The tennis star who hopes to bring home Olympic gold next year, lends her voice for women’s rights and does not mind leaving a personal touch on social media. By Manju Latha Kalanidhi & N Jagannath Das
Sometimes, all you need to describe a person are three words, and Sania Mirza, the Queen of Tennis, describes herself beautifully on her Twitter profile – “Dreamer.Believer.Doer. Even against all odds.” 2015 seems to have been a great year for the Hyderabadi girl, who was ranked world number one in Women’s Doubles, won two Grand Slams, and has been listed in BBC’s 100 women of 2015 and is in the process of choosing her mixed doubles partner for the 2016 Olympics. She is also the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia, runs the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy, endorses top brands and visits the Taj Mahal in her private jet. Her career earnings have crossed $5 million. ‘So what’s left to achieve?’ we ask the 29-year-old star. “To be honest, I can hang up my tennis racquet today. But I want to play for the sheer joy of playing. After winning five Grand Slams, I want to win seven. There is no end to a sportsperson’s greed,” she laughs, while speaking to us at her home in one of the the leafy lanes of Hyderabad’s upmarket Film Nagar. Two SUVs labelled ‘Sania Mirza Tennis Academy’, are parked in front of her house. We also spot three black SUVs whose number plates read ‘1’ in her portico. Over a dozen flower bouquets are scattered across her drawing room (her birthday was on November 15) that is also dotted with MF Husain paintings, ceramic plates, chandeliers, crystal goblets and two ready-to-play chess boards. Our host instructs her butler to give us a ‘bhagair shakkar wala chai’ or sugarless tea.
Writing the future
“I used to play in courts made of cow dung. There was no hard court or anyone to practise with, and none to benchmark myself to. Today, the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy (30 kms from Hyderabad) is adding value to the game. In the next 10 years, we are probably going to have more tennis champs from such academies. Both in my personal and professional capacities, I think I have managed to fill in the gaps. Children still don’t say they want to become tennis stars when they grow up, but hopefully they will think of tennis as a career once they turn teenagers. I do have a sense of fulfillment and pride that I have been a part of motivating girls to choose sports,” she says.
All about the biopic
Mirza’s birthday selfie with director Farah Khan has got the media asking her if there is a biopic on her in the making. “You media guys! Someone asked me who should play me if a biopic was ever made. So I randomly said Deepika Padukone since she was an athlete and if she is busy, perhaps Parineeti. The next thing I see is news that a biopic is being made on me with Parineeti in the lead and Farah Khan as the director. Farah and I had a good laugh,” is her retort. Mirza is aggressive and athletic on the court. But one wonders if she has anything like adventure sports on her bucket list. “No way! I am scared of two things – the ocean and heights. What’s worse, I have to face my fears four times a week, flying over an ocean. My bucket list would include sleeping for 30 days in a row in my own bed and to be able to take out clothes from my own closet, and not a suitcase. I haven’t been able to do this since I was 13,” she says.
No wonder then, that her birthday, that included nothing but selfies, TV and a long brunch, is her idea of ‘perfect’. She flew to Mumbai with her mom to catch up with Farah Khan and said, “We just vegetated. We were home, dressed in pajamas, eating everything – no calorie counting on my birthday – watching Big Boss. I spent the evening with my close friends in Bollywood. The next day I had a long brunch and flew back to Hyderabad.”
The only thing Mirza cribs is the amount of travel she has to do and the constant scrutiny of the media. “Some people are stars in the South and some in the North. But I am fortunate to be a star of the country. The downside is that every mistake of mine is highlighted. But I’ve been famous since I was 13 and I’ve gotten used to this,” she says.
About girl power
About her role as the Ambasaddor of Telangana last year, Mirza says, “The goal was to bring Telangana onto the world map and tell the world who we are and where we are. It’s a great honour to represent 13 million people. Thankfully my recent wins told the world about Sania from Telangana.” But the role she really seems to be enjoying is being the brand ambassador for UN for women’s rights. “As a woman, I had to fight a lot of odds. Although we talk about equality, we all know it’s a man’s world. I do have a responsibility and I feel my voice is heard. I would love to see a violence-free world where women can be safe and happy. On the Mission Sapne show recently, I met an acid attack victim. She almost died but she is supporting her family. After seeing her, I felt that if you have the voice, you should speak out. Female foeticide and infanticide are causes I think we need to fight for. My parents are proud of me. I hope more parents will value their girl children.”
Between her games, wins, practice sessions and public appearances, Sania never forgets her fans. She ensures she interacts with them everyday through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “I love to keep it a bit personal. My thoughts, my random selfies, my wins, my tears… it is all there,” says Mirza, dismissing the idea of acting, despite her Instagram posts with Shah Rukh Khan. “Many say I am good in interviews and TV shows. But in those shows, I am myself, sharing my experiences. I would be making a fool of myself if I think I can act. So SRK, hold the movie for now,” she says with a chuckle. And like Hyderabadi cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin, would she consider politics? “I have no plans now, but I always say, ‘never say never’,” admits Mirza, who has 3.17 million fans, 25k likes and hundreds of retweets in a minute.
Unwinding in Hyderabad: My home. I live in the middle of the city, but my home feels like an ashram. I never hear a honk or the commotion outside
Party select: It used to be Touche (Banjara Hills) which is closed now. In Mumbai it’s AER Lounge or Farah Khan’s house where we meet up
buddy list: Anil Kumar Yadav and Luvraj Bhale Rao. Both are like Rakhi brothers to me. And Rakshanda Khan, a friend for 14 years now
New Year plans: I don’t work and take three days off. Last year, I went to Coorg with Rohan Bopanna and two other friends. I don’t know what I am doing tomorrow, so not sure what I will do this year
Favourite brands: Zara, Ted Baker, Gucci – as a woman, you should never restrict yourself to one brand when there is so much choice
Recent restaurant visit: Noha by Four Seasons
Song on loop: Hello by Adele
Recent movie: Spectre
Last holiday: At home. I had a bad back spasm last week and was forced to lie in bed as I could not sit or stand. That counts as a holiday too, right?
Mantra in life: Que Sera Sera