Sania Mirza is a trailblazer in Indian sport. She brought women’s tennis in India to a position of prominence with consistent performances over the last 15 years. A winner of six Grand Slam titles, Mirza became the first Indian to be ranked World No 1 after she occupied the position in the WTA doubles rankings in 2015.
Mirza, along with Martina Hingis, forged together a lethal partnership winning 14 titles together and establishing themselves as one of the finest women’s doubles pairs in the Open era.
However, Mirza’s early years were all about making her mark in the singles category, where she upset top-ranked players and was seen as an emerging talent: a rarity for an Indian. After impressing on the junior circuit and winning the 2003 Wimbledon Girls’ Doubles title, Mirza continued the form in the senior circuit as well.
The 2005 Australian Open marked the beginning of her rise, bursting on the WTA circuit after winning six ITF titles in 2004. She beat Cindy Watson and Petra Mandula in Melbourne to reach the third round where she set up a dream contest against Serena Williams. She was beaten in straight sets, but the Indian had made it into the big league.
A month later, Mirza claimed her first WTA title, the Hyderabad Open, becoming the first Indian woman to do so.
She kept growing in confidence and delivered another promising performance at the Dubai Tennis Championships, where she reached the quarter-finals. She beat Jelena Kostanic Tosic in three sets after losing the first, but her best performance came in the next round when she upset reigning US Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The match was an early sign of Mirza’s ability to overcome injuries. Down 0-4 in the first set and struggling with an ankle injury, Mirza showed her character by winning six straight games to take the first set 6-4. She never looked back and won the second set 6-2 to record a great win.
“My ankle was killing me,” said Mirza after the match.
“It was the third time it has happened in the last three weeks. I was actually crying because I was in so much pain. But I took a pain killer and I think it took a couple of games for me to get used to the taping, and the pain killers started working 15 or 20 minutes after that,” she added.
Kuznetsova though got her revenge at Wimbledon when she beat Mirza in the second round, but the Indian took her all the way to the third set.
Mirza though kept on recording impressive performances and reached her second WTA final in August at the Forest Hills Tennis Challenge. She lost to Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova in three sets.
However, Mirza saved her best for the last Major of the year, reaching the fourth round at the US Open and becoming the first Indian woman to achieve the feat. She beat Mashona Washington and Maria Camerin in the first two rounds before creating history with a straight-sets win over France’s Marion Bartoli.
Despite being broken in the very first game of the match, Mirza battled back and survived a few scares in the first set to win in the tie-breaker. After exchanging breaks in the second set, Mirza held her nerve to win 6-4 and set up a clash against Maria Sharapova.
The Indian was overwhelmed by the Russian but she more than left her mark on the competition. She ended the year with another eye-catching display at the Japan Open where she reached the semi-finals with wins over Vilmarie Castellvi, Aiko Nakamura and Vera Zvonareva.
Her consistent performances were rewarded as she was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2005, ending the year ranked 31. With her 2005 season, Sania Mirza gave India hope that the country could have a player who regularly competed at Grand Slams.
Injuries derailed Mirza’s singles career, but she continued to fulfill her promise in the doubles category winning several titles. At 33, she came back after giving birth to her son and won the Hobart International title in her very first tournament on return.
Regarded as one of India’s greatest-ever sportspersons, Sania Mirza’s story is a source of inspiration for every athlete. Looking back, it was the year 2005 cemented her place among the tennis elites.