Just like her whiplash forehand, Sania Mirza does not hold back when you pop a question at her. The long game of thrust and parry with the media has made her savvy, but the in-your-face attitude hasn’t dimmed. The pivot on whom India’s realistic hopes of an Olympic medal revolve, is still wondering as to whether she will be playing from her favourite forehand side in the elite company of Leander Paes. However, she asserts that lack of communication or whatever, she’s committed to playing with the choice of the selectors.
Was the whole tennis controversy unnecessary?
Can’t speak for other people really, because I don’t know what they were thinking or what was going on. I can say it’s not done anyone any good… Don’t think we should keep going on about it. Try to focus on the positives, the Olympics. No one is happy about whatever has happened and it’s disturbed all of us.
Did it impact at Wimbledon?
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disturbed. I was very disturbed and I was not even part of the controversy directly till the last minute. Can’t even imagine what these boys were going through. We were all disturbed and it was mentally taxing on everyone. But the fact is that me and Mahesh, we’ve played well all year. We literally played one bad match all year. It happens. It wasn’t the biggest tragedy in the world…
Are you playing the Olympics with Leander for sure?
Last I heard, I’m playing with Leander. I’ve always maintained that it’s an honour to play Olympics with anyone. More so, with Leander because of what he’s achieved… that’s something which needs to be very clear. For the country I was ready to play with anyone at every given point of time.
My problem was the way they took me for granted. It didn’t come down to whether I was going to play or not. It came down to the respect I was getting and that’s where my problem was.
Wasn’t the whole issue actually about who would play mixed doubles with you?
Honestly, don’t know. I honestly wished that it never happened… It got to a point where it became so bad that everyone was talking about it. We go onto the court and we were asked ‘what’s going on’. Honestly, I didn’t even know everything that was going on… I don’t know whether it was for mixed. Or, if they always had a problem… I don’t know.
How much practice is needed to gel well with Leander?
Tough to say… You try and get match practice in. I was playing with Mahesh. Since we won French, we had decided to play Wimbledon as well. Everyone else was already fixed with their respective partners. So that wasn’t an option.
But we got an email from SP Misra (team captain) a few days ago saying he wants all of us to be there on the 23rd in London for practice. I was anyway going there a week before… I’m guessing and hoping the others will be there too for practice.
Do you have grasscourt shoes?
(Laughs) Thankfully, I do!
With Leander also preferring the forehand court, will it be tough to play the backhand side?
I don’t see myself playing the backhand. I haven’t played the backhand side in years. I mean the last time we played at CWG, it was a disaster… I actually don’t see myself playing the backhand but then before saying that and before committing to anything, obviously, I will have to speak to Leander.
Your forehand’s your strength…
We always knew this question would come up, but it was left to the last minute. I have to speak to Leander before answering who’s going to be playing which side. I haven’t spoken to him.
Hypothetically, would you consider another partner in case Leander fails to communicate and address these issues?
Pointless to answer this. I’m allowed to have preferences but I’ve never laid any conditions on who I want to play with. It’s not something I do. I played with Vishnu Vardhan in the Asian Games and no one said anything then… I’ll play with anyone.
Are you guys, tennis players, a pampered lot? You even get away with abusing AITA (the national body)?
I’ve never actually abused them (AITA) but I have been abused! You can’t include me in ‘you guys’ category. (laughs)
Every team has one physio while you guys have three. Aren’t tennis players privileged compared to the rest of the contingent?
That’s an answer only AITA can give as to why they are sending three physios or why they’re sending one person per physio. I’m not in a position to answer that. I have my own physio. He’s an Australian guy. He’s not coming with me and neither have I demanded him to come with me. I’m guessing that there are three physios so, am sure one can work with me.
Do you see another Sania on the horizon?
It’s really sad. I’ve been on tour for a long time now. I did see a couple of girls who were good and used to come on Fed Cup with us. There’s Rutuja Bhosale who played this year at Fed Cup. She is pretty good. She’s 15-16 years old. But I think that’s when everyone is finding it difficult to make the transition. They have been good juniors but for some reason there’s a stall in their growth.
Nothing much seems to be happening to groom players.
We’ll be starting an academy in Hyderabad. My goal is to give back to tennis. To give back to India. I think very few people in India really know what it takes to produce someone in the top-100 in the world.
It’s important that people like us, who have reached somewhere, to try and educate, not just the kids but the parents as well as to what it takes. People want to work hard for four years, then say ‘oh she’s not got into the top-100 yet, ok let’s quit, we’re spending too much money’. It doesn’t work like that.
I started when I was six and I made a breakthrough when I was 18. That’s 12 years which people didn’t see. The parents need to be educated, the coaches need to be educated, the kid needs to be educated and I think there needs to be a certain kind of plan which there isn’t. There’s no certain type of facility, no certain kind of trainer you need. I personally think I wouldn’t have had the kind of injuries I did if I started training when I was eight… there was lack of knowledge. I know that today. I want the kids coming up to start doing fitness and working on their bodies before they work on their tennis.
Is enough being done for the next generation?
It’s the scary part about tennis. In other sports, everything or most of it is funded by the associations. If you take individual sports like badminton, everyone is paid for by their associations. That’s what I’ve been told.
In tennis, no one does. You have to generate it and spend it. It’s a huge investment. When you play the juniors, you don’t make anything. You might win a junior Wimbledon but you come back with nothing except the trophy.
Sponsors play a big role.
I was lucky because I had GVK when I was younger. It still didn’t cover everything. Any help is good. Definitely the association needs to do something.
I don’t know how much they are doing. I think it should be team work. It can’t be one sponsor. It’s the sponsors, the associations, having camps with coaches that know…
Is there a coach in India who can take a player to the top-10 in the world?
We’re talking about someone who has never done that. I don’t know. If you find that person please send him to us! (giggles)
Are you going to only focus on doubles henceforth?
What I had said was till the Olympics, I’m going to try to stay in top-10. Because my knee was still bothering me, I would focus on doubles and would need to work on my fitness. I would take a call after the Olympics as to how my body is feeling, on playing singles.
So will you get back to singles?
I played singles the week before French Open. I played three rounds of qualies. I beat three players. One was 105 in the world. I won the final round of qualies 6-0, 6-0. It’s not about the game, it’s more about my fitness and how my body is, if it can cope with singles and doubles. Tough call, I know but I miss playing singles. And when I do play and win these matches, I feel ‘I wish I can play singles’ like a priority because I still feel I have the game. But it’s just about my body. I obviously have to be practical about it.