PARIS: Sania Mirza said that the women’s game is in its best state ever in the region, with Chinese stars like Li Na leading the charge and a new generation waiting in the wings.
“I think we’re probably at our best in Asian women’s tennis,” said Sania. “Tennis is growing in Asia.”
Sania is 25 but injuries have hobbled her career, which reached a climax when she won the 2009 Australian Open mixed doubles with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi. With more than $2.2 million in career prize-money and a celebrated wedding in 2010 to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, Sania has to decide soon on her tennis priorities in order to preserve her health.
“That’s a call I’ll take, either playing just singles or just doubles.” While more young women across Asia are taking up tennis, inspired by Sania and Chinese stars like French Open champion Li, the men’s singles game has not caught up. Mirza agreed that the massive popularity of football and cricket in Asia could be factors, but also noted that Asian men have to contend with far more powerful players in Europe, Russia and the US.
“Cricket is obviously like a religion in our country, maybe that has something to do with it. For tennis, you need a court, you need racquets, and you need balls. For cricket, you need a bat and a ball and 22 people can play. In football, you need a ball and you can have so many people playing.”
Sania is keen to have another Indian girl take over from her, but that will not come anytime soon as no other woman in India is ranked above 500.
“It’s been pretty unfortunate because I’ve been flying the flag alone for the last eight years and so I hope someone comes out. Eventually someone will, I’m sure. A lot of them expect fame and money and everything to come really quickly as soon as you start, and that puts a lot of pressure on kids. But they have to understand that it takes 10, 12, 15 years to actually get there.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2012.
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