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“I’ll still be around tennis. It’s just not competing” – Sania Mirza signs off after first round loss in Dubai

After six Grand Slam titles and 81 weeks as world No 1, the Indian trailblazer hangs up her rackets

Sania Mirza at the 2020 Australian Open Sania Mirza at the 2020 Australian Open Image Credit: Zuma / Panoramic

India’s Sania Mirza swung her famous forehand in a professional tournament for one final time on Tuesday. The six-time Grand Slam champion and former world No 1 in doubles partnered with her good friend Madison Keys, of the United States, at the Dubai Open – the tournament that Mirza chose as her swansong.

It wasn’t to be a fairytale ending for Mirza as she and Keys went down to Veronika Kudermetova/ Liudmila Samsonova 6-4, 6-0 in the first round. And despite the trend of comebacks in the sport in recent years, the 36-year-old said she has no plans to return to the tour.

“No. No, no, it’s not,” Mirza said when asked if she could change her mind about retirement. “The only reason that I continued to play, because I got hurt right in the middle of the year last year. For me it’s not acceptable – it’s just the person I am – to stop because of something. I want to stop or I want to play because I want to play. Yeah, it’s time for different things. My priorities are different now. I’m just really grateful for everything that I’ve been able to achieve and been able to do in my last 20 years. It’s been a long career. I’m looking forward to the next phase of my life.”

Despite the loss, Mirza said she felt nothing but gratitude for the sport that has brough her so much and plans to remain involved in tennis. “I’m really grateful I have that much respect. I think life’s about new challenges, moving on. I’ve been doing this, like I said, since 2003 professionally. I feel, like I said, a lot of gratitude today. To be able to do this on my own terms, to be able to do it when I’m playing well is great. I’ll still be around tennis. It’s just not competing.”

“I think tennis has really made me who I am. It’s not just in terms of what it made me on the outside but also what it made me on the inside, the person I am. It’s taught me so much. It also I think in a larger scale made people believe that you can in a sport like tennis earn a living and be very successful, earn a name, and do what you love. I think maybe that belief was missing about 15, 20 years ago. I think that’s what tennis brought to me in the last 20 years that I’ve given to it. It’s also given me back twofolds.”

Known for being forthright and speaking her mind, Mirza said she wants her authenticity to be part of her legacy.

“I tried to stay as true as possible. That’s a legacy I want. I think we’re all put here for a bigger reason than just hitting tennis balls or winning tennis matches. We’re really chosen to be here where you’re able to make an impact, you’re able to make a difference in some way. You should make a difference. If that means standing up for the right, standing up for the good, what you believe the world needs to get better at, then that’s what it is. I want that also to be part of my legacy.”

While India searches for the next tennis superstar, Mirza wants young girls back in her country and all across the world to take a page of her own life and become their own biggest cheerleaders.

“As little girls, especially young girls who choose to do something that’s outside of the box in our part of the world, we are often told we cannot do something rather than we can. It was no different for me. It’s no different for a lot of young girls who choose to do things that are not really what society expects them to do as a young woman. I just want to tell them that you have to back yourself and believe in yourself. If you are not your biggest cheerleader, nobody else is ever going to believe in you. No matter how many odds you face, how many odds are against you, if nobody’s even ever done it before, whatever path you choose, believe that you can do it. I think it’s very, very important to have that belief in yourself.”

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