from breakthrough ’05 to record-breaking ’15

Tennis


Sania Mirza, India’s greatest women’s tennis player, announced at this year’s Australian Open that 2022 will be her final season on tour. The Australian Open has always held a special place in her career – it was after all the venue of her first Grand Slam appearance, as well as where she won her first Major.

The 35-year-old subsequently played her final match at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, exiting in the mixed doubles quarter-finals after a first-round loss in women’s doubles.

From an Indian context, tennis will lose one of its greatest stars. Mirza owns virtually every milestone in women’s tennis for India and was ranked as high as No 27 in singles and was the doubles No 1 for a total of 91 weeks. She won six grand slam titles in doubles.

With her booming forehand as the primary weapon and an aggressive return of serve, she played a fiery and eye-catching brand of tennis in her early years. Her attacking winners and angles made her an even bigger threat in doubles, which is where she had her best results.

Now, as she prepares to hang up her tennis shoes, here’s a look back at the major highlights of her storied career:

Junior Wimbledon title and Asian Games medal at 15

Mirza had shown her immense potential as a junior. She played her first ITF event in 2001, won three singles and one doubles title in 2002 along with an Asian Games bronze medal in the mixed doubles (partnering Leander Paes) at only 15. The next year she played her first WTA main draw at Hyderabad as a wildcard and won the Girls’ Doubles title at Wimbledon (partnering Alisa Kleybanova)

In 2004, she won her first WTA doubles title (partnering Liezel Huber) at Hyderabad.

Breakthrough 2005 season

In her first Top 100 season, the then 18-year-old made her Grand Slam debut as a wildcard in the Australian Open and made the third round (where she lost to Serena Williams), won India’s first WTA singles title (the Hyderabad Open) and broke new ground by reaching the fourth round at US Open, going down to the then world No 1 Maria Sharapova.

All this meant that she became the first Indian to be named the WTA Newcomer of the Year.

First Grand Slam title

The 2009 Australian Open, with Mahesh Bhupathi. The pair were wildcard entrants and beat Nathalie Dechy and Andy Ram 6-3, 6-1 in the final.

The Australian Open had also been where she reached her first Major final, a year previously (2008). Back then, she and Bhupathi had lost to Sun Tiantian and Nenad Zimonjic 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the final.

The magic Santina run of 2015-16

Apart from her trailblazing career as India’s leading singles player, Mirza will best be remembered as one half of one of the most prolific WTA doubles teams of all time. Her singles career was hampered by injury and she switched exclusively to doubles in 2013, where she rose through the ranks to spend 91 weeks as the world No 1.

The most prolific phase of her career came when she played with Switzerland’s Martina Hingis – the pair affectionately dubbed Santina. In 2015 – her first season as world No 1 – Santina went 55-7 in 16 events, winning nine titles. The biggest of these were the women’s doubles trophies at Wimbledon and US Open. The 2016 Australian Open made it three Slams in a row.

The WTA doubles team of the year in 2015, the pair started the 2016 season with 19 straight wins, adding to their previous record for a 41-match win-streak, which was the third best run in women’s doubles history. But later that year Mirza and Hingis announced their mutual decision to split and eventually the India’s doubles performance graph dipped.

Later in the year, she came close to an Olympic medal at Rio, but finished fourth in mixed doubles (with Rohan Bopanna).

She still had sporadic success with various partners but didn’t have the same consistency and a knee injury and then maternity break saw her take a break from the game in 2018.

Success on return from maternity break

Mirza returned to the sport after her maternity break in 2020 and won a doubles title in her first tournament back (partnering Nadiia Kichenok) at the Hobart Open. An injury to the Indian, though, ended their run at the Australian Open that year early.

One of her career highlights came in March 2020, when she helped India reach their first-ever Fed Cup playoffs (now Billie Jean King Cup) after the team finished second in the regional Asia/Oceania Group I qualifiers. Mirza and Ankita Raina teamed to finish unbeaten across three crucial deciders. She was playing the tournament after four years, her contribution vital for a young Indian team.

Her latest title came in September 2021, when she won her 43rd doubles trophy (in 64 finals) at the Ostrava Open with Shuai Zhang.

She may well add to her trophy cabinet on this farewell tour, but no matter how her 2022 season goes, Sania Mirza leaves tennis as a true superstar.



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