I opened the newspaper this morning and turned straight to the sports page. I needed to know what’s happening at Wimbledon. I read two bits of news, both were predictable. Rafael Nadal won his match in a grueling 5-setter; and Sania Mirza lost – again. This time she bowed out of the mixed doubles in the second round, and she drowned with Mahesh Bhupathi. Yes, the same person who had won mixed doubles titles at various Grand Slams with other parthers.
I do not understand India’s obsession with Sania Mirza. Yes, when she broke thru for the first time, it was really commendable. The first woman from India to make it good at tennis tournaments. Yes, she broke into the players ranked in 30’s. But what happened after that? I am not an expert on tennis, but I can safely say that she has made little, if any, progress as far as her tennis goes. She has been slipping in rankings, she has not progressed beyond the fourth round in any Grand Slam, yet she gets adulation in India.
Why don’t we look at Wimbledon this year itself? She lost in the second round in singles, and mixed doubles. She lost in the women’s doubles also in the 3rd round. Sania’s performance at French Open and the Australian Open was also nothing to write home about. So why it is that she is the recipient of so much adulation?
I know people would jump for my throat for whatever I am going to say next, but I need to say it anyways. I might even be called sexist, which I am not, I am saying things as I am seeing them. Sania Mirza’s breakthrough to the world of tennis was commendable. After a few glimpses of promise many moons back, she has faded away. But she has been marketed well. The endorsements that she gets in India, the needless columns that she writes, is more because she is a product now and not a player. Why don’t the press flock to Paes and Bhupathi? They are the champions in the true sense. They have won innumerable slams and look good for winning a few more. But their achievements appear in the Indian media as footnotes after the main tennis news that Mirza has lost again.
Why is there this big thing about celebrating mediocrity? Sania Mirza is, at best, a mediocre tennis player. A player who has not progressed beyond the 4th round of a slam does not deserve any mention unless s/he really does something commendable. And a loss in the second round of a slam isn’t a commendable thing. I know, I know. People will pop-up the questions about cricketers asking, why do the cricketers who lose in the first round of the World Cup get so much adulation then.
Three reasons, really. 1) When the cricketers step out on to that field, they play for India. Sania Mirza walks out as Mirza. 2) This cricket team is capable of winning tournaments and beating the best in business. Mirza is not capable of the same, as far as current form goes. 3) The Tenduklars, Gangulys, Dravids and Kumbles are world class players on merit. Mirza is not. How many, if any, top 10 players has she beaten in her career? The fact that India’s first round exit in the cricket world cup was a shock is ample proof that we expect so much more from this team. Sania crashed out in the first round of the French Open, and I am sure that our reaction was –“ho, hum!! What more do you expect?”. The Indian team had the capability to bounce back and beat South Africa. But Sania, well, she talks and talks and loses by round 2 at Wimbledon.
I wish that the press does a better job of covering tennis. Please give us more news about the real champions, Paes and Bhupathi. Not only have they won many tournaments, and look like winning more, they have also played some wonderful tennis at the Davis Cup, particularly Leander Paes, and played for India with pride and distinction. Paes has won us an Olympic medal and the Lea-Hesh combo has just also won us the Asian Games Gold medal. They have beaten the best in business, be it the Woodies or anybody else. Now, they play with other partners but still are capable enough of winning, and have been winning slams.
I hope we hear a lot more about them and their progress. I really hope Sania matches up to whatever these two big-hearted players have achieved. Till she does, could we please have news about her losses in the foot-notes? Let her win something big or at least reach the last 8 of a slam to merit space on the main page or the headlines. And lastly, a big thumbs-up to her PR and marketing people. They have done a fantastic job of glorifying a loser.