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"
Moving on, Sania added that her routine has changed mainly because of baby Izhaan more than tennis. Being a mother and raising a kid is an exhausting job. Mirza also credited her mother who has been a support for her since her playing days. While training, it’s her mother and family members who support her. Talking of fitness, Sania said, “The training starts with 2 hours of gym, which includes cardio and agility workouts. Then I play about 2 or 2 and half hours of tennis for 4-5 days a week.” Is there any diet as well that helped you lose those extra kilos? “Oh, for the first time in my life, I was on this strict diet. As athletes we eat a lot and then burn them during the game. But with no game time, I was also not allowed to eat anything extra. Not even in moderation. There was no cheat days at all. So I think I didn’t eat anything apart from the mentioned diet for about three months.” Talking of all the fitness and diet plans, Izhaan had arrived at studio and we could see an aww moment among the crew. From Avinash to our team, we all had our moment with little Izhaan and his antics with the racquet. “Izhaan is amazing as a kid and he is the best thing that could happen to me. Motherhood has made me realise that there is a love which is selfless. As humans we are selfish at some point, but for Izhaan I want things which I don’t even ask for myself.”
"IZHAAN IS AMAZING AS A KID AND HE IS THE BEST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO ME. MOTHERHOOD HAS MADE ME REALISE THAT THERE IS A LOVE WHICH IS SELFLESS"
As players, you and Shoaib have to travel a lot. And may be at the same time, what are the challenges that you guys face as parents? “Oh, not sometimes! We are mostly travelling around the same time. As parents we’ve learnt to deal with the ways of long distance relationship. But we know that we are not going to play our respective games forever and some point there will be some normalcy in our family.”
As fans we were intrigued about Sania's kit bag that was also the part of the shoot. And wanted to know about the things that she carries in the bag! “I carry all kinds of stuff. I have Chapstick and sunscreen in the bag. I am a woman ya and we need those things. A lot of the times, I forget to keep the tennis balls and when I reach the court, I am like ‘Oh, I forgot the tennis balls’. I of course have about 6-8 racquets, grips, strings. I may have some mascara too.” For Maria Sharapova’s serving routine to Serena’s sock superstition, we have seen many of them. So does Sania too have any? “No. I am not superstitious at all.” Sania added that though she doesn’t believe in superstitions, there are different thoughts that surround her before a match. There are certain amounts of butterflies in the stomach. And the day she stops having them, she will quit.
"AS LONG AS YOU LIVE TO FIGHT ANOTHER DAY, YOU WILL MAKE IT TO THE TOP"
There has been a belief that sports is more about coping up with mental pressure more than physical exertion. But Sania believes that it’s an equal amount of both the conditions. “You need to be mentally strong, but if you are physically not capable then you can’t do anything. Both of them go hand in hand. I would also add that emotions play a big role in sports. If you have both physical and mental strength, but not able to curb down your emotions in an important match, then you will not win.” Is there any motivational line that keeps you going? “There is no motivational line as such, but I get it from my mother’s belief that her children can achieve whatever they want in their lives.” And that’s something we all live by. So to sum it up “As long as you live to fight another day, you will make it to the top.”
After all the talk about tennis and Izhaan, we got talking about TV series, Netflix, Prime Videos and of course, Game of Thrones. “After a match, I watch a lot of shows. When on tour, I used to be alone and TV series were my partners. I like winding down by myself. And currently I am watching Grey’s Anatomy. I also love Game of Thrones. However, I waited for a few episodes to release of the last season of the show before watching it back to back.” We hate waiting too and goodbyes are something that we are not at all good at. Be it to GoT or to Sania. But like she said, we live to fight another day and 2nd anniversary is just another milestone for us. Because, hey, Rome was not built in a day!