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Sania Mirza on medal hunt for India

Asian Games 2014, without doubt, was one of the toughest assignments for Sania in her more than decade-long career. Should she participate or not was the first question?

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 29, 2014, 06.27 AM IST
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Asian Games 2014, without doubt, was one of the toughest assignments for Sania in her more than decade-long career. Should she participate or not was the first question? 
Asian Games 2014, without doubt, was one of the toughest assignments for Sania in her more than decade-long career. Should she participate or not was the first question? 
Being a professional athlete is tough. And to be an attractive professional woman athlete in India is tougher. Inevitably, controversies start hounding you and even a non-issue is converted into a subject of national debate. Sania Mirza, in that sense, is controversies' child. But behind all that gloss, the 27-year-old tennis player has gone about doing the job for India.

She has 14 multi-discipline competition medals to show for donning India colours, she is now assured of her eighth Asian Games medal despite playing with relatively unfancied partners. A commendable achievement, it draws attention to Mirza’s commitment to the tri-colour and also to her legacy as someone who has made it to the very top despite all odds.

Asian Games 2014, without doubt, was one of the toughest assignments for Sania in her more than decade-long career. Should she participate or not was the first question? The All India Tennis Association (AITA) had conveniently left the decision to her.

Seeing her compatriots, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna pull out only added to the conundrum.

The possibility of losing out on close to 2000 WTA points, dropping down from 5 to 10 or more in the doubles world rankings and, in the process, missing out on the prestigious year-end WTA tour had made Mirza’s decision a really tough one. Frankly, no one could have faulted her had she opted to give the Asian Games a miss. With a realistic chance of making the WTA tournament in October, it was more than understandable if Mirza had chosen the tour over the Asian Games.

After much deliberation with her support unit, led by father and coach Imran Mirza, Sania decided to travel to Incheon. There’s no doubt it was a serious risk. Had Mirza, partnering Cara Black not won the Tokyo event just days before the start of the Asian Games, where the duo successfully defended 970 tour points, their place in the year end competition might have been in jeopardy. Winning at Tokyo, Mirza managed to go into the Asiad knowing that her decision would cost her a dip in the rankings but it wouldn’t deny her a place in the WTA competition.

And at Incheon she has done exceedingly well. Playing with Prarthona Gulabrao and Saketh Sai Myneni, Sania has had to play the role of lead player in both the women’s and mixed doubles contests.

Anyone who has watched her mixed doubles quarter-final against the Koreans would have seen how she literally hand-held Saketh Myneni in the concluding part of the second set and the deciding tie break.

With two medals at Incheon, Mirza has enriched her legacy even if it comes at the cost of dropping down a few notches in the rankings, which she might take months to regain.

That the Asiad medals matter a great deal to Sania is evident from Imran Mirza’s words written immediately after she made the women’s doubles semi-final: “Not many people understand the super competitive nature of world tennis which is played professionally by over 220 countries. After having slogged for years, Sania is ranked at 5 in the world today and was in with a chance to emerge as 'numero uno' in Women's doubles!

By skipping the Big Wuhan WTA tournament this week and opting to play in the Asian Games instead, she will now slip at least 5 places to go down to No. 10 in world rankings... Yet, she has done it willingly, knowing very well that her presence at the Asian Games would give the best chance for our country to win a medal! This makes it one of the proudest moments in our lives!”

Mirza has seen the highs and the lows. From making her trademark nose-ring a cool fashion acceasory after her fourth-round US Open appearance and first WTA tournament win in 2005 to dropping out of the top 100 because of a recurring wrist injury, she is now a veteran who has seen it all. Speak to her and the maturity comes out.

Unnecessary media glare on her personal life may have made her cynical but it hasn't taken away the zeal to don the tricolour. The Asian Games performance, more than anything, is evidence of this truth.

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