“Sania Mirza ka ghar? Main dikhata hoon (Sania Mirza’s house? I’ll show you).” The little boy jumped into our auto to guide us through the winding lanes of the posh Filmnagar locality. It’s the view the three-storey house offers that could make anyone envious. “It’s gorgeous to wake up to this,” says Sania, pointing at the view of the entire city from her balcony.
Back home to get ready for the 2014 season, which she and Zimbabwean Cara Black will begin in Sydney, the 27-year-old can’t wait for New Year’s Eve. “For the first time in many years I will get to celebrate the 31st! We work so hard all year; don’t you think we deserve some fun?” asks Sania. Father Imran smiles as his elder daughter discusses holiday plans.
Since 2003, when she lifted the junior Wimbledon doubles crown, controversies have followed Sania. Be it ‘the feet towards the national flag’, T-shirts with messages or her marriage to Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik. “Negativity sells,” she shrugs. “I have been labelled a rebel. If I had been one, would I have got married at 23? Would I have been a straight A student?” She’s understood that successful people are targeted. “Some things I had to learn the hard way because you’re suddenly in the public eye at 16. But today, of course I’m more careful.”
A room filled with trophies and crystal ones showcased all over the house bear testimony to her career. 2013 has been nothing short of brilliant. Five doubles titles and ending the year in the top-10 for the first time, Sania believes athletes are grounded. “One win and you’re on top of the world. Lose in the first round of the next tournament; you’re back to reality,” she says making herself comfortable on the sofa. The white and black colour tone of her room probably showcases how sorted she is. But what helps her stay such? “I was never treated differently at home. It’s a high when people recognise you but it’s also easy to let yourself go. My parents never stopped me from speaking my mind but they made sure I had a normal life with family and friends,” she smiles, looking at Imran and mother Nasima.
Three phones lie next to her. As one beeps, the second starts to ring. “It’s very busy today,” Sania says apologetically. With her family scattered all over the world most of the months, technology plays an important role. “BBM, WhatsApp, phone calls help me stay in touch with my sister (Anam), parents and of course keeps me connected to Shoaib.” Her eyes light up. April 2014 will mark four years. “Time flies,” she says glancing at the photograph of them on a wall.
“We somehow make it work. Every time I fly back to India, I stop over in Dubai (where she’s set up house). It’s all scheduling. When I got married I was so injured that I thought I would never play. But once I began, Shoaib never stopped me. As an athlete, he knows the importance of your sport, understands the travelling involved,” she feels.
To meet her husband when he’s playing has her clocking extra miles. For instance, she went to Birmingham during the Champions Trophy while Shoaib spent an extra two weeks in New York during Flushing Meadows. If Sania stops tennis, it would either be due to injuries or for the hatred of flying! “The actual flying part is alright but it’s the before and after I’m tired of!” she jokes.
Away from tennis
A self-confessed shopaholic, clothes and shoes are her passion. Twelve new pairs of heels will soon be added to the famous shoe cupboards. “It’s a disease I tell you,” says Sania, showing off the cupboards as Imran shakes his head in despair. Over 300 pairs, in vivid colours and heights, stand tall. “Don’t you have more?” he questions. From craving for biryani to eating sushi, Sania has a much evolved palate. “I even tried snake in Bangkok once,” claims the star who hates to cook.
Having taken the decision to play only doubles, Sania finds more time to see cities which earlier would be a blur. “I went sightseeing in Beijing last year,” she quips. A tennis star travels the world but with hectic scheduling, it’s not often one visits city attractions. “Playing singles and doubles on tour was like practice, matches, room service and sleep!”
However, for Sania, the most important aspect of travelling is meeting up with relatives in faraway Melbourne and New York. “During the Australian Open I always get ghar ka khana which cheers me up.” She’s always travelled with a parent so when she went alone to Stuttgart earlier this year, it was tough. “From booking a practice court to ordering room service, you do everything. Tennis is a lonely sport. Travelling with family always helps you cheer up…” More than going out, she prefers to catch up with friends at home. “We sit and chat mostly, be it here or Dubai. I love salon days to pamper myself, do my nails,” she says, holding up her freshly painted ones. It was during Diwali that she got to freak out, coming home at 6am when Nasima got up to pray. “She never understood what we could be doing for so long!”
Academy, the goal
It’s off season, but practice is a must. She goes twice a day to the newly-opened Sania Mirza Tennis Academy on the outskirts. With about 50 children already enrolled, they take to the nine hard courts twice a day. Clay courts are under preparation, so are a swimming pool, clubhouse and gym. Fees are reasonable with a drop off-pick up service. “It’s the whole package,” she says proudly after a hitting session. “The aim is to give back. It’s not only about the amount of hours you spend hitting, physical fitness is a must. That is what we want to incorporate.”
A gym session and a quick shower later, Sania’s day ends with spending quality time with Fluffy, a gorgeous white Persian cat. “Posh (the other cat) only answers to my mom,” she confides.
There’s a dinner party on at the Mirzas but it won’t be a long night for her. The alarm clock will go off as scheduled, reminding Sania of the few days left before the gruelling season begins again.