The world of tennis has been blessed since the turn of the last century with some fine examples of doubles partnerships. From the formidable Aussies in the 60s to the likes of McEnroe and Fleming in the 80s, the world of doubles tennis has come a long way, with rules changing to make the game more viewer-friendly. Legends like the Bryan brothers (who are still playing and competing at the highest level), the Woodies, the Jensen brothers and our very own Lee and Hesh (who touched the no.1 spot briefly 15 years ago) have given a lot of joy to fans of tennis both at home and abroad.
Women’s doubles tennis also has its stalwarts – from Martina Navratilova-Pam Shriver and Billie Jean King-Rosemary Casals to irrepressible modern-day duos like Natasha Zvereva-Gigi Fernandez, Cara Black-Liezel Huber, Serena Williams-Venus Williams, Virginia Ruano Pascual-Paola Suarez have all left their mark on this beautiful game.
But it’s different now! For Sania Mirza, the true torch-bearer of women’s tennis in India, has finally achieved the biggest milestone in her tennis career – the ranking of No. 1 in both individual and team positions in the Ladies’ Doubles game. And what a journey it has been. From the tough days of junior circuits where her parents amazing sacrifice and support helped her travel from event to event without sponsorships, to the breakthrough teen-age years when she became the Next Big Hope of Indian tennis – only to see those dreams come crashing down as injuries, lack of form and controversies all took a heavy toll.
Somewhere down the line, a happy little girl who loved her tennis suddenly grew up to the harsh reality of being a sportsperson in the spotlight in a country bereft of winners. While her popularity and brand value grew exponentially, so did perceptions (mostly erroneous) about her brashness and arrogance. Her easygoing teenage girl vibe had never gone down well with political and religious groups, and her marriage to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik made things even more difficult for her. Victories became sporadic and a wrist injury in 2012 almost ended her career. Mirza may have been close to giving it all up, but then a smart decision to leave singles for doubles changed her life.
Finding the right partner
Make no mistake – Mirza is no stranger to the world of doubles. She won on the WTA Tour way back in 2004 and has three Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles to her credit. But her Ladies Doubles play has blossomed in the last couple of years. After a string of indifferent seasons with a host of players, she struck gold with Cara Black in 2014 when they capped a fine season with the spectacular victory in the WTA season-ending championship in Singapore.
As people started taking notice, Mirza started off 2015 with another world champion from Taiwan, Su Wei-Sieh. But they quickly realised that they both preferred the same side of the court, which became quite difficult to manage in match situations. And then the magic happened – out went Su and in came Martina Hingis, the original Swiss Miss, who breathed fresh life in this dynamic duo’s game. This pair has unbelievable figures till date – they have won the last three WTA events at Indian Wells, Miami and Sunday at Charleston. A 14-0 win-loss ratio which has also catapulted them into the No. 1 spot starting Monday.
Here to stay?
Hingis and Mirza work very well together. The Swiss champion knows what it takes to win at the highest level and has been a great influence on her younger teammate. There is a lot of bonhomie visible on court which helps ease off tough match situations as each has managed to back the other in times of crisis. And the world is ready to meet them now – the clay court season awaits followed by Wimbledon and then the US hard court circuit. The year is still new and Mirza is still to win a Grand Slam Ladies Doubles crown.
But then there is something about this pair which makes you want to believe that they will stay at the top for a while. It could be the infectious giggles, the backslaps and high fives, the awesome tennis that they dish out on court together – on the great canvas of unfulfilled expectations, these two artistes are now well and truly creating their own masterpiece – together! May their reign be long and fulfilling.
Rathindra Basu lives, breathes, sleeps sports and is forever waiting for the next Indian sporting triumph. Since this usually takes much time and infinite patience he also listens to music, reads voraciously and eats almost anything that moves!
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