Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza has retired from the game, bringing to an end a professional career that spanned two decades. During that time, Mirza won six doubles Grand Slam titles and 43 major titles, beginning her journey on the dusty courts made out of cow dung in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad at the age of six.
In 2005, Mirza broke onto the Grand Slam circuit as an 18-year-old when she reached the third round of the Australian Open. That same year, she became the first Indian woman to reach the fourth round of the US Open, where she lost to top seed Maria Sharapova. She also reached the second round of Wimbledon.
Mirza was ranked number one in women’s doubles for 91 weeks during the 2015 season, when she teamed up with Martina Hingis to form one of the most formidable women’s doubles pairs in history.
When asked by Al Jazeera about how she got involved with tennis and what happens next, Mirza said she was six when she picked up a tennis racket for the first time. She played at a local sports club, where the courts were made out of cow dung that was flattened and painted upon. She added that she tried her hand at different sports, but started improving rapidly at tennis, prompting her parents and coach into thinking that it might be worth a try to take it up.
Mirza said that stepping into the professional tennis circuit as an Indian was something no one had ever done in terms of the calibre that she was playing at. She added that when she first broke into the Grand Slam main rounds, she became a star overnight and people from the subcontinent started realising that they can be good at a global sport and compete against the best in the world.
However, Mirza faced several cultural issues as a young girl wanting to play tennis. She said that instead of being encouraged to pursue their dreams, young girls and women from the subcontinent are given a list of things that they can’t do. She added that it is these women who will make a difference in the end.
When asked why there has been a void in women’s tennis in South Asia since her arrival, Mirza said that there is no system in place for aspiring athletes. She added that if somebody wants to take their child to play tennis, they don’t know what to do and it’s individuals like her or Rohan Bopanna who are trying to set up academies where they are able to share their experience.
Mirza said that she decided to quit because she wanted to do things on her own terms and because her body was beat. She added that she was emotionally and mentally quite beat after being a professional athlete for 20 years and didn’t have the will to push all the way to maintain it.
The 36-year-old said that after giving birth to her son, it was excruciating to put in all the work again to get back in shape and play. However, she added that it was worth it as she wanted to show that you can still dream after becoming a mother and you can fulfil your dreams as well.
Mirza said her post-retirement plans include spending quality time with her son and looking after her tennis academies in Dubai and Hyderabad. She added that she has received messages on social media, phone calls, and messages expressing gratitude for her inspiring career and that it has been really nice to know that she has been able to make a difference in young girls’ lives.