Dubai Duty Free Tennis: How Sania earned respect of her peers

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Indian icon Sania Mirza. — AFP
Indian icon Sania Mirza. — AFP

Published: Wed 22 Feb 2023, 9:17 PM

Fame, fortune, fan adulation…Sania Mirza has them all in plenty. But there is something she will cherish more than anything else as she packed her bag for one last time on the courtside of a championship and called time on a stunning 20-year career.

By Joy Chakravarty

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It’s the respect of her peers.

And that has been on show every day here at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

The 36-year-old Mirza’s swansong took place on Tuesday night, when she played the final doubles match alongside American Madison Keys, and lost to defending champions Veronika Kudermetova and her new partner Liudmila Samsonova.

It was a difficult moment for Mirza, but even more difficult for Keys.

The world No23 was candid in admitting after her upset singles win over fourth seed Caroline Garcia: “I’m really nervous for the doubles match later. Actually, this is the most nervous I’ve probably ever been for any match. It’s gonna be a lot of fun and I’m gonna do my best.”

On Wednesday, Keys said the match was an unforgettable experience.

“That was a little bit tough, but it was also such an amazing experience to be able to play with her last time. It was just really an honour to be a part of it.”

Another player who has had an unforgettable experience with Mirza is former world No1 and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. But before she won the two titles, she lost to the Indian in the first round when she qualified for the Melbourne Grand Slam for the first time.

“I’m a bit sad that she’s retiring. I do feel like she can still play for a few more years. It’s very cool to see her bring her son (Izhaan) to tournaments,” said Azarenka, a fellow tennis mum who travels regularly with her seven-year-old son, Leo.

“I think what she has done for India, and for the region here, is absolutely remarkable. Little girls who didn’t really have a role model before, can now see what’s possible. I think that is priceless. That’s going to be her legacy.”

World No3 Jessica Pegula was almost gushing in her praise for Mirza, who rose to as high as No27 in the WTA Ranking and won one singles and 43 doubles titles.

“I was so sad when she didn’t win the mixed doubles title in Australia (earlier this year). I was like that would have been the perfect story,” said Pegula.

“I just think it’s so cool where she’s come from, being an Indian woman, just kind of defying every single barrier and odd that was thrown at her. It’s incredible.”

France’s Garcia said she was reminded time and again of Mirza’s stature during her travels, and also what she meant for her country.

“Every time when you come across Indian people, if you say you are playing tennis, they always know Sania Mirza even if they don't have a clue about tennis,” said the world No5.

“She brings so much in tennis and in the women’s sport. Being from India, she’s a huge star obviously in tennis, but also just as a person. I think there are very few people who can say they have inspired so many boys and girls in their country.”

Jelena Ostapenko, the defending Dubai Duty Free Tennis champion, wished her all the best for a retired career.

“I think she can be very proud of her career. We know that tennis players are not forever. I think she will have a lot of things to do in life, she’s so popular,” said the Latvian.

“I wish her all the best. She has a super cute kid. I think she is going to enjoy her time a lot after her tennis career.”

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