5 Minutes With… Sania Mirza

by Nicholas McCarvel

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Sania Mirza is one of the most famous tennis players in the world. She’s not a top-10 player, in fact, she doesn’t even play singles. But the 26-year-old is a megastar in her home country of India, having reaching a career high of No. 27 in 2007 and winning one career title in 2005. What’s most impressive is her doubles resume, which includes 16 titles – including the 2007 New Haven Open at Yale. She’ll go for a second NHO title Saturday. We caught up with her before she headed out on court.

New Haven Open blog: So congratulations on reaching your 25th doubles final. That’s awesome! How does it feel?
Sania Mirza: I actually didn’t know that until I won yesterday. It’s been good – it’s been a long almost ten years on tour. I’m excited because I’ve won this tournament once before so I’m excited to be back in the final again.

NHO: Is there one final in particular that sticks out in your mind? One that is extra special for some reason?
Mirza: No. Every final is special on its own. I always say when you lose a final you feel like the biggest loser in the world on that day. You might feel a little better two days later, but on that day you feel really bad because you can’t just walk off the court, you have to stay there and see the other players celebrating, it’s hard. There are some finals you play good and others not so much, but I remember the one final I’ve played here was really good.

NHO: Do you remember your first final? You won in Hyderabad in Indian with Liezel Huber.
Mirza: I do, yes, 2004. I was so young and with Liezel having so much experience really helped me through it. Playing a final is not just about playing it, it’s also about playing through the nerves because you’re playing for a championship. I remember that final well. I was 17 and Liezel really, really helped me.

NHO: Give us an update on the Sania Mirza Academy. It’s something you’ve been working on for a long time and have just started up this year, correct?
Mirza: We opened it three months ago and already have 45-50 kids which is great. The whole idea of the academy is to give back to the sport the best way possible and to me this is the best way that I know to give back my knowledge and experience. I don’t want tennis to go back to where it was ten years ago in India because it’s come far with the help of sport has famous personalities. The cricketers always take center stage, but tennis has become more popular too. I’m trying to help the kids and keep the tennis legacy going and move forward and not backward.

NHO: So we know that you do a lot of photo shoots, but which is harder: a day in front of the camera or a day on the tennis court?
Mirza: They are both very different, I have to say. When I’ve done photo shoots, initially, I thought they were sort of boring because I was so used to being active all day. Photo shoots take a really long time – up to seven or eight hours for each one. I enjoy it though; I enjoy being in front of the camera. When I was younger I loved getting dressed up and having my hair and make up done. But which is harder? Hitting tennis balls for sure. But they’re both fun [laughing].

NHO: We noticed on your Twitter feed that you send out a lot of inspirational quotes. What meaning do they have to you? Do you have a favorite?
Mirza: I like quotes; I’m a pretty emotional person even if I don’t show it. I have a lot of thoughts going on in my head. The quotes that I put out don’t necessarily mean what I’m feeling, but more what I’m thinking about and I like whatever quote that I put out day. It depends on the day and how I feel. It’s a tough tour out here; we’re traveling 30 weeks a year mostly by ourselves, so it can be lonely. You get a lot of time to yourself and to think.

NHO: In the middle of last year you completely stopped playing singles after several knee surgeries. Do you have any plan to going back to singles? Or is it just doubles for the foreseeable future? 
Mirza: It’s one of the hardest decisions I had to make when I stopped playing singles. I pushed my body as much as I could for so many years. Staying top 100 and top 50 for six or seven years really took a toll on my body with singles and doubles. I pushed it to the absolute limit and after my third surgery my body gave in; I was sort of forced to stop playing singles. It was a choice that I had to make to play doubles or play singles for up to a year and worry about getting hurt again. I love tennis too much to go through another surgery and have another hiccup. I’d rather play and set different goals for the next few years in doubles.

NHO: It was hard for you to pick a specific final, but what about one tennis memory in general that sticks out, is there one?
Mirza: A very special memory to me is the junior girls Wimbledon final when I won it with Alisa Kleybanova. We were the last team to get in the draw and we beat the top seeds in the first round and we thought, ‘Oh wow, we actually have a shot at this.’ The next thing we knew we were in the final. To win it on your first shot I think shows pretty good nerves and that’s how we played.

NHO: You also have two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles to your name.
Mirza: The first final I ever played in a Grand Slam was the Australian Open in 2008 and I was completely hurt, but we came back the next year and won it. I had torn my abductor very badly in the match before and Mahesh [Bhupathi] said to me, ‘Let’s not go on the court,’ and I said, ‘It’s my first final, I have to get on the court.’ And he knew me so well that hey knew I wasn’t not going to play and I was going to finish the match. There are so many thoughts that go through your mind at that point, like, ‘Is this the only final I’m ever going to play?’ But we came back and won it the next year. [They won again at the French Open in 2012.]

NHO: Pick one place in the world that you just love playing tennis in.
Mirza: Well, I love playing at Wimbledon, but I also love Indian Wells, too. It’s very quiet and there are the mountains and the desert. We’re there for almost two weeks so it feels very relaxed. I’ve done well there, too. My aunt lives in San Diego, so she’ll drive up and we get to spend time together. I love being with family.

NHO: Well thanks Sania. And good luck to you moving forward!

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