Saluting Birthday Girl Sania Mirza: A Trailblazer And An Inspiration Across Borders
Bhubaneswar: In 2003, a teenager from Hyderabad became the first Indian woman to win the Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles title.
Two years later, she reached the third round in Women’s Singles at the Australian Open, and became a household name all over India.
The rest is history.
Sania, who turned 37 on Wednesday, turned out to be a trailblazer and, over a period of two decades, scripted many firsts in Indian women’s tennis, before retiring in February 2023.
Her sporting journey started on a dilapidated ground in her hometown, where she took the first steps towards greatness. Sania’s parents played a crucial role in helping her navigate the bumpy road to excellence.
At the start of this millennium, Indian female tennis players hardly had a blueprint for competing on the global stage. Sania, with considerable moral support from her family and support staff, showed a path for thousands of girls to follow.
Fame brought its own share of problems. In 2005, a fundamentalist Muslim cleric issued a fatwa against her for the clothes she wore on tennis courts. It snowballed into a major controversy and changed the her life.
“Fatwas are big news, and one pertaining to an international female tennis player was a very big story indeed, particularly at that point of time, when I was all over the media after an extremely successful run at the US Open. I think most people assumed that a fatwa meant an order or edict to kill a person as a punishment for breaking Islamic rules. It was this false perception that was most likely responsible for the controversy snowballing the way it did,” Sania wrote in her autobiography ‘Ace Against Odds’.
Sania’s marriage to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik was another subject of debate and gossip for a long time.
But experience had taught her to deal with such vacuous uproar targeting her. Despite being in the eye of a storm many times, Sania focused on her tennis, kept working hard and continued to win titles.
That was her way of silencing critics.
Amid the tension and rift between the two neighbouring countries, Sania was seen as a beacon of hope, transcending national boundaries and hatred to unify fans across the border.
Sania believes one can’t decouple responsibility from success. She has contributed to various charitable causes and continues to act as an ambassador for women’s and children’s rights. Sania has also spoken out against the gender pay gap in sports and questioned the legitimacy of paying varying prize money amounts to players who compete at the same level.
“To be a professional athlete is hard, no one is questioning that. But to be a female professional athlete is even harder. Because you are not fighting only on the field, you are fighting off it as well.” Sania said in an interview.
From being a professional sportsperson to a clear-headed cultural icon, Sania has donned many hats in her life.
She is an inspiration not just for sports enthusiasts, but to everyone with a lack of dogged determination and faith in times of frustration and despair.