Sania Mirza has had quite a career, from being a trailblazer to an inspiration to countless others.
It lasted for 18 years and was full of difficulties.
On Friday, January 27, 2023, the tennis legend retired from the Grand Slam stage, marking the end of an illustrious chapter in his career.
Despite a thrilling run to the final, Sania and Rohan Bopanna lost the Australian Open mixed doubles title to Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos of Brazil by scores of 6-7 (5-7) and 4-6 (6-7).
The 36-year-old Sania cried “happy tears” when she completed her Grand Slam career on the Rod Laver Arena, one of the sport’s most prestigious venues. She had reached the end of her journey, whatever she saw fit.
‘I’m able to say I’m quitting the game because I want to, on my own terms,’ Sania stated in the postgame press conference.
In this moment, following a Grand Slam final, I realise that I still possess the ability to compete at the highest level. I’ve decided to make it clear that I have other priorities, and that’s crucial to me.
Sania’s final speech was another example of her refusal to conform or give up despite overwhelming adversity.
Similar to when she was just six years old and decided to use a tennis racquet despite being far too tiny for it.
Participated in a sport while living in a country that holds a negative view of female athletes.
Defied Islamic fatwas against her uniform of choice by showing up to work in tennis shorts.
I was the only Indian at a predominantly white event. She was at the peak of her career when she got married to a man from Pakistan at the age of 24.
She chose to stay in the sport and play doubles when injuries stopped her from continuing in singles.
She made history by becoming the highest-ranked female doubles player in India.
When everyone assumed her career was over after having a child, she made a huge comeback.
In the wake of a Grand Slam final, when most players would press on, she has chosen to slow down.
I’m going to miss it, she remarked. “I’m going to miss walking on big courts, missing competing and wanting to win, and, you know, even losing, looking back on the court and fighting and coming back again. Still, I haven’t exhausted my desire to compete in competitions. This is a difficult realisation for me right now because I’ve been coming here for the past…22 years? 20 years?
Since 2005, when Sania made her Grand Slam debut in Melbourne, both tennis and Indian sports have made great strides forward.
At the tender age of 18, she made history by being the first Indian woman to advance to the third round in singles at a Grand Slam event.
Sania came in second place in a match against Serena Williams, but she left an unforgettable impression on Indian sports with her self-assurance.
While India has had its share of famous female athletes, never before had we witnessed an Indian athlete so at ease in her own flesh.
Indian sports were unprepared for Sania Mirza’s meteoric rise to fame.
And it manifested itself in myriad, frequently offensive ways that stoked debate.
Her arrogance and inability to take nonsense from anyone seemed to be her main flaw.
Only a powerful, accomplished woman could shake the patriarchy the way she did.
People were more interested in discussing her appearance or outfits than in the fact that she was paving the way for Indian women in tennis.
She was bringing honour to India, but people were more concerned with whether or not she had shown disrespect to the country by resting her feet on the Indian flag, which she hadn’t.
She was the greatest female player in the country at the time, and she claims that she was used as “bait” to end tensions between Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, two male players who were competing in the 2012 Olympics.
An Indian news anchor asked Sania if she planned to settle down (i.e., have children) when she became world number one in 2015.
You sound unhappy that I’m not choosing parenthood over becoming No. 1 in the world at this point in time,” Sania had fired back, her words containing as much power and fury as her forehands.
For the past 18 years, Sania has represented India on the international tennis circuit.
There had never been an Indian player who could control the game from the defensive end like this previously.
Sania’s talent and demeanour won her fans throughout the world and led to her winning a WTA championship (the first ever won by an Indian woman in singles), six Grand Slam wins (three in mixed doubles and three in women’s doubles), and a total of 43 doubles titles. This was the last one, and it happened in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in the year 2021.
As a result of a calf injury before the 2022 US Open, Sania was forced to postpone her retirement, but she came extremely near to winning her seventh Grand Slam title in this year’s Australian Open.
She turned back the clock and ramped up the intensity because she knew this would be her last Grand Slam before she retires to Dubai, where she has been living since her wedding next month.
She swept through some of the best doubles players in the world with her new partner, Rohan Bopanna.
Enjoying Sania play mixed doubles is a treat because of her confidence and willingness to engage in long baseline rallies against the male players, most of which she wins.
Her forehand isn’t just good; it’s what’s gotten her into the high-stakes, high-pressure realm of Grand Slam tennis.
She credited her idol Steffi Graf with inspiring her to try this shot, saying, “It feels amazing, especially when you go past the player on a short crosscourt forehand.” It “feels great.”
Indians beat the home team of Luke Saville and Jaimee Fourlis 6-4, 7-6 (9), and then defeated Ariel Behar and Makoto Ninomiya 6-4, 7-6 (9).
Mirza and Bopanna breezed through the quarterfinals with a walkover, but their mettle was severely tested by third seeds Neal Skupski and Desiree Krawczyk.
Despite having a match-ending opportunity in the second set, the Indian duo ultimately prevailed 7-6, 6-7, 10-6.
But in the final, the mixed doubles team fell short of the record-setting Brazilians. Despite the unfortunate resolution, Sania Mirza’s tale has been fascinating to follow.