She’s one of the most iconic athletes in Indian sport and continues to break barriers with every achievement she manages to accomplish on the tennis court.
Sania Mirza is a six-time doubles and mixed doubles Grand Slam champion and was ranked No1 in the world in doubles on the WTA tour.
Teaming up with the Population Foundation of India, Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar and his initiative MARD (Men Against Rape and Discrimination), along with well-known director Feroz Abbas Khan, Mirza and her father Imran Mirza took part in a campaign which aims to end gender bias and violence against women and girls.
In her career as a professional tennis player, Sania has frequently come under fire from the public for not conforming to their own idea of what is appropriate for a woman to pursue in her life.
Imran has been a constant supporter in her corner, and together they speak up in the video above about her journey in professional sport.
“It’s actually happened to me where my own extended family used to tell my parents ‘now she’s 12 years old, she’ll become dark, why are you letting her play tennis?’” said the 30-year-old Sania.
“All my other friends, they slowly kept dropping out, you know others who used to play tennis, because their parents said ‘no, you need to get a 85 per cent, you need to get a 90 per cent’ and I used to feel ‘wow, my parents never say that’. I was never told by anyone in my house that I’m not going to be able to do something because I’m a girl and I’m not going to be able to follow my dream.”
Imran acknowledges that encouraging his daughter to pursue a career in sport was not a typical thing for an Indian father to do but it’s something he’s extremely proud of.
“Being recognised as Sania Mirza’s father is one of the greatest thrills of my life,” he says.
“Way back in 1991 Sania was probably four and a half, five years old, and I was playing tennis and Sania accompanied to the courts there, she was picking balls for us and her two cousins were there and they were bullying her into saying that ‘you can’t play this game, this is for boys’ literally,” he added.
“In a country like India, I think probably that there was a feeling that a girl is someone else’s property – at some point she’s going to get married… I would hear there were people talking about the fact that she was a girl, she shouldn’t be playing tennis and she shouldn’t be playing a sport.
“Probably that’s where we were a little bit different because I know there are families where they wouldn’t put in this kind of time and effort if it was a girl and they might have done that for a boy.”
Sania explains that to this day, she faces gender discrimination.
“It’s not just about ill-treating a woman, it’s not just the extreme stuff. Gender issues are everywhere in the world. At the WTA, we have to fight for equal prize money till today. I won Wimbledon last year, and I came back and I was asked straightaway, two days later, that ‘oh, when are you planning to have kids?’ I mean, now I’ve been married for six years, that for me is a very big discrimination,” said Sania, who is married to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik.
“There is a conditioning of where people feel that if you’re a girl then you’re going to learn how to cook, and you’re going to get married, and then you’re going to have a kid, and then your life is complete.
“To make the situation better, it doesn’t happen if I alone do it, or my dad alone does it, it happens when there’s a movement, there’s a change in thinking and that’s a cultural change that needs to come.”
Watch the video above to hear more from Sania and her father Imran. The video is part of a series of films to be released digitally to generate debate and promote positive change in cultural and social norms around the value of women in India.
Australia’s Daria Gavrilova is quite the character both on the court and off it.
The 23-year-old, who reached a career-high ranking of 21 in June, attended the WTA Pre-Wimbledon Party at the Roof Gardens in Kensington, London last month, where she some Sport360 Rapid Fire Round questions.
Who would Gavrilova like to play her in a movie? And what’s her hidden talent? The Aussie tells all in the video above.
I heard what John McEnroe said recently, that Serena Williams would be ranked “like 700 in the world” if she played on the men’s tour.
This is a typical judgment comment which I don’t understand. Why are they pushing so hard to compare men’s and women’s tennis? Of course it’s two different sports because a man is a man and a woman is a woman but at the end of the day, it’s the same job, same sport, we practice probably as much as the men do, do as much running, lifting, gym, sacrifices, traveling…
This of course always leads to the topic of equal prize money. I personally don’t know all the ins and outs to this. It’s a way bigger topic that has a business side to it; it’s not just about tennis.
I understand that the men’s tour has an amazing generation at the moment, with amazing, not champions, but legends, like Rafa (Nadal), and Roger (Federer)… but at some point when those guys are going to leave… I don’t doubt that there are upcoming new stars for sure, but I heard this from a retired WTA player, she said that at some point in history, WTA was more attractive than the ATP – I’m not going to say names from the generation she was referring to – it was for sure not the same as right now with Rafa, Roger, Murray, Djokovic, Stan, all those guys.
So for the ATP, there’s a huge difference between the past 10 years for them and the period before that.
I’m not sure it’s going to happen to have another Roger Federer, or another Serena Williams. Why would you compare? There are some women’s matches between two interesting players that are more interesting than two unknown men. And people would prefer to watch that women’s match than the men’s one. And then it can be exactly the other way around.
It depends on the day, the schedule, the draws… there are so many women’s players who are unknown, they’re not very charismatic, but I would say there are as many players like that on the men’s tour too.
Without giving names, but I can easily find male players I myself would never pay a ticket to go and watch them. But on the other hand there are also many that I would love to watch, and I find the same on the women’s side.
I’m a woman and of course I will support female athletes and always say that we have to be respected. Nowadays we have equal prize money at Grand Slams but not on the tour.
I don’t know what exactly the argument is. At Slams, the argument was they are playing best-of-five and we are playing best-of-three, but the rest of the year on the tour they play the same format as we do.
I know it’s a business, I’m not trying to say yes, we deserve as much as them, because I’m not aware, business-wise, who’s bringing in more money and why. I don’t know.
If Simona Halep for example meets another great player in Bucharest, it’s going to be huge, or me at the French Open, people are going crazy for my matches, so don’t tell me that it doesn’t affect anyone or that people aren’t interested, because that’s not true.
Of course if it’s an unknown player it’s not the same proportion so I don’t know how to answer that question. But of course we will all defend women’s rights and be supportive because at the end of the day it’s the same sport, same sacrifices, same work…
It’s been quite an eventful time on tour recently and I heard about Dan Evans testing positive for cocaine. I’ve been asked if I think players who have failed tests for taking recreational drugs should be treated just as harshly as others who have taken performance-enhancing drugs.
For me, recreational drugs are forbidden for us. I never touched these things, maybe others like it, or they’re doing it for fun, but we’re professional athletes, we are public persons, our job involves lots of sacrifices, it’s not only about waking up, going to work, hitting the ball and practicing.
It’s also a lot of codes you have to respect. Whether it’s rules during a match, or rules outside of the court, what you’re allowed to do or not, or the respect you have to have towards your opponent, the umpire… those are codes you have to adhere to. You decided you want to do this job and you have to follow them. It’s as simple as that.
*This column was done via an interview with Kristina Mladenovic. It has been slightly edited for clarity.