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Cultural bias against sports melting: Sania

"Parents want their children to play and being a doctor or a lawyer is not the only thing that matters," said Mirza.

tennis Updated: Jan 06, 2006 19:23 IST
PTI

Sania Mirza says an easing of the cultural bias against sports in India could lead to a new crop of tennis stars.

"They (parents) do want their children to come out and play a sport now and being a doctor or a lawyer is not the only thing that matters," said Mirza, ranked 34th in the world.

"I think right now people are starting to believe that tennis can be a profession, which people didn't believe," the 19-year-old said.

Despite the 'revolution' now, Mirza said she was a loner when she first started out.

She said she caught a lucky break when G. V. Krishna Reddy, chairman of conglomerate GVK, began to sponsor her at age 13.

"I would really encourage people like him, who can afford to really support kids in India who are trying to make it," Mirza said.

The precedent set by India's top tennis players has made financial support easier to come by.

"If there's no one ever (who has) made it in the sport...I don't think people are going to say, 'Oh I'm going to put all my money on this person,"' Mirza said, noting that the state and federal governments also provide funding.

Fans say Mirza, a hard-hitting, nose-ring wearing Muslim who listens to rap star Eminem, is the symbol for a modern and developed India.

But she has incurred the wrath of more conservative factions in the country.

Mirza has been criticized by Islamic clerics for her revealing tennis clothing and protesters burned her effigies after she made remarks interpreted as endorsing premarital sex.

Kicking off her year in Hong Kong, Mirza has tried to steer clear of controversy, politely declining comment on her recent run-ins with critics.

"I think that thing's long gone and I really don't want to start another controversy by commenting on it," she said.

Intentionally or not, Mirza has favoured more traditional garb in Hong Kong, wearing shorts, instead of a skirt, in her first match against Venus Williams and showing up at a pre-tournament press conference in a bluish long-sleeved blouse and long white dress.

As for her tennis, Mirza is clearly motivated- she sought out famed Australian coach Tony Roche, currently the coach of top men's player Roger Federer, for a four-week training session. Roche suggested a new service motion, which she tried out in Hong Kong against Williams.

Mirza lost 3-6, 3-6 to the five-time Grand Slam winner, but displayed impressive power from the baseline. Still, she says she wants to take her career a step at a time.

As an immediate goal, "I want to be in the top 30, 35 in the world and try and get seeded in all the Grand Slams," Mirza said.