Sania Mirza speaks to the media after the draw for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday.
Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
After a long and storied career, Indian tennis sensation Sania Mirza will make her final appearance on the WTA Tour, in her ‘home tournament’ the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, before walking into the sunset on one of Dubai’s many pristine beaches.
Sania is a previous winner here, having won the doubles title in 2013 with Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States, and will be looking to finish her career on a high note.
Teaming up with Madison Keys, the world No. 23 in the WTA singles rankings, the tennis star will face Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova in the first round.
“I knew last year I would stop soon, and I’m just excited to be back in Dubai to end here,” said the Indian trailblazer, who made her debut here in 2005.
“It seems like a long time ago—18 years—that a lot of amazing things started for me right here, so I can’t think of a better place to finish my career. Dubai’s been my home away from home for so many years, but now it really is my home,” said the current world No. 28 in doubles.
A six-time major champion — three in doubles and three in mixed doubles — who is a mother to 4-year-old boy named Izhaan and the wife of Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik, has been living in Dubai for more than a decade now.
Sania announced in January that she would retire from tennis after the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
After the Australian Open last year, she wanted to quit the game at the end of the 2022 season, but an elbow injury derailed her participation in the second half of the season.
Later, Sania deferred her plans for retirement. On being asked what she will miss the most after saying goodbye to the game, Sania said: “I will miss the competition, walking onto big courts, and winning. It’s very difficult to replace that in any other walk of life.”
Although she has always loved and been willing to compete, her priorities have shifted with time. Particularly since the birth of her son Izhaan.
“For me, I am trying to prioritize things, and my priorities are different now. I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life,” she added.
She recently launched a tennis academy in Dubai. It already operates in three locations and, in the future, will venture into two more neighbourhoods.
Sania and her American doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands bowed out of the Abu Dhabi Open WTA 500 tennis tournament’s opening round last week.
Sania, regarded as India’s greatest female tennis player, finished her glittering Grand Slam career as mixed doubles runner-up at the Australian Open.
She and her partner Rohan Bopanna were defeated 7-6(2), 6-2 by the all-Brazilian pair Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos.
“I want to be certain for myself that I’m quitting the game at the top, knowing well that I am retiring on my own terms. Those are the tougher choices to make. It’s easy to claim I’m not playing well, thus I don’t want to play anymore,” said the 36-year-old, who is still the first Indian to win a WTA singles title.
Sania, who first picked up the racket when she was six, had her singles career cut short by wrist injuries.
Later, she concentrated on doubles, becoming the first Indian to reach the top of the WTA doubles rankings in April 2015.
Sania claimed her first major in 2009 at Melbourne Park, when she paired up with Mahesh Bhupathi. And she ended her illustrious Grand Slam career at the same venue.
From 2009 to 2016, Sania won six Grand Slam doubles titles.
In 2015, she even became the world’s No. 1 in women’s doubles rankings. Her most recent doubles victory was alongside Zhang Shuai of China at the Ostrava Open in the year 2021, which was held in the Czech Republic.