"I have zero regrets, only nostalgia" — Sania Mirza counts down to her farewell
Having decided to bid adieu to tennis in 2022, Sania Mirza looks forward to life off-court while waiting impatiently for India to produce another Grand Slam champion.
On 19th January 2022 Melbourne Park was in for an announcement they were not prepared for. Bare minutes had passed since Sania Mirza made her little-to-be-known-then, last appearance on Court 5 alongside Ukrainian partner Nadiia Kichenok for the first round of the Women's Doubles at the Australian Open - when Mirza, batting away a few hot tears, juggling emotions revealed her decision to hang up the racquet in 2022.
In a career spanning almost two decades, Sania Mirza has done it almost all - been a former World No. 1 in doubles, a former World No. 27 in singles, bagged 6 Grand Slam doubles titles, taken India to 4 Olympic Games and transformed the scene of Indian tennis forever and been an inspiration for simply being her brazen, confident, undaunted self.
Finishing off the first Slam of the year Down Under with hopefully, three more to go for this year before she calls it quits with professional tennis, Sania Mirza left Melbourne Park a quarter-finalist in the Mixed Doubles along with Indo-American partner, Rajeev Ram, tugging a bag full of nostalgia.
With a couple of weeks already lapsed since Sania Mirza made the call to retire by the end of the 2022 season, The Bridge caught up with the Padma Bhushan awardee as she mused about India's impatient wait for another Grand Slam champion, the pandemic hanging like a Damocles' sword over her head and what life, off the courts, will look for her.
Excerpts from the conversation:
The Bridge (TB): Deciding to hang up the racquet is never easy. Was there any such final catalyst that drove you to your decision?
Sania Mirza (SM): I am 35 and have been playing professionally for almost 2 decades. So, obviously, I had been considering retirement for some time now. But there were a few things that made me decide to make this my last year on the circuit but there was no 'final catalyst' as such.
TB: You made it till the quarters of the Australian Open and your forehand lobs still look so sharp! What would you miss the most about playing tennis professionally?
SM: I think what I'll miss the most is the thrill of competition. That is something that kept me going all through my career. Also, possibly the camaraderie that I have with a few friends on the circuit.
TB: First there was motherhood with Izhaan and soon after your comeback at Hobart in 2020 - the pandemic struck. How would you say the last few years have been for you - as an athlete, as a mother? What challenges did you have to overcome?
SM: Yes, the pandemic made life difficult for everyone and not just for us, tennis players. For me, personally, travel with a toddler has been a big challenge with the risk of infection always hanging like a Damocles' Sword upon my head! Also, there has been no continuity in terms of playing on a regular basis on Tour and that is not easy for professional athletes.
TB: By making a comeback, like Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, you snuffed out all myths about motherhood being the be-all-end-all of an athlete's career. As you stand on the cusp of retirement, what would you hope that your fans will remember you for, more than most?
SM: I would want to be remembered as someone who tried everything within my power to bring honour to my country. I would also want young boys and girls to believe in their dreams and to chase them with unflinching hard work. I would, of course, want the women to believe that even after marriage and with a child, one's career does not need to end.
TB: Looking back, if you had to do any one thing differently in your career or you had a wish to change something - what would it be?
SM: I have zero regrets and enjoyed every moment of my career, the hard work, the grind, the success, the heartbreak, winning, fighting back from defeats, representing my country - everything. In short, the passion that I have had for my sport has given me great joy and there is very little that I would want to change.
TB: However, the season is far from over - what are the emotions you are feeling going to these tournaments knowing that this is your one-last time as a professional player there? Is there any sense of pressure?
SM: Not really. I feel very satisfied with my career and achievements and there is still a year to go before I stop playing. There is a bit of nostalgia, perhaps but no sense of pressure!
TB: The quartet of Mirza, Paes, Bhupathi and Bopanna have been the long-standing pillars of Indian tennis. With you also leaving - how do you think the future of Indian tennis will shape up - what are your personal expectations?
SM: One has to always hope for the best and keep working towards achieving the goals, as a sporting nation. We have a few promising players but we may need to wait for a while before we produce our next Grand Slam Champion.
TB: Finally, what's one thing you are looking forward to most after retiring from the game? What is life expected to look like after this - are there any plans of turning coach in the near future?
SM: I will definitely be involved with tennis as it has been my life and it is not possible to suddenly disassociate from the game completely. I look forward to spending more time with my family and looking at other career options.