SANIA MIRZA HAS BEEN THE MOST SUCCESSFUL WOMAN INDIAN TENNIS STAR. FROM THE TIME SHE TURNED PROFESSIONAL IN 2003 TILL SHE TOOK A BREAK DURING PREGNANCY, THE HYDERABADI ACED THE CIRCUIT. AS SHE PREPARES FOR A COMEBACK ON THE COURT, IT’S ADVANTAGE SANIA.
Words: Sudhakar jha
Photography: Avinash Gowariker
HAIR & MAKEUP: Florian Hurel
Styling: Neha Verma
HOSPITALITY PARTNER: Grand Hyatt, Mumbai
It was back in 2007-08, when Sania Mirza was winning both titles and hearts and emerging as sponsors’ darling with Adidas making her their global brand ambassador. I remember seeing a huge billboard near our Mayur Vihar house in Delhi. As a college boy, my friends and I used to adore Sania for emerging as one of the few women athletes who were breaking boundaries and making a name from themselves in this men-dominated world of sports and life in general. As she grew with each tournament, brands chased her with contracts. From signing multi-year deals to being named in Forbes' list of one of the highest paid athletes in India, Sania wasn’t caught on the wrong foot ever.
During the cover discussion long back, we had a lot of discussion on the personality who would best compliment our magazine, and we needed a star. We started our journey as a magazine in 2017, coincidentally the year that Sania sustained an injury and remained out of the game for a good 3-4 months. After announcing her pregnancy, Sania took a long break, but she always had tennis at the back of her mind. And now that she has decided to make a grand comeback, we thought having Sania on our anniversary issue cover would be the best ace we could hit (pun intended)! After several rounds of discussion, we were finally in Mumbai for our shoot at the studio of ace lensman Avinash Gowariker.
"HAVING SANIA ON OUR ANNIVERSARY ISSUE COVER WOULD BE THE BEST ACE WE COULD HIT"
So, there we were at the studio in Santa Cruz. Aninda, our editor, and I were sitting and discussing about how sportspeople's lives change. From Serena Williams to Sania, they were at the peak of their respective careers and decided to take a step ahead in their personal lives. And how motherhood made them better versions of themselves. There were odd chats about the elections as well and how these polarised polls have divided the country into black and white. With her hair and makeup done, Sania’s love for the game showed as soon as she walked out of the green room and saw the racquets, tennis balls and the net. “I love the concept. For me tennis is my identity. It's really special, but also the most natural thing that comes to me. Be it a shoot or the real court, anything that has to do with tennis excites me.”
“Though I haven’t played tennis in more than a year, it felt like I was learning new things everyday. From losing the extra kilos to being fit again, and to getting where I am both emotionally and physically has been a task. But I have done it before and I will do it again.” That sounds like the confident player that we have seen throughout her career. Despite being bogged down by numerous injuries and changing game partners, Sania stood the test of time and emerged as a leading WTA player.
As far as her comeback plans are concerned, Sania confidently said that being physically fit enough to play at the highest level was one of the toughest tasks. By the end of July or August, she will be raring to go. “To be honest, I feel very blessed to have achieved more than I had probably dreamt of. As a public figure, I would like to tell all of them that pregnancy is not the end of life. It is actually the beginning. And as a woman or mother, you can still have your baby and chase your dreams.” And that’s exactly what we were discussing before the shoot. Serena and Sania have come up as examples of mothers who are strong enough to carry an infant in one hand while playing tennis with the other. They haven't chosen between motherhood and sport.
"PREGNANCY IS NOT THE END OF LIFE. IT IS ACTUALLY THE BEGINNING. AND AS A WOMAN OR MOTHER, YOU CAN STILL HAVE YOUR BABY AND CHASE YOUR DREAMS"