003 to her becoming the World No. 1 with a title win in Charleston to beating Grand Slam champions like Martina Hingis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marion Bartoli and Victoria Azarenka in singles and, of course, winning 14 medals for India, all of it raises goosebumps.

While I know this isn't Sania's farewell to tennis as much as it is adieu to competing on the tour, the sudden thrill of winning at the highest level and achieving against all odds is something that I will constantly miss.

Yet that's the funny thing about everything that begins, the countdown for the end also begins on the sand-timer almost immediately. Sania's sand-timer is almost full, the clock hands tick, and every time we take one final stroll down the great corridors of the Rod Laver Arena, tip-toe past the brick-red dusty Roland Garros clay and walk past the lush green lawns of the All England Club at Wimbledon, a thousand memories come to flood.

Over the years, the tour was our makeshift family - the rigour of the calendar, though hectic, has seen us overcome a lot - together, as a family, gifting us with moments to treasure for a lifetime.

Sania Mirza with her son, Izhaan and father, Imran Mirza (Source: Sportstar)

With the day coming near with every tournament concluded, I know I will leave the tour - a happy and content man, who knows that he has given everything that he possibly could to help her daughter achieve great heights in her chosen sport. I will also look forward to a quieter life with more time for my family and especially enjoy watching my grandchild Izhaan grow - it is time to don the granddad cap in a fuller way now!

Just like life, even sport comes with a beginning and an end and to know that we can have somewhat control over the latter is what makes this year all the more memorable for us - a season of lasts. But something tells me, that Sania's final hurrah, her final serve, her final ace, her final winner - all of it will remain as an everlasting chapter in the pages of Indian tennis, for years to come.

​​[As told to Sohinee Basu in February 2022, post-Sania Mirza's retirement announcement at the Australian Open.]

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