As much as one wishes Sania Mirza well, her decision to pull out of the Bangalore Open for fear of finding herself in another controversy raises questions. Some of these have been discussed in the media over the last few days. One aspect remains to be examined.
Till last year, the Bangalore Open was a Tier-3 event with total prize money of $170,000. The tournament in its original date of February 11 clashed with a Tier 2 event in Belgium and the WTA (Women's Tennis Association) Tour regulations prevent a Silver Exempt player - which Sania is by virtue of her world ranking (29) - from playing a lower rung event when a higher prize money tournament is held in the same week.
However, the WTA Tour rules require a Silver Exempt player to play at least three Tier 3 events for the particular year and Sania had nominated - as far back as October last year - events in Australia, Britain and the Netherlands. Sania had said that it was because these events served as tune-up to the Australian Open and the Wimbledon Grand Slams.
When the Bangalore Open was upgraded to Tier 2 (prize money of $600,000), it came with a change of dates. The tournament, to be held from March 3, is now preceded by two high profile events in Doha (Tier 1) and Dubai (Tier 2), and followed by the Tier 1 Indian Wells in the US.
It is well known that no top-level tennis player plays more than three successive weeks. Besides, to fly from Dubai to Bangalore, then to the US, would mean travelling across three time zones and jet leg. It would be hard for any player to accommodate the Bangalore Open in their schedule. And players do plan their schedule for the year before the start of the season. This is why Sania's claim that she made the Bangalore decision in January difficult to believe.
Thus, Sania's not playing in Bangalore was always on the cards. Her decision should be seen as a purely professional one. Even if she had expected hefty appearance money from the organisers, her demand would have been justified. After all, appearance money is not taboo in professional sport. And if the Bangalore Open officials were keen to get the Williams sisters, they would have at least considered Sania's request.
The question is, why didn't Sania state her reasons as they were?
Bangalore Open tournament director Sunder Raju is on record saying that Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania's manager, had promised to get back to him after the Australian Open but never did. Does it mean that there had been a breakdown in communication?
An attempt to seek clarification from her parents was met with a curt response. "The media is unnecessarily raking up a controversy," Sania's mother, Nasima Mirza, said when contacted over phone.
Sania's team has since asked why her decision has triggered so much debate when Bhupathi and Leander Paes could choose to not play in Chennai and get away with it. The reason for that is that they made a simple professional decision and said it so. And they did not say that their playing in India led to controversies.