Tennis star Sania Mirza was felicitated after her final match at LB Stadium on Sunday. Rohan Bopanna, Cara Black, Bethanie Mattek Sands and others attended the programme. (Photo: Deepak Deshpande)
Hyderabad: Blood, sweat and tears. That sums up the career of tennis ace Sania Mirza, who endured several surgeries, fought fiercely for two decades to win 44 top flight titles and then wiped her wet eyes on Sunday after an exhibition match to bring the curtain down on her sporting journey at the place it all began for her — the Lal Bahadur Stadium in the heart of hometown Hyderabad.
"These are happy tears," she told the houseful of cheering fans, among them ministers and VIPs. "I am thankful to each and everyone for the kind of send-off given to me today. I couldn’t have asked for a better farewell." There were quite a few moist eyes in the crowd who waved an emotional goodbye to the sporting icon. The message was clear — there is only one Sania Mirza.
It was at the Centre Court of this tennis complex that Sania won her first WTA title — the Hyderabad Open in 2004 alongside South Africa’s Liezel Huber, and followed it with the singles trophy the next year. "It all began here in 2002 when I won medals at the National Games. Then in 2004, I won my first WTA title. It has been an honour to represent the country at the highest level for 20 long years," the 36-year-old said.
Tennis will always be a part of her. "I am going to miss the game," Sania said haltingly. "But I can tell you I will be there with the Telangana Government and the Sports Authority of Telangana State to produce another Sania. In fact, we need more and more Sanias and will work for that."
Among those who had come to make Sania feel special were Union law minister Kiren Rijiju (who earlier was the Union sports minister), state ministers K.T. Rama Rao and V. Srinivas Goud, Hyderabad police commissioner C.V. Anand, a tennis player himself, former cricketer Yuvraj Singh and players from the tennis circuit — Rohan Bopanna, Ivan Dodig, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Cara Black and Marion Bartoli, with whom Sania played a bit.
They first went around the court hitting in a 3-on-3 before Sania paired with Dodig to play some mixed doubles with Yuvraj and Bethanie across the net, and then teamed up with Bopanna as Dodig replaced Yuvraj on the other side. The score? It remained Love All as Sania was flooded by emotions and affection.
Felicitations followed, with Rama Rao honouring Sania, her family members and the international players with mementoes as confetti flew around.
Minister Rijuju was not part of the presentation party and watched the proceedings from the VIP gallery. "The crowds here show that Sania is truly inspirational not just for tennis players but for the entire country with her achievements. I came down to be part of this farewell event as I have always been in touch with Sania. I convey my best wishes for her future endeavours too," he told the media.
Blessed with the mental framework of a boxer, Sania has always punched above her weight. "It was so difficult, for not many believed in a young kid taking up tennis, more so a girl. But, it was only my parents who believed in me and have been with me right through this. There were people who said we couldn’t do it, we were crazy... no one ever thought that we would be standing in a stadium full of people like this," she left the arena with a punch.