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Fans stoke fire in Sania

Women tennis stars Sania Mirza and Shikha Uberoi arrive to a rousing reception at the venue of the 2006 Asian Games, reports Ajai Masand.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 22:05 IST

Much before the aircraft carrying the Indian contingent arrived here, there was a buzz in the air. The feeling of someone special coming for the Games was all too evident, with cameras, local officials, volunteers queuing up on either side of the passageway in the airport awaiting the tennis sensation.

"We have come here for Sania Mirza, she is arriving by the morning flight," said one teenage volunteer. The wait was a little longer than expected, but it turned out to be sweeter than the delicious dates that are served here almost everywhere.

As Sania emerged from the immigration door with her mother and teammate Shikha Uberoi, there was increasing chaos with every step the Indian ace took towards the waiting bus. Walking slowly, halting, smiling, as if out of compulsion, she pushed her trolley to her bus.

The crowd followed her right to the door of the bus, and it was only when the door finally shut and there was nothing more to see except a wave of her hand from inside did they disperse.

Here in this part of the Middle East, Sania is a huge craze and locals were terribly disappointed when she skipped a WTA Tour event here a few months ago just after the Dubai Open.

Such is the enthusiasm that those 100 metres the top Indian tennis player traversed outside the airport became a full-fledged question-answer session, with the press and admirers shooting questions and Sania replying with the ease of a pro. At least she looked in her comfort zone.

"I am excited to be here after three years. I can see my fan following. It feels like I am at my second home," said the tennis ace, who not so long ago had beaten former world No. 1 Martina Hingis at the Korea Open, after being thrashed by the Swiss in the Sunfeast Open at Kolkata.

"Sorry I couldn't come for the WTA event here, but I couldn't help as I had to take care of my health."

As for her preparations for the Games, she said, "The Asian Hopman Cup (in Hyderabad) gave me some good practice. It always feels good to play for the country and I will give it everything I have," said Sania, who flew in from New Delhi.

Even as Sania was hogging the limelight, Shikha Uberoi stood in one corner like a bridesmaid waiting her turn, and only when the former had boarded the bus did her turn come.

With a smile on her face, Shikha said, "She'll (Sania) always be in front. I have to get used to it."

The American-born Indian, representing India for the second time after the Fed Cup, said, "This is a much bigger stage (than the Fed Cup). I am so much in awe, and I cannot wait to get started."

On partnering Mahesh Bhupathi here in the mixed doubles, Shikha said, "We have not played before, but I am looking forward to that experience. I hope to go back to India with three medals --- nothing less would do!" she said.

But for now, it's all about Sania and her mania in the Qatari capital. After all, she arrived on the scene earlier and has done all that Shikha must be hoping to.

The naturalised Indian will have to wait.