The Sanity of being Sania …

At the Hopman Cup , Sania Mirza ran into more trouble. This time it was a lawsuit trigger-happy gent who thought that a 2D photo was reason enough to question her commitment to the nation – this while she was playing for the country just ahead of the Australian Open.

And then, a 3rd-Round-exit-in-straight-sets at the Aussie Open later – she was out. She didnt cause any upset but she was upset. Or so she says. And back after the Open , she’s refused to play at the Bangalore Open and says she would rather not play in India for a while anyway.

Reactions are diverse. But basically any of those worth listening to are saying exactly the same thing – that Sania Mirza needs to buckle up and play.

This is from a dear friend Rahul Namjoshi and are his views on the subject.

What has she done in her life? Number 29? 4th round of the US open in 2005? So what are we talking about? At the age of 21, the world has recently seen some 6 women Tennis grand slam champions aged below 21. Maybe many more than 5. I can count Steffi, Gabriella, Monica, Martina Hingis, Venus, Serena, Maria.  So can anybody reach the peak post 23? I think not. Are we talking about some great victories in a grand slam? Or are we talking about Tim Henman at the Wimbledon? He never won Wimbledon.  

Are we talking about some great upsets? I believe not. I have never played Tennis in my life. My father-in-law has. He avers about Sania. He actually called me up to say how great a fight she gave Venus in the 3rd round of the Australian open 2008. She lost in 2 straight sets? So? Whatever the girl says, we don’t expect too many things from her. Do we? Quarter finals is good enough. Are we even thinking of a brighter future? Say winning the US open finals? We are not. We aren’t even thinking of a semi final berth here. And yet, we as Indians, hero worship her. We think she can deliver great things in life because others say so. What is the down side in being a Mirza. If you don’t perform, you are not hauled over the coals like the cricketers, if you do, you will be termed a teen sensation.

The problem here is that everybody says how a step motherly treatment is given to every sport other than cricket. Take a MSD, take a Kaif, remember the vandalism that they suffered in the wake of the World cup. The day they modelled for an advertisement, they were condemned. Every one thought they were taking too much money and that they didn’t deserve to be so well off. Sania has been the youth icon here. She has done some 10 ads over the last 2 months ( I might be wrong in the number).
Nike said ‘You don’t win silver, you lose gold’. I want to make my daughter a tennis player. Do I want her to emulate Sania? A vehement NO is the answer. Because I want to make my daughter the best in the world.  Not number 29.

A P T Usha was the best athelete that was ever was produced by this country. Maybe a Shiney Abraham as well, or maybe an Anju Bobby George. But these ladies never wore a short skirt. Nor were they good looking. So the fundamental question is, do we actually behave like normal citizens? When it comes to cricket, everyone has an opinion. Everyone  talks of a SRT’s Tiranga cake, everyone talks of a Kaif’s burnt house. How did these guys take it? How did SRT take it when his house was attacked by some cricket vandals. And how does a Buddha take it? When Buddha smiles, it drives one to a nuclear armistice.

And then, a wonderful piece with well meant advice asking her to manage her own world, in this morning’s Hindu comes from Rohit Brijnath. Reproduced here in full.

A girl sweats. Cramps. Sits. Puts up tired feet that have been running for India. A flag is close by, as flags often are at sports events, and this one is Indian.

A photographer takes a picture seemingly from a clever angle that juxtaposes feet and flag. A case is filed in court. Someone, dutifully, alerts the media. And this non-issue becomes a story. Welcome to Sania Mirza’s world.

As this story crosses oceans, and questions come like a storm, and that sly picture winks from front pages, it’s worth wondering: what sort of mental state did Sania take into the Australian Open? How do you function as an athlete when you’re accused of disrespecting a flag you play for? Is it possible that tennis can be fun when the discussion about you concerns not serves but short skirts, not lobs but leg showing, not footspeed but flag kicking.

That Sania has managed to get to No.29 in the midst of all seems pretty good, wouldn’t you think?

It’s sad that a competitor, who recently hauled her injured, bandaged self onto court to help win a key Fed Cup match, has to keep saying “I’m a proud Indian.” It’s unfortunate that in India’s small tennis fraternity, older men who have no idea what it means to be seen as young, female, gifted, glamorous, a top 30 player and role model, felt the need to criticise her decision to skip the Bangalore tournament. Even if part of the reason was some appearance fee dust-up, Sania is saying the pressure is throttling and she deserves listening to.

It’s not that Sania doesn’t receive support, or appreciation, or sponsors in India; if anything, she is lucky. When she performs in foreign lands, sometimes it sounds as if she is at home, embraced as she is by Indians, local and vocal. The media has celebrated her, but in a new world there seems a fascination not so much with Mirza the player but Sania the celebrity.

The sweaty girl and her daily struggle is a nice story; the short-skirted woman who annoys some is better news. The real story has been overtaken by the superficial one.

Consequently Sania plays under a pressure that is occasionally obscene, yet not unique. Her world is exaggerated, full of over-praise and rude distractions, yet her world will not alter: those media that are salacious will remain; and controversies will arrive from nowhere. She is allowed to feel sorry for herself, yet must arm herself with the knowledge that others have walked harder roads to glory.

History is blessed with tales of athletes who have defied adversity. The hardy Algerian, Hassiba Boulmerka, was hit with rocks when she trained, denounced for wearing shorts, and had a special security team shadow her during the Barcelona Games. But she ran, all the way to Olympic gold.

Black athletes growing up in America once faced a hardship that challenges the imagination. Jesse Owens could not eat with white team-mates in restaurants, but won four gold medals. Boxer Joe Louis was instructed by his handlers, when you beat a white opponent, don’t ever smile. Men spat on Jackie Robinson’s shoes and sent him death threats when he broke the colour barrier in baseball, but he prevailed.

Athletes swallow pressure, channel their rage, shrug off insults, hold onto their pride, enjoy whatever they have. It is what Sania, who has had it easier than these athletes, has done so far, and will have to keep doing.

She has played for India (and proudly), and will continue to do so, but on the tour she should remember what Tiger Woods said last week: “You don’t win for anyone else. You do it for yourself and your family. That’s who you play for. You don’t play for pleasing the media, the sponsors, the fans or anything like that.”

Sania’s career is going to be testing, she must speak out about it boldly, but then she must soldier on. Already she is armed with a mean forehand. Now all she requires is a coat of stoicism.

The idea here is not to compare reactions (although thats important) but to remind Sania Mirza that there are miles to go. Hardly anyone with her limited achievements has been as financially secure as early as she has. Being a Kournikova is not what this is about. The inspiration lies in stories such as Monica Seles’. And that of Jennifer Capriati who was a Semifinalist at the French, US Open and Wimbledon and won an Olympic Gold by the time she was 16. Lost it all (and then some) at 18 but came back to be World number 1 and thrice Grand Slam winner at 26.

Sania Mirza has always had the support. The question is does she have it in her to lift her game and ignore distractions like all those that support her do.

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3 thoughts on “The Sanity of being Sania …

  1. Hi there Samir ..

    Welcome back ! ..

    Yeah, its the incredible pressure I suppose and its not like cricket where its a team sport and thereby a better support mechanism in some ways.

    I think its gutsy of her to come out and state the reasons as they were though. …

    And yes, a few wins would help.

    Cheers

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