Sania Mirza with her son Izhaan Mirza Malik attends a press conference in Dubai.
Amir Naqvi, Sports Editor
Sania Mirza, one of the greatest tennis players ever to emerge from India, ended her glorious 20-year-long career with a defeat in the first round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.
The defeat denied a fairy tale ending to a flag-bearer for women’s sport, but also for tennis in India in general. Sania, a previous winner here, had won the doubles title in 2013 with Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the United States,
Appearing with her four-year-old son Izhaan in her last post match press conference, the emotional Sania said: “It’s been a long career, I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life.
“To be able to do this on my own terms, to be able to do it when I’m playing well is great. I will still be around tennis. It’s just not competing.
“I feel very grateful and satisfied for everything that I have been able to do,” said the former world No. 1 doubles player, who turned pro in 2003 and had a storied career.
The Indian trailblazer lost in straight sets along with American partner Madison Keys in the women’s doubles clash of the tournament.
Sania and Keys lost 4-6, 0-6 to the Russian pair of Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova in exactly one hour.
In the first set, both pairs’ breaks were negated, leaving the score at 4-4 until Kudermetova and Samsonova broke for the second time to take the lead at 5-4. They then served out the set with ease, dropping just one point in the 10th game.
The Russians broke in the opening game of the second set to dash any hopes of Sania and her partner bouncing back. Later, Kudermetova and Samsonova wrapped up the battle after dominating the set 6-0.
A six-time major champion – three in doubles and three in mixed doubles – the wife of Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik has been living in Dubai for more than a decade now.
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 to describe how she felt after giving up something that has been a big part of her life, she said: “Right now I feel like I’m so lucky to have him (referring to son Izhaan) and to look forward to the normal things of life as well. Like I said, I don’t feel anything. I feel pretty numb, to be very honest, right now, but i think it’s going to hit me in a couple of hours.”
Content with all the achievements in her illustrious career, a former world No. 1 in doubles rues not winning a medal for India at the Olympics.
The Indian icon, who won medals at the Asian and Commonwealth Games and was also the first Indian to break into the top-30 of women’s singles rankings, featured at four Olympics, but her dream of Olympic glory remained unfulfilled.
The closest Sania came to winning an Olympic medal was at the Rio Games in Brazil. At 30, she entered Rio 2016 as the world’s No. 1 doubles player.
Sania partnered Rohan Bopanna in the mixed doubles at Rio and reached the semi-finals, beating their Australian opponents John Peers and Sam Stosur in the first round and the British pair of Andy Murray and Heather Watson in the second.
Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram of the US halted Sania-Bopanna’s run in the semi-finals.
“I think if there was something I could get back, it would probably be that Rio Olympics, to win that medal. I feel like that’s probably the only thing. It was one of my biggest dreams to win a medal for India, having been at the Olympics four times, which was huge for me. We came so close to winning that medal. If there was something that I could be like, Can I get another shot at it, it would probably be that,” she said.
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.