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Sania ready to step on to big stage

She is only 16-years old but already her shoulders are feeling the weight of expectations. Sania Mirza is the new toast of Indian tennis.

tennis Updated: Aug 14, 2003 14:41 IST

She is only 16-years old but already her shoulders are feeling the weight of expectations.

The junior Grand Slam doubles title at Wimbledon has made Sania Mirza the new toast of Indian tennis. And when she steps on to court at New York's Flushing Meadows next month, the teenager from Hyderabad will be carrying the hopes of a billion people with her.

"People have always had expectations from me whenever I've played, even as a 10 year old, and I'm used to that," Sania told PTI as she prepared for the US Open junior championships starting September 1.

"I do realise that the expectations are going to be very high this time round as I have won a Grand Slam title.

"I think that I've always expected a lot more out of myself... As long as I've given it my best shot, I am at peace with myself," said Sania, showing matured thinking.

Acknowledging Sania's contribution to Indian tennis, Maharashtra Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde will confer on her the Rajiv Gandhi award, insituted by the Congress Party, on August 19.

Sania will kick start her campaign with Canadian Open, a Grade 1 junior event in Canada, the week prior to the US Open, beginning on August 25.

She has been training for the event at her home base in Hyderabad, and also spent a few days at the Bhupathi Tennis Clinic in Bangalore where she worked with Mahesh Bhupathi and Prahlad Srinath on her court movements and serves.

Sania, however, will have to contend with the fact that she will be without her champion partner, Russian Aleysa Kleybanova, when she enters the Grand Slam event.

"Naturally, I would have loved to play with Aleysa again at the US Open but I have done reasonably well in the past with a lot of other doubles partners and I'm hopeful I'll find someone who can complement my style of play," said the reigning Asian junior champion.

But Sania was quick to point out that even in all the euphoria of the doubles win, singles remained her top priority.

"People seem to have forgotten that though I have not done too well in the Grand Slams so far in singles, I did have a best ever singles ranking of number 10 in the world," said Sania who has four ITF titles under her belt.

The next one year from November when she becomes 17 will see Sania join the big league of women's tour. The WTA rules still restrict her to 13 tournament till she turns 18, but the teenager intends to put this one-year transitional period to better use.

"This is the period when I want to get well acquainted with the level of tennis that exists on the WTA Tour.

"I will not be bothered about my rankings until I'm 18 and once I reach that age, I hope to make it to the top 100 in my very first year as a full time professional," she said.

Such confidence and clarity of thought may be attributed to the professional support that has come to her aid. Sania is now managed by Globosport, owned by Mahesh Bhupathi, and the Wimbledon win seems to have given her the right break.

The teenager is likely to undergo a coaching stint in the US, a final decision on which will be taken at the Open championships. The famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida -- which helped shape the careers of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles among others -- and the academy of renowned coach Bob Brett are the prospective destinations.

The US Open then will be her last junior event. But Sania says she would enter the event as she would any other, with the aim of winning it.

"Whenever I enter any event, I do so with the belief that I can win it. It'll be the same at US Open this year," she said.

First Published: Aug 14, 2003 14:41 IST