NEW DELHI:A glorious 20-year-long career came to an end on Tuesday as Sania Mirza played her last match as a professional tennis player at the WTA Dubai Tennis Championships. The Indian tennis star has played a key role in giving a boost to tennis, specially women tennis, in the country.
There was no fairytale ending on offer for Mirza as she suffered a first-round loss at the Dubai Tennis Championships 2023, her farewell tournament. Mirza had earlier announced that she will retire after the WTA 1000 tournament in Dubai.
The Indian tennis player and her American women’s doubles partner Madison Keys lost their first-round encounter 4-6, 0-6 to Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova at the Dubai Tennis Stadium.
The Indian tennis player’s pursuit of excellence led her to numerous accomplishments in her career including six Grand Slam titles and top spot in the WTA doubles rankings. She became the first Indian woman to enter the top 30 in the WTA singles rankings.
The first big title triumph came in 2009, as she partnered Mahesh Bhupathi to clinch the Australian Open mixed doubles title.
The duo of Mirza and Bhupathi paired up to do India proud yet again three years later, this time on the hallowed clay of Roland Garros. Her third mixed doubles title at the Slams was at the 2014 US Open, partnering Brazilian player Bruno Soares.
The top-seeded duo lived up to their billing and beat USA’s Abigail Spears and Mexico’s Santiago Gonzalez in a final which went into a tiebreaker. In 2015, Sania Mirza partnered with Swiss legend Martina Hingis, with whom she won three back-to-back Grand Slam doubles titles.
Fans dubbed the duo “Santina” after their first Grand Slam victory at Wimbledon in 2015. The pair advanced to the final without dropping a set against the Russian duo of Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina – Sania Mirza’s former partner.
The duo continued in the same vein and seemed almost unstoppable over the course of the next few months as they picked up the US Open 2015 title before starting off 2016 with the Australian Open triumph – marking a hat-trick of Grand Slams.
Despite being a very capable singles player for the first half of her career, recurring wrist injuries forced Sania Mirza to focus solely on doubles in 2013. She won the Hyderabad Open in 2005, becoming the first Indian tennis player to win a WTA singles title.
In mid-2007, she climbed to a career-best 27th in the WTA Singles Rankings, which remains the best tennis ranking held by an Indian in singles to this day.
In doubles, Sania Mirza rose to No. 1 in the WTA Doubles Rankings in April 2015, becoming the first Indian woman to do so. Only Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have reached the top of the ATP doubles rankings. The Indian ace held the number one spot for nearly 21 months before losing it in January 2017.
Representing and winning a medal for the country is a dream every Olympic athlete fosters and Mirza is no different. The Indian tennis star is a four-time Olympian. Mirza competed in her first Olympics in Beijing in 2008.
Due to a wrist injury, she had to retire in the second set of her first round singles match against Czech opponent Iveta Benesova. She and her partner Sunitha Rao were eliminated in the second round of the doubles event.
Mirza and her doubles partner Rushmi Chakravarthi were eliminated in the first round of the 2012 London Olympics after losing to Chinese Taipei’s Chuang Chia-jung and Hsieh Su-wei. She fared better in the mixed doubles, reaching the quarterfinals with Leander Paes before losing to eventual gold medalists Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi.
In her third Olympic appearance, Sania Mirza partnered Rohan Bopanna in mixed doubles and advanced to the semi-finals. The Czech pairing of Lucie Hradecka and Radek Stepanek defeated the duo in the bronze medal match, denying them a podium finish.
In women’s doubles event, Sania Mirza and her partner Prarthana Thombare exited the tournament in the first round after a closely-fought loss to China’s Zhang Shuai and Peng Shuai. At the Tokyo Olympics, Sania Mirza and her doubles partner Ankita Raina didn’t make it beyond the opening round.
Mirza has an incredible eight Asian Games medals, winning at least one in each of the editions she has competed in.
Perhaps her first major achievement representing India at a major global event was at the 2002 Asian Games. The then-15-year-old won bronze in the mixed doubles event with Leander Paes.
Her fortunes improved in the following edition when she won gold in mixed doubles and silver in women’s doubles and the team event at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha.
In Guangzhou, she clinched bronze in women’s singles and added silver from the mixed doubles event and at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, she won gold in mixed doubles again and capped it off with a silver in the women’s doubles.
Due to her accomplishments in tennis, Sania Mirza has been conferred with the Arjuna Award in 2004, Padma Shri in 2006, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna now called the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award in 2015 and the Padma Bhushan in 2016. (ANI)