Why I am supporting Sania Mirza at the Tokyo Olympics
Heading into a record fourth consecutive Olympics, 6-time Grand Slam champion and 2016 Rio semi-finalist, Sania Mirza is showing resurgent streaks and exhibiting sheer confidence ahead of the Tokyo Games.
In a country that refused to bat as much as an eyelid to anything that wasn't cricket - a certain bustling and bumbling teenager - armed with a racquet and a ferocious forehand from Hyderabad stirred a half-awake nation to the sport of tennis nearly two decades back. This feisty girl, who goes by the name of Sania Mirza is now synonymous with the Queen of Indian tennis and is someone who juggles multiple roles – from being the on-court ace player to the off-court diva or being a proud super-mom, Sania Mirza pressed the 'Reset' button on how we view tennis in India.
With 6 Grand Slam doubles titles, the honour of being the Numero Uno on the tennis tour along with her erstwhile legendary Swiss partner, Martina Hingis, to being a 3-time Olympian with a semi-final finish at the 2016 Rio Games to being a super-mom balancing life and career – Sania Mirza tugs at the letters of inspiration, as she gets ready to head into her record fourth straight Olympics at Tokyo.
Slated to partner with the current India No. 1 in women's singles and doubles, Ankita Raina, Sania Mirza has already started revving up her rusty engines into full ignition as she is making a comeback at Wimbledon after her maternity leave in 2018.
A doting mother to a two-year-old Izhaan Mirza Malik now, Sania stepped onto the familiar Wimbledon greens this year – clad in all-white, an unmistakable joy playing in her eyes as she arches back, raises her arms and lunges to serve – still powerful, still effective, often landing down-the-tee.
Having spent most of my childhood thumbing through the newspaper headlines in the Sports Section - Sania Mirza became an early resident in my memory and the pages of Indian tennis history with time. No other woman tennis player from the country had done so much – strutting around in a tennis skirt, commanding the grand stages of the sport and making India's name a recurring one there.
The rise and rise of Sania Mirza
As I write this, a certain ABBA song - Dancing Queen - finds its way inside my mind – 'you can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life' and the vision of Sania Mirza flashes by – a rapid montage ranging from her early years to her present-day prominence on the circuit. From decorating herself with a bronze medal at her first Asian Games outing with tennis legend, Leander Paes to going on to lifting her first Grand Slam trophy at the 2009 Australian Open before being just a whisker away from winning an elusive medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics alongside Rohan Bopanna to eventually coming back on the tour as a mother, with full gusto and familiar hunger – the Queen, wild and free, made a stunning return.
When it comes to Olympic sports, India hesitates a little before offering to show off its medal cabinet. Tennis, however, occupies a point of pride – at first, it was Leander Paes who won the bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and ever since, the Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi pair worked their magic at the quadrennial Games while Sania Mirza was a go-to, reliable talent for them.
Given her experience and her current form on display at Wimbledon, Sania Mirza looks like quite the formidable force and will not take defeat too easily, especially at the Olympics stage. Although the pair of Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina will be the only representation from India at the Tokyo Olympics, as of yet, Indians do not need to lose heart as Sania Mirza's momentum, if picked up correctly can cause much damage and secure a second medal for India in tennis at the Olympics and the first one for Sania Mirza.
The resurgent comeback of Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza has always been the cynosure for the tennis fraternity in India – who dissected her every move, ready to criticise, sooner to praise. Going off the tennis tour in 2018, Mirza took maternity leave to have her son, Izhaan Mirza Malik with her Pakistani cricketer husband Shoaib Malik, leaving everyone guessing about the future of her caree
Most thought that perhaps this is it for Sania Mirza – clearly, she was past her heydays and at the Slams, her confidence in the games becoming all jittery. Not to be written off so easily, the 34-year-old, is one of the greatest multi-taskers and like 23-time Grand Slam champion and 4-time Olympic gold medallist Serena Williams made a resurgent comeback post giving birth to Alexis Ohanian, Sania too is walking along the same footsteps.
In her first-round matches at the ongoing Wimbledon Championships, Sania Mirza looked like a dreamy motion in white, as she hustled along and created points and won in brave style with her long-time partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Rohan Bopanna in the opening rounds of women's doubles and mixed doubles, respectively.
Although her women's doubles campaign was drawn to a close in the second round, the Mirza-Bopanna pair conjured magic reminiscent of their 2016 semi-final run at the Rio Olympics to proceed into the third round of the Big W.
Exhibiting streaks of confidence, happiness in her stride and sheer power in her shots, Sania Mirza is back to remind people why they crowned her the Queen of Indian tennis, even after all these years. At the Tokyo Olympics, Sania Mirza will look to add this elusive feather in her cap - a priceless one at that too as she will venture for Olympic glory.