Iconic, super-girl , the stunning and engaging tennis champ Sania Mirza whose autobiographyt Ace Against Odds released this week, exudes no sense of false pride as she discusses her game,success, marriage, association with Bollywood , present euphoria and future plans with Subhash K Jha
So much glory that you keep bringing to the country , your family and self. Is there a sense of pride?
It feels wonderful! I haven’t only achieved all my dreams, maybe I’ve even surpassed my dreams. Even as a child I always dreamt of being in the position that I am. I mean every kid dreams of being famous, right? I am privileged and honoured that I am one of the chosen ones.
Besides being a sports icon you are also the most glamorous sportsperson in this country. How did that happen?
I don’t know! I didn’t work towards any kind of image. Even if I wasn’t a star or celebrity or whatever, I’d still be the way that I am.Under all the trappings of success I am a normal girl. People tend to forget that celebrities have a normal life that they really want to lead .
Being married to a Pakistani(cricketer Shoaib Akhtar) cannot be easy. How do you manage to keep it going in spite of the hostilities between the two countries?
I think we fell in love without thinking about these things. The last thing that was on my mind when I fell in love with him was his nationality. And I am sure he didn’t think about where I was from.We’ve been bought up to believe people all over the world to be one. We didn’t get married to make a political statement.We got married for no other reason except love.
How did you meet?
What brought us together was our love for sports. The beautiful thing about sports is it dissolves disputes and borders. Which is why when I’ve kids I want them to go into sports. Sports teaches you there are no differences across cultures, colours, religion or borders.
How you keep the long-distance marriage going?
Long-distance or not, no marriage is easy. One has to work on it constantly. At the end of it, it’s all worth the effort because we love each other. As for the practical differences we knew what we were getting into when we were getting married.Our respective careers are our top priority. We are in professions that are very high-maintenance and emotionally driven. Our careers take us all over the world and sometimes it takes us to the same country.There are occasions when I want to be with him, and can’t. And vice versa.A lot of time in our relationship goes into scheduling(laughs).Who wouldn’t want to spend time with the one she loves?
May your marriage last forever!
That’s the plan. Let’s hope so.
But how do you manage to look so glamorous?
I wear what I want to. I feel one can wear a saree and still look good. On the other hand when I am playing tennis I am all muscles, and I am sweating and shedding my blood and tears on the court. Whether I am on the court or at a party I think I express myself in the way that seems most natural to me . People notice the way I dress and behave because I am a star. Even if I wasn’t I’d still behave the same way.
I think you’d have been a star even if you didn’t play tennis?
(laughs) That I don’t know. I do know tennis has given me everything. Having said that, I must confess I am a fun-loving person. I’ve lots of friends in the film industry.And it’s not difficult for me to connect with them.Tennis is my passion. But when I am with my friends we don’t talk about tennis. My friends love me for who I am and not what I do.And the same is true of my equation with them.
Even on the tennis court you’re extremely glamorous?
I really don’t care about how I look when I’m playing. I am completely focused on the game.
You started playing tennis at at the age of 6?!
Yes. It has been an amazing journey so far. If someone had told me, when I started 15 years ago, that this is where you gonna be then I’d have signed up for it right then(laughs).
Don’t you ever feel you’ve had enough tennis?
No,not really. I love the competition that every game poses. Most of all, I love representing my country globally at the highest level of sports. For me that’s a great honour. But let me assure you , the day I wake up and feel I don’t want to head for thetennis court I’ll call it quits.
Girls all across the country and even outside look up to you? Is being iconic a restriction on your freedom?
I think being iconic is definitely a big responsibility. At the same time it is a big honour. To know that so many girls want to be like you is a very flattering thought. But is it restrictive ? Yes, in some ways it is. It does take away my privacy to some extent. However I don’t let myself get too affected by these restrictions. If you’ve followed my career you’d see I’ve always followed my heart. I have always gone with my instincts. I firmly believe if you follow your heart, nothing can go wrong.
And nothing has gone wrong?
Yes(laughs) touchwood. There have been obstacles on the way. But at 28 I am where I am.It’s been an amazing career.I am no.1 in the world.
Do you see youngsters today being as motivated to excel as you?
I’ve been asked many times about who after me in tennis? I don’t know if you know this. But I helm a tennis academy.I do my own bit. But I think change has to be more societal. Girl children in our country are not taught to be career-driven. It’s more about being pretty and gori(fair skinned) and whether the girl can cook properly.Though the mindset has changed over the generations we still have a long way to before the culture of gender discrimination ends in our sub-continent .
You are gori and yet were taught to be career-driven?
Oh ,believe I am far less gori than a lot of my family members. When I was young my aunts and uncles used to worry about who would want to marry me.
Do you think there are enough female athletes coming up in this country?
Not at all.This is where I film like Mary Kom helps. It shows one can be a worldclass athlete and yet have a family and husband and children.
What about the bio-pic on your life?
I don’t know. There have been offers. But I am much too private to let it all out. But who knows in the future? Never say never say again. Who wouldn’t want one’s life to be dramatized by Bollywood ?
You’d have to promise to play Sania yourself?
I can’t promise you that at all.I don’t think I am ever going to act. I’ve had many offers. Each time Sajid Khan makes a film he wants me to do a song . But no.
What does the future hold for you?
At the moment I just want to enjoy being where I am. There are many more dreams to be conquered. Of course I am in the no.1 space right now. But I want to win other grand slams before I retire. I will keep playing tennis until I enjoy it. Outside of that I’d love to see another Sania Mirza come up, if not someone better than Sania.
Do you see any hope of that ?
There are two girls at my tennis academy.There is Prarthana Thombare and there is Ankita Raina. Both in the early 20s. And very promising.
How come your success hasn’t gone to your head?
Oh a lot of people say I’m arrogant.I don’t have too many friends. The ones that I have are very close to me. As a celebrity in this part of the world you have to build a wall around you.
Your magic mantra for success?
Do only the things that you believe in. If you do, you can never go wrong.
Any unfulfilled desires?
None. I’ve pretty much done what I want to do.If I wasn’t the person that I am I wouldn’t have achieved what I have.