MUMBAI: The life of a professional tennis player moves at a very fast pace. Not as fast as a ‘tracer bullet’, as cricket commentator Ravi Shastri would probably say, but fast for sure. India’s tennis queen Sania Mirza recognises the good and bad side to this feature of her sport, and this is what has helped her move on from the disappointments that have plagued her in 2016. A year which began with her and Swiss ace Martina Hingis going from a near-invincible pair to separate paths. A year which also saw the six-time Grand Slam winner come within a set or a super tie-break of sealing a dream Olympic medal with mixed doubles partner Rohan Bopanna, only to see it crumble.
“It’s been a tough year physically and emotionally, dealing with a lot of things. The Olympic year is always emotionally tougher for athletes,” Mirza told TOI here, shortly after attending the launch of the third season of The Label Bazaar – a fashion exhibition conceived by her sister Anam and brother-in-law Akbar Rasheed.
“While the Olympics were still on, I was playing the final of Cincinnati which was the week after. People were still celebrating or mourning their loss at the Olympics. As tennis players, we don’t really have that liberty. We have to get over wins and losses very fast. I think that’s a good and bad thing,” she added.
The ‘divorce’ with Hingis especially came as a surprise, despite the fact that the duo was struggling to replicate the magic that illuminated a good part of the partnership. The timing of it particularly caught many off guard, bang in the middle of Mirza’s Olympic quest. It sparked the rumour mill to life, making the need for clarity essential, Mirza said. “It was the first day we were going to play in Rio. Somehow the news had leaked out. We had actually split three days before that in Montreal. We had a conversation right after our match in Montreal, literally in the locker room.
“We both felt we were missing that magic we had for that year and a half,” she said of the period which yielded three Grand Slam titles, 11 WTA titles and a remarkable 41-match winning streak. “That’s how the conversation started. So it wasn’t really about one or the other.
“We were actually going to announce it after the Olympics which was the original plan, because we were going to enter tournaments with other people so people were going to find out anyway. But it’s difficult to keep things away from you guys.
“One or two people leaked it and all kinds of things were being said. As usual, people didn’t want to find out facts about what was going on. That’s why the timing felt bad even to us. It was not some big secret but that’s why we had to come out before people started making up more rubbish,” added Mirza.
It didn’t affect the 30-year-old’s medal charge at Rio because she said she was disconnected from social media, a space which she acknowledged as a ‘double-edged sword’. Yet, in the event of her recent exchange with former India cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar, it was the latter who felt the thrust of that sword after his response to a Mirza tweet came across as a backhanded compliment. “It’s happened many times where I go through posts, there will be hundreds of bad posts and I won’t react to it. And there’ll be one that will hit me and I’ll be like ‘isko to main dikhaoongi’,” she said with a laugh.
However, on mentioning a tweet from her in September that was widely interpreted as a counter to Indian tennis’ elderly statesman, Leander Paes, Mirza turned stiff. “I would love to get through an interview without answering a Leander question,” she said when asked if the particular tweet which read ‘The ONLY way to win with a toxic person, is not to play!’ was aimed at the doubles legend who had questioned whether the Mirza-Bopanna pairing was really the ‘best’ mixed doubles option for India to have gone with at the Rio Games. “Not at all. I think people assumed whatever they wanted to.
“Leander is a senior to me. He is someone that we have looked up to growing up. It’s been very obvious that we have all had our differences with each other in that small tennis community that we have had. I’ve also had differences with Mahesh (Bhupathi) but we’ve come back to being friends.
“I respect (Leander) for everything that he has achieved. Whether I wanted to play mixed with him or not is a separate issue altogether. That doesn’t change my respect for him as a tennis player.”