Sania Mirza may not have come into this world with a racket in her hand, but it didn’t take long for the tennis phenom to pick one up. Born on November 15, 1986, in Mumbai, India, Sania was encouraged to start playing the sport at the age of 6. “I used to go swimming and passed the tennis courts every day,” she recalls, “and that’s how it started. My mum said ‘Why don’t you play tennis in your summer holidays because you have nothing to do except swim for an hour or whatever?’, and that’s how I started playing.”
Getting her career on track was another matter altogether. “My mother took me to a coach, who initially refused to coach me because I was too small,” says Mirza. “After a month, he called my parents to say he’d never seen a player that good at such a young age.”
Encouraged by the coach’s assessment, Sania continued to train long and hard while her peers enjoyed more frivolous pursuits. In retrospect, she realizes she may have missed out on having a regular childhood, but doesn’t regret it for a moment. “I realized that if you don’t make those sacrifices, I don’t think you can make something out of your life,” she says. “Sometimes I did feel I was missing out, like sometimes I’d want to go to a birthday party but I couldn’t because I had tennis.” Fortunately, Sania’s remarkable focus and determination paid off.
After a promising amateur career, Sania turned professional in 2003, the same year that she teamed up with Alisa Kleybanova to win a Wimbledon Championships Girls’ doubles title. “It is a dream win,” she said at the time, “We just met a week and a half ago, and we were like ‘You wanna play doubles?’, and we combined really well and beat the top seeds. After that we didn’t look at the draw.” The victory wasn’t just triumphant, it was also history in the making, as Sania became the first Indian woman to win a junior Grand Slam title.
More success followed in 2004 when Sania delighted her legions of Indian followers at the Hyderabad Open. This time around, she partnered with Liezel Huber, but the results were the same, as the pair captured the doubles crown. This victory further added to Sania’s legend, as it made her the youngest Indian to win a WTA or ATP tour title and the first Indian woman to win a WTA title event. In recognition of her amazing progress, the government of India awarded Sania the prestigious Arjuna award, presented in recognition of outstanding achievement in sport.
With two impressive victories under her belt, Sania made the move to full-time singles play in 2005. She began the year down under, at the highly competitive Australian Open. Sania didn’t win the event, but she played admirably, becoming the first Indian woman ever to advance to the third round of a Grand Slam tournament, where she was beaten by eventual champion Serena Williams. “It was a successful first Grand Slam for me,” she said at the time. “Playing Serena Williams was a great feeling, a great experience and a greater learning experience.”
Next up for Sania was the 2005 Hyderabad Open, and she didn’t disappoint. Playing in front of her loyal fans, she advanced to the final against Alyona Bondarenko of Ukraine. The hotly anticipated match was a see-saw affair, but Sania eventually triumphed, winning 6-4, 5-7 and 6-3. The victory made her the first Indian woman ever to win a WTA singles title.
Sania followed up this victory with an impressive showing at the Dubai Tennis Championships, where she beat former U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova before flaming out in the quarterfinals.
The tennis phenom wasn’t as successful in the Acura Classic, where she lost in the third round. She was, however, able to take tremendous consolation in the fact that her second-round defeat of Nadia Petrova allowed her to sneak into the top 50 world rankings for the first time in her career.
Buoyed by the ranking, Sania blazed a path through the Forest Hills Women’s Tennis Classic, where she advanced to her second WTA final before eventually suffering a defeat. Forest Hills proved to be an excellent tune-up for the ensuing U.S. Open, where Sania reached the fourth round before falling to top seed Maria Sharapova.
Soon after, Sania proved to be a double threat at the 2005 Japan Open, as she reached the semi-finals of the women’s singles and doubles events. Her fine showing in doubles play allowed her to reach a ranking of 114, her highest doubles ranking ever at that time.
What lies in the future for the young tennis star? “I like interior decoration, so I might do something in that,” she muses. “I might, at some point, take two years off to study interior decoration. Or I just might, when I am 24 or so, open a tennis academy and just start coaching.”