Sania Mirza: The tennis legend

By Layana Reghunath

A little girl’s journey from the streets of Hyderabad to a world champion was never so easy. But this made Sania Mirza, the tennis legend, different from others. With six Grand Slam titles to her credit, including three mixed double titles and 43 WTA titles, her success stories are more than enough to inspire all aspiring sportspersons in the country. She could make this big only because of her determination and immense talent. 

The 35-year-old announced her retirement at the beginning of 2022 at the Australian Open. Though it was a shock for her fan followers, it was a much-needed break for her. She was courageous enough to understand her body wearing down, took it on a positive note, and decided to step down from her much-loved tennis career. She is a true braveheart who managed to hold on to her roots even when she was at the peak of her successful career. Here we are, unfolding her marvellous journey starting from her childhood. So let’s begin.

Childhood and first win

Sania mirza was born in Mumbai on 15th November 1986 to Hyderabadi Muslim parents, Imran Mirza and Nazeema. Imran Mirza was a sports journalist, and Nazeema worked in a printing business. After a short while, the Mirza family shifted to Hyderabad, where she and her sister Anam was brought up in a religious Sunni family. It was because of her father that little Sania got interested in tennis. He was her first tennis coach. At the age of six, Imran put her in the local tennis club nearby. It was reported that the coaches initially were reluctant to take her as she was tiny for her age and could not even hold the racquet properly. But after six months, they had an entirely different story to tell her parents. They were amazed by her progress and could see immense potential in her. 

The year 2003 witnessed Sania Mirza turning into a professional. This year, she won 10 singles and 13 double titles as a junior player. Mirza had her father by her side as her trainer. That year, she also won the Wimbledon Championship Girl’s Double title by teaming up with Alisa Kleybanova of Russia. She also reached the 2003 US Open Girl’s Doubles Titles semi-finals with Sanaa Bambhri.

Mirza won a bronze medal for India by partnering with Leander Peas in the mixed doubles events at the Busan Asian Games in 2002. She debuted in the Women Tennis Association(WTA) at AP Tourism Hyderabad Open in February 2003 as a wild card entry but lost in the finals. She also won four gold medals at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad.

The journey from WTA to Grand Slam

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Sania Mirza was a wild card entry for the 2004 AP Tourism Open Hyderabad and gave a tough competition to the four times champion Nicole Pratt. Although she couldn’t win the championship as she lost the last three sets, she managed to get noticed in the tennis world. Sania won the WTA title in the same tournament in the women’s double event by teaming up with Liezel Huber of South Africa. By the end of the 2004 campaign, she had added one WTA title and six ITF singles titles.

Her 2005 campaign was even more promising, reaching the third round in the singles event of the Australian Open, where she lost to the legend, Serena Williams. She became the first-ever Indian woman to win the singles WTA title in the 2005 AP Tourism Hyderabad Open held in February. She defeated the ninth-seeded Alona Bondarenko in the finals. She gave her that year’s best performance in the US Open, where she ranked in the top 16th position, the first Indian to reach this top in the Grand Slam event. Thus, Sania became the WTA newcomer of that year.

Her performance in the 2006 Australian Open got her seeded in the tournament for the first time. Even though she was defeated in the first round by Michaelle Krajicek, Sania became the first Indian to be seeded in the Grand Slams event. The beginning of the year 2006 was not in her favour. She lost to Camille Pin in the second round in the singles event in Bangalore in 2006. However, she made up for her losses by winning the Doubles title with Huber. She added one more Doubles title to her name at the Sunfeast Open, in which she also managed to reach the semi-finals in the singles event.

Sania’s performance in 2006 was below average compared to her 2005 outings. But still, she had won three matches against top players like Martina Hingis, Nadia Petrova, and Svetlana Kuznetsova. She also got three medals at the Doha Asian Games in December- Gold in the mixed doubles event and two silvers in the women’s singles and the women’s team, respectively.

First Grand Slam Title

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Sania Mirza had a good start in the year 2007. She made it to the semi-finals in the Hobart and Pattaya, was in the second round at the Australian Open, and reached the quarter-finals in Bangalore. But still, the Grand Slam title remained a dream for her. She lost in the second rounds of both the French Open and Wimbledon. Her singles event was immensely improving, though, as she reached the quarter-finals in San Diego, the semi-finals in Cincinnati, and the final in Stanford. She won four titles in the doubles event that year. Her singles world ranking also improved, and she stood at world rank No.27, which seemed unachievable for an Indian then.

The year 2008 had something good laid out for Sania Mirza. She was in good spirits even after losing in the quarter-finals of the singles event in Hobart and losing to Venus Williams at the Australian Open. She diverted her attention to the doubles event of the Grand Slam, where she paired up with Mahesh Bhupati and made it to the finals. But luck was not in their favour; they were defeated by Nenad Zemonjic and Sun Tiantian in straight sets. She suffered multiple injuries that year and was forced to pull out from important tournaments like Wimbledon and the French Open. She also had to retire from the 2008 Beijing Olympiad singles event following a wrist injury.

Sania started 2009 with the doubles event in Hobart, in which she reached the quarter-finals. She was defeated in the second round of the singles event at the 2009 Australian Open. She could not succeed in the doubles event where she played alongside Vania King. However, with the experience she gained from the previous Grand Slam, Sania won her first Grand Slam title after teaming up with Mahesh Bhupati and defeating Andy Ram and Nathalie Dechy in the finals. 

The Grand Slam title gave her the confidence to fight back and move on. She made it to the finals of the Pattaya Women’s Open singles event and the semi-finals in the doubles event. However, there was not much improvement in her performance in the singles event. Mirza and Chuang Chia-Jung made it to the semis at the Miami Masters WTA event and later went on to win the MSP Group Championship ahead of the French Open. But she could not display her charm in the French Open season, where she got knocked out in the first round. Things were not different at the US Open and Wimbledon, where she was defeated in the second round of both doubles and mixed-doubles events. Her performance in the semi-final round at Osaka was also not that good; she got knocked out by Francesca Schiavone.

Rumours and Controversies Sania faced

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Sania was the cover girl of the 2005 special edition of Times magazine. By 2016, her name was in the list of top 100 influential people, again released by the same magazine. As cricketer Sachin Tendulkar once quoted, she has remained true to her name- Sania, meaning Brilliance. She inspired millions of Indians, especially women, to have dreams and fulfil them at any cost. 

But amidst all this stardom and fame, she also faced criticism from the people of her country. Her patriotism was questioned when she married Shoaib Malik, a Pakistani Cricketer. She got engaged to Malik in 2009 and married him on 12th April 2010, in a traditional Hyderabadi Muslim wedding ceremony at the Taj Krishna Hotel, Hyderabad. The wedding reception was held in Pakistan. When the whole country should celebrate the wedding of their brilliant daughter, she received only curses and hatred from her country fellows. It was because she had married a Pakistani. Teary-eyed, she had to appear on National TV to prove her patriotism. People gave more importance to religion and religion when they should have supported her. It broke her down. In 2014, when she was appointed as the brand ambassador of Telangana, people called her “Pakistan’s daughter-in-law” and asked her to step down from the post. But she, a lion-heart, never let those negative comments affect her and paid them back by representing India at the Asian Games and winning medals for the country.

Sania Mirza also faced threats from the Indian Muslim community in 2006, where she was forced to pull back from the doubles event alongside Israeli player Shahar Pe’er. She was subjected to humiliation either because of her short skirts or her religious beliefs. Following the protests, she swore to never play in any Indian tournament. But she left all these aside when it came to national duty and participated in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Struggles and injuries

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After winning the Grand Slam title in 2009, Sania’s opening in 2010 was not up to the mark. She had to exit in the first round from a few singles events conducted at Hobart International, the ASB Classic at Auckland, Pattaya Open, Australian Open, and Dubai Tennis Championship. She also had another wrist injury by then, which made her step back from the upcoming Family Circle Cup, the BNP Paribas Open, the Sony Ericsson Open, and the French Open.

She faced a series of setbacks post her comeback at the Aegon Classic. She was defeated in the second round there. She couldn’t qualify for the tournament held at Eastbourne and was lost in the first round of Wimbledon. But still, she managed to become the first runner-up at the Aegon GB Pro-Series in Wrexham. She won her first doubles title in Guangzhou along with Edina Gallovits and was also a runner-up in Taipei with Hsieh Su-Wei. She got silver in the singles event and bronze in the doubles in the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Sania also won a bronze in the 2010 Asian Games in singles events but was defeated in the mixed doubles finals. But she managed to get the silver medal for the country.

Years passed, and Sania had her ups and downs in her career. But nothing stopped her from playing for her country and becoming a world champion. She consistently played different tournaments till 2018, out of which a few she won, but she also had to lose some. But still, she kept on chasing her dream without any hard feelings. In April 2018, Sania Mirza announced to the world her first pregnancy through an Instagram post. She delivered her baby boy in October 2018. By the end of that year, she told her return to professional tennis through the 2020 Summer Olympics. True to her words, Mirza returned to the court in 2020 and played a series of matches. She won many medals for the country and returned India to its long-lost glory. 

At age 35, the tennis superstar announced her retirement from professional tennis by the end of the 2022 season. On one of her interviewers, she cited her physical inability as the reason for her retirement. She also found her body taking more time to recover from injuries than in the past. Sania also wanted to devote more time to her family, especially her three-year-old son. 


Sania Mirza’s life was never a fairy tale. Her patriotism and patience were tested at all times. But she stood above all with her head held high. She fought against all the social stigma surrounding her with grace and rose to stardom. Today she is the hope of millions of women who struggle to achieve their dreams in their everyday lives. Yes, Sania Mirza stands for her resilience, confidence, and never-losing attitude.

She has written her name in golden letters in the history of Indian tennis. Sania Mirza is a tennis legend. Whatever the future has stored for her, she will always remain in the hearts of millions of Indians for her courage and unbeatable attitude. We wish her all the very best in all her future endeavours.

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