Sania ready for Wimbledon
By Piers Newbery
She may only be ranked 46 in the world but Sania Mirza will be one of the most scrutinised performers at this year’s Wimbledon.
India has had its fair share of tennis stars in the past but until the 20-year-old from Hyderabad arrived they had been exclusively male.
Mirza has broken new ground for Indian sport, becoming the first woman to break into the world’s top and the first to win a WTA title at her hometown tournament in 2005.
And she has come in for criticism along the way, with some in her country angered by her sporting attire and describing it as “indecent dressing” and “corrupting”.
“I try not to read papers as much as possible and I try not to watch too many news channels when the sports news is going on,” she tells BBC Sport.
“Every athlete in India has the pressure of the whole country on them when they play, more so the cricketers than me, but that’s something that we try and block out as much as possible.
“But it’s impossible to do it completely.”
I think I get more support at Wimbledon because there are so many Indians out there
Mirza was on the verge of breaking the top 30 as an 18-year-old after reaching the last 16 at the US Open but her recent progress has been hindered by a serious knee injury.
She went nine weeks without hitting a ball after surgery and only returned to action at the French Open earlier this month, where she won her first-round match before coming up against eventual finalist Ana Ivanovic.
“When I won my first round in Paris my phone was going off the hook,” she says. “Everyone was very excited.
“I was not playing tennis at all for two and a half months – I started playing a week before I went to Paris. It’s very hard, especially after you have surgery.
“If you just have an injury and you come back I think it’s a bit easier but I literally had to start from scratch. My left leg had so much more power than my right leg.
“I probably thought I would take longer to start hitting the ball as well as I was when I stopped playing. It’s been a hard process.
“We’ve worked very hard in the gym – the rehab started two days after the surgery with little exercises. It’s been very, very hard.”
After returning to action on clay Mirza is keen to get back to Wimbledon, where she won the junior doubles title in 2003 and says the surface “suits my game”.
And there is the added advantage of the healthy level of support she enjoys in the UK.
“There are so many Indians in England and my dad’s cousin is there and my mum’s sister is in London, in Elephant and Castle,” says Mirza.
“My best friend lives in Lancaster, she’s studying there, and I haven’t seen her in eight months so I’ll definitely see her.
“I think I get more support at Wimbledon when I play because there are so many Indians out there and I think during that season a lot of people are visiting England as well.
“It’s great, it almost feels like you’re playing in India.”
- BBC (June 21, 2007)