Statistically, Sania Mirza may be no match for all-time greats like Serena Williams, but it’s hard to overstate the tennis star’s impact on sport in India, especially for women.
Her black hair tied in a quick bun, Mirza’s dark eyes focused across the net on Tuesday, as she bounced the ball three times before serving, her iconic nose pin glinting with every move.
She was playing against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova at the WTA Dubai Duty Free Championships – hundreds of spectators, many of them fans from India, packed the courtside seating to watch her “last dance”.
Mirza and her partner Madison Keys lost the first round match in straight sets, drawing the curtains on her 20-year professional tennis career.
With six Grand Slam doubles titles under her belt, Mirza is easily India’s most successful tennis star.
Over the decades, she’s won 43 major career titles, becoming the first ever Indian to make number one in the WTA doubles rankings, a feat achieved in 2015.The devotion of Mirza’s fans has remained unrivalled, surviving triumphs by her opponents and injuries that dogged her over the years. Her best run came in 2015 when she and Martina Hingis won 16 titles, including three grand slams, ranking them the greatest women’s doubles pair of all time.But Mirza’s story is special because she made it as a professional sportswoman, despite the odds being stacked against her. Born in 1986, she grew up in the southern city of Hyderabad at a time when tennis as a profession was only for the wealthy.