From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.30 :: NO.09 :: Mar. 03, 2007

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TENNIS / INTERVIEW/SANIA MIRZA

`Doubles helped improve my game'

Sania Mirza's current form is encouraging. By her own admission she is playing her best tennis now. And the turning point of her success this season has been Doha. "I started winning a lot more after that," she says in a chat with Nandita Sridhar.

Sania Mirza of 2007 is a mixture of the confident teenager who stormed the scene two seasons ago and the one who looks to have learnt from last year's losses and disappointments.

The 20-year-old's season so far has been encouraging, with two semifinal and one quarterfinal appearances. But it's too early in the season to read anything much in them.

Speaking to Sportstar, Sania shed light on her game, fitness, Indian tennis, and other issues.

Excerpts:

Question: A lot of people have a lot of things to say about your current form. How do you feel about your game now? Would you say that Doha was the turning point of your success this season?

Answer: I'm playing my best tennis now, and I always give 100 percent every time I step on the court. There are things to work on, of course, like the serve. Doha was the turning point in the sense that I started winning a lot more after that. I played great there and I'm very happy about it. It gave me a lot of confidence when I beat the World No. 22 then.

How fit are you now when compared to last year?

I have a trainer (Heath Matthews) and I've been training really hard and punishing myself. What has helped me the most is that I haven't had any injuries in the last six months.

Do you have any plans to appoint a full-time travelling coach? Do you think you need one now?

I'm not doing too badly without a full-time travelling coach. I might get one, but I'm not in a hurry.

How has playing doubles helped your game?

I'm ranked No. 26 in the world in doubles now. I don't play doubles in all the tournaments, but I chose to play here (Bangalore), so my fans could get to see more of me. Doubles has helped me a lot in improving my volleying and serving. It keeps my confidence levels high.

Do you have any specific goals at this stage of your career?

At this point, I don't. Right now, I'm just looking at taking one week at a time.

How does it feel to play at home?

It's a different experience, and it's a lot of fun. The pressure and expectations are there for anyone who plays at home and in front of thousands. The only difference with me is that I have to deal with a billion.

What are your thoughts on the future of tennis in the country?

I don't exactly know who the next top-50 or top-100 player is going to be, but we are going to have not just one or two, but quite a few. Few years ago, when I was playing under-10 and under-12 tournaments, we had draws of fours and fives. Now there are hundreds of girls. I think that slowly but surely we will see a lot more. When I started playing there was one coach, now there are 5000-odd people coaching. When I see kids come out and show their support, I realise how much the sport has grown here.

Who are the other Indian girls who can make it to the next level?

There are a lot of talented girls, like Tara (Iyer) for example. There are girls I've grown up with, like Ankita (Bhambri) and Isha (Lakhani). It's just a question of getting the right opportunities and the right breaks.

Do we have the necessary infrastructure to support the growth of the game in the country?

It's no secret that the infrastructure is not the best in India, but it's slowly getting there. We now have some really good stadiums and things are looking good for the future. Hyderabad, for example, has one of the best stadiums.

India now hosts two WTA events, which was unthinkable earlier. Having taken part in them for the last couple of years, how have they been?

The first tournament in any country will not really be the best, but over the last three years things have got better. Sony Ericsson's involvement in women's tennis is helping a lot, and they're doing a lot to promote women's tennis across the globe. Events like these (Sony Ericsson International) in India will be a boost to the game in the country.

What sort of feedback have you received from other players on the tournaments here?

It's been good. Serena contemplated coming here and almost did. Martina Navratilova came here. A lot more girls now want to play in India.

How do you think women's tennis has changed over the years?

Earlier, the idea was that femininity and sport never go together. Things have changed a lot now, and women's tennis has so much going for it, like the depth and the glamour.

Women's tennis is now being significantly marketed for its glamour. Is it healthy for the sport?

It's a very personal thing and depends on how you want to project yourself. The top priority for most is winning. My focus is always on doing well on the court, and looking good or ugly at that point is the last thing on my mind. But it's fine to have some fun. The Sony Ericsson Open in Miami (March), for example, is going to project both the tennis and the glamour. We're going to see some great tennis and it's going to be one big party for the players. We all love dressing up, and being a tennis player doesn't mean punishing yourself all the time.

As a kid who wanted to make it big in tennis, who was your role model then, and who is it now?

Steffi Graf has always been my role model. From the current crop, we have to salute Serena Williams. She's proved the whole world wrong, and showed us that anything is possible.

What's your take on the issue of equal prize money?

It's not like we're dying or going bankrupt because we're getting lesser than the men, but we definitely deserve it, because we're working equally hard. It's a question of equal rights.



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