Former Wimbledon doubles champion Sania Mirza, who lives in Dubai with her cricketer husband Shoaib Malik and young son, will never forget playing on a cow dung tennis court in her hometown of Hyderabad , in southern India.
And if it’s not sobering, she also remembers being rejected for being too small when she tried to enroll in a tennis academy with an animal waste surface.
I don’t want a six-year-old playing today on cow dung pitches. I want tennis to progress, Mirza said in an interview with Gulf News.
But it’s not someone who complains, she continued to do something concrete. After achieving sporting glory on the world stage and becoming one of India’s most beloved and celebrated tennis stars, Mirza paid for it by starting a fully functional tennis academy in Hyderabad. Recently, she also launched two new eponymous tennis centers at Dubais Al Mankhool and Jumeirah Lake Towers symbolizing a whole new chapter in her life.
I don’t know anything but play tennis and that’s all I want to do. I want to give back. When I look back on my journey, I can only be grateful for all that I have been able to accomplish. From playing on cow dung courts to winning Wimbledon, I’m very grateful,” Mirza said.
The 35-year-old tennis champion, who is one of India’s biggest style icons, looks around her new tennis academy in Al Mankhool and feels a sense of thoughtful pride at being able to reinvent herself in a field that ‘she’s so familiar with.
Dubai is my second home and it has been for a very long time. I want to bring a sport like tennis into everyday life. Tennis is too much of an elite sport. We always push our kids towards cricket especially if they are boys, I want that to change a bit,” Mirza said. Excerpts from our interview with the tennis ace as we discuss his impending retirement, his career and the launch of the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy in Dubai…
Congratulations, your dream of bringing tennis into the homes of ordinary people has come true.
Tennis is too an elite sport. People think that tennis and golf are not accessible. But I want to change that mindset. You don’t have to be from an elite background to play this sport, especially in a place like Dubai. Second, we ran a very successful tennis academy at home in Hyderabad, our flagship. It covers four acres. But all I’m trying to do is bring tennis into the homes of all those communities across our subcontinent and beyond. And I feel a strong sense of giving it back. Dubai has been my second home for a long time and I feel so good.
Indian parents are notorious for pushing their children to excel in studies rather than play sports seriously. Have you witnessed a change?
The mentality changes. The kind of education that sport gives you is so valuable. Sport teaches to be resilient. It teaches you to fight against the odds and teaches you to be humble in victory. It teaches you that as long as you keep fighting, there can be another day. Sport teaches us life lessons that no education can possibly give and there is no single manual that will teach you how to handle wins and losses gracefully. I had finished my 12th level and attended university for a year and a half. But I had to choose between Wimbledon and college, and I chose college. And, look how it turned out for me, I’m not saying every kid who learns tennis should become a pro. The goal is to play any sport and cultivate that fighting attitude and never die. I am this person because I have done sports. I’m not like that because I went to school But sport teaches you commitment and discipline. There is no other job that teaches discipline to a ten-year-old child than a sport.
So one of my twins is a sore loser. Does tennis also help
My son is also a sore loser. Competitiveness is in his blood and we can’t take that away from him. He’s barely four years old, but when he loses, he literally loses it. Even when we walk, he wants us to walk behind him so he can come first. We didn’t teach him that, but he woke up like that. We are the last to insist that he wins, but it is very important for a child like him to deal with defeat. In sports, you lose more than you win most of the time. It is very important that he learns to manage and react to loss. What really defines you as a person and builds character is how you deal with loss. Hes four and far too young, but the character and commitment levels are built.
Ever wanted to start tennis academies in Dubai?
Honestly, that was my goal and I always wanted to do it. But I traveled constantly. But now that I have decided to retire and this will be my last year, I can continue. I’m only 35, but you have to keep moving forward in life, right? I can retire from one profession, but I’m still young enough to build another. It’s time to pass on so much experience that I have accumulated and it’s time to give back as well. The goal is to try to have tennis centers all over Dubai and the United Arab Emirates. Now that I live here, I can have a personal touch. I have received several offers to establish academies in different countries, but it is not just a matter of business for me. I don’t want my name in 50 different places, I want to get personally involved. The coaches at my centers were trained under me and we have a sense of camaraderie between us.
Is your cricketer husband involved in this
No, it’s all my baby, I’m a professional athlete and it’s almost over. But I can’t sit just like you’re a mother of three and you’re still independent I want to be a woman who can support herself and her children I can’t sit and loosen.
Was it difficult to announce your decision to retire from professional tennis?
It’s always hard to be a professional athlete, it’s not just what you want to do. It’s not as black and white. At the start of this year, I said it would be my last season. I was going to play the US Open, but I tore my elbow tendon and couldn’t play. But I could play the Australian Open and that’s why I’m not sure about my retirement plans. When you’re a professional athlete, there are a lot of things to consider. We travel for 25 to 30 weeks. I have a family now and do I want my son to travel 30 weeks with me or do I leave him for 30 weeks which is difficult for me. There’s no right or wrong in parenting. Also, I’ve had four surgeries. I had a long career. I turned pro in 2003 and it’s 2022. I’m not young as a tennis player. I am 35 years old and I am one of the veterans of the circuit. These are facts After giving birth, I’m 20 in the world but that’s not the point. My willingness to work and make that effort every day is diminishing. And, it is a fact. To be on top of any professional sport, you need to be extremely focused and motivated every day. Those days are less and less as I get older.
So, can women have it all?
I was world number one in what I did for over 90 weeks. Few people in the world have the right to say that. I was able to reach the peak of my sport and that is close to my heart. I couldn’t win an Olympic medal and that may always be a dream. But you have to accept and recognize that not every dream can be realized. Right now having it all means being the mother of my child. Having it all, right now, also means giving back to tennis in a different way. Having academies around the world means the world to me.
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