The current youth icon of India, the female face of women empowerment, a sensation. These are some of the words which amply describe the attention and grader that this 21 year old is getting from her fans and from the media. Coming from Hyderabad, this teenager is creating history by becoming the first ever Indian to break into top-50 WTA rankings.
Born on November 15,1986, she was born in Mumbai and brought up in Hyderabad. Coached by her father Imran Mirza, she began playing tennis at the age of six, turning professional in 2003. She has also been trained under CG Krishna Bhupathi (father of another famous tennis star, Mahesh Bhupathi), when she started playing at the Nizam Club in her home town, Hyderabad. She learnt professional tennis at the Sinnet Tennis Academy in Secunderabad and later moved to the Ace Tennis Academy in USA.
Sania became the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament at the 2005 US Open, defeating Mashona Washington, Maria Elena Camerin and Marion Bartoli. In 2004, she finished runner-up at the Asian Tennis Championship. The year 2005 was instrumental for her. She reached the third round of the Australian open, losing to eventual champion Serena Williams. On February 12,2005, she became the first Indian woman to win a WTA singles title, defeating Alyona Bondarenko of Ukraine in the Hyderabad Open finals. Sania won the Wimbeldon Championships’ Girls Double tide in 2003, teaming up with Alisa Kleybanova of Russia.
Diligent and hardworking, in September 2006, Sania notched up three top 10 wins against Svettona Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova and Martina Hingis. At the 2006 Doha Asian Games, she proved her might again. She won the silver in the Women’s singles category and the gold in the mixed doubles partnering Leander Paes. She was also part of the Indian women’s team that won silver in the team event. Sania Mirza has also been honoured with the prestigious Arjuna Award for her achievements in professional tennis by the Indian Government for the year 2004. She admires Steffi Graf and her favourite movie is Ocean 11. She has fondly stated that one of her best friends is fellow WTA tour player, Anna Chakvetadze.
Sania has been an advocate and a role model for women’s empowerment, on a scale of public visibility never seen before. She has been giving her support to public campaigns like Pulse Polio. She is media-savvy and endorses many products like Tata Tea and Indian Oil. She is not only glamorous but has certain aura around her that makes her appear dedicated, loyal to her game but many point out that her handling of dress-fatwa issue has been non-confrontational, something, political bigwigs have been fast to exploit. In India, Sania has been projected using a soft-approach by the State and Central government by making her the poster child of female liberalization. This has made the young girl into a highly publicised and presentable personality.
The year 2005 was not very pleasant for her. Objections were raised in some Islamist quarters supposedly due to her attire not being conforming to Islamic Hijab. According to one report, an unnamed Islamic scholar had issued a fatwa, saying that her attire is contrary to what is permitted by Islam. A further report elaborated that Sania Mirza was unfazed by the comments made by Syed Yousaf Bin, the chief patron of the Ulema Board, in Hyderabad. Large number of Indian muslims protested her attire, accusing her of being a “corrupting influence on the youth”. She has been widely attacked and vilified in radical Islamist circles, including a cleric who said, “The dress she wears on the tennis courts… leaves nothing to the imagination. She will, undoubtedly, be a corrupting influence”.
Radical Islamist groups allegedly threatened her to disrupt her tennis matches, following which the Kolkata Police had to heighten security measures to protect her. Sania has been trying to avoid controversies. So in 2006, Mirza declined playing with an Israeli Tennis player Shahar Peer for fear of violent protests from India’s Muslims and their opposition to existence of Israel. Sania’s ambition is to become one among the top 20 in the world. At the rate with which she is going currently, that day is not far behind.