Monday, February 14, 2005

Wk.6 - An Indian Supernova?

Don't look now, but there might just be an Indian Supernova in our midst. Her name? Sania Mirza.

Until recently, the most popular Indian celebrity in the world has likely been Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, dubbed by some "the most beautiful woman in the world." Don't look now, but the world of tennis has produced her teenaged sporting equivalent in the 18-year old Mirza. The WTA's "Indian Princess" provided further evidence of her ascendency this weekend in her hometown of Hyderabad, where she walked away with her first career tour singles title.

Already adored back home, where she's breaking barriers for Muslim females in both her country's sports establishment, as well as society in general, Mirza's burgeoning tennis career can't help but continue to do wonders for the self image and perception of India's Muslim women. In this particular "Supernova's" case, her success is about far more than simply ironically rising forth from a Siberian birthplace to take a place amongst a sport's elite (though the Sharapova-esque mobile phone and cosmetic ads are in Mirza's present and future plans). Here, there's some real, honest good that can take place because of the exploits of a teenaged girl who's athletically adept with a tennis racket in her hand... and it doesn't simply begin with the "untraditional" Muslim attire she wears on the court, or end with her appointed role as ambassador for the "Save the Girl Child" campaign, which promotes equal treatment of boys and girls in India.

For a little insight into what the rise of Sania means in her home country, take a look at this article.

Just a few weeks ago, Mirza went into the Australian Open with the likes of well-regarded tennis commentator Mary Carillo (ESPN) saying she didn't even know who she was. After becoming the first Indian woman to win two matches in a grand slam, and then keeping her wits in a 3rd Round encounter with Serena Williams, even staying with her groundstroke for groundstroke for a while in the 2nd set, Mirza made a nice case for never being overlooked again. Of course, her tour-leading six ITF titles last season had already made her a name to watch (and, yes, she did win a Backspin "Fresh Face" award back in Week 42 of '04). Victories last week over the likes of Jie Zheng, Maria Kirilenko and Alyona Bondarenko (in the final) to celebrate her career's most recent high point in her hometown only takes her game up to another level... and gives her another "first," since she's the first Indian woman to ever win a WTA event.

Under the watchful eyes of her parents (no Damir in sight here, or even a Yuri -- see the "Link of the Week" below), and mentor Krishna Bhupathi, father of ATP pro Mahesh, Mirza harbors dreams of a Top 10 ranking. Time will tell whether her talent allows such a climb (she was #134 heading into Hyderabad), but her ability to maintain her confidence and focus under pressure and, conceivably, in potential danger (she was playing in an under-14 junior event in Pakistan in '99 when an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked in Kandahar, yet still managed to play out the event before leaving for home) bodes well.

Against Bondarenko, a nervous start (three DF and going down 0-2) turned into a gradually strengthening game as Mirza battled to a 3rd set. She even thought she'd won the title at one point, and began to celebrate before learning the call hadn't actually gone her way. She ended up getting her serve broken in that game, then had to wait through a changeover before getting another opportunity to serve for her country's inaugural WTA celebration. This time, she did everyone proud.

So, remember her now. It's S-A-N-I-A M-I-R-Z-A. "Princess Sania," if you will. Look out, world. She's ready to make a name for herself.
**PARIS, FRANCE (II-GSI)** S: Dinara Safina d. Amelie Mauresmo 6-4/2-6/6-3 D: Benesova/Peschke d. Medina-Garrigues/Safina ==============================
**HYDERABAD, INDIA (IV-HO)** S: Sania Mirza d. Alyona Bondarenko 6-4/5-7/6-3 D: Yan/Zheng d. T.Li/Sun ==============================


...the combustible Russian 18-year old had a grand week in Paris, thanks to Serena Williams withdrawing from their QF match due to illness. But Safina's wins over the likes of Karolina Sprem, Vera Douchevina, Tatiana Golovin and Amelie Mauresmo in the final more than make up for the match that she never had to play en route to winning her third (and biggest) career WTA title. ============================
RISERS: Zi Yan & Jie Zheng
...China's best doubles team knocked off its second-best, Ting Li/Tian Tian Sun, in the Hyderabad final. In so doing, Yan/Zheng becomes the tour's first two-time title-winning duo in 2005 (they also won in Hobart). ============================
SURPRISE: Alyona Bondarenko
...the 20-year old from Ukraine, ranked #102, defeated Melinda Czink and got a walkover from Anna-Lena Groenefeld before finally losing in three sets to Mirza in the Hyderabad final, her best WTA result to date. ============================
VETERAN: Maggie Maleeva
...not a great deal of success from the vets this week, though Kveta Peschke won the doubles in Hyderabad and Silvia Farina Elia reached the Paris QF (and double-bageled Koukalova in the 1st Round). But I'll go with Maleeva, who also reached the Paris QF before going down to Amelie Mauresmo, mainly for her dismantling (6-4/6-0) of Jelena Jankovic in the 2nd Round. ============================
FRESH FACES: Sania Mirza & Maria Kirilenko
...the Indian Princess became her country's first-ever WTA champ, of course. On her way there in Hyderabad, Mirza took down Kirilenko in the SF. But the Russian Supernovette deserves a mention for following up her '04 RU in the event by knocking off #1-seeded Na Li. ============================
DOWN: Na Li & Jelena Jankovic
...since I can't give the award to the Paris fans, who missed out on Serena/Supernova V because of a flu bug, these two will share it. So far in '05, Li isn't looking like that Great Chinese Hope. As the #1 seed in Hyderabad, she was the only player who made the QF who'd ever won a WTA title before Saturday's final, yet she still wasn't able to show that she's got championship stuff outside her own country's borders. Jankovic is looking like that other Jelena (what's her name again?), as she's off to a slow 5-5 start on the season and was crushed 0-6 by Maleeva on her way out of the Paris 2nd Round last week.


...It's a Sania-palooza this week! Yes, it's another Asian tennis revolution on the WTA tour, albeit a single-player one starring none other than the Indian Princess herself. Here's a few links to stories about her family's role in her success, plus a bit more: here and here and here.

1.Hyd F--Mirza d. A.Bondarenko
...6-4/5-7/6-3. And away she goes.
2.Paris F--Safina d. Mauresmo
...6-4/2-6/6-3. You know it's a weird week when Mauresmo is the healthiest top player in the draw. But you also know it's not SO weird the results are unrecognizable, since Mauresmo still found a way to lose in Paris. We've certainly seen THAT before.
3.Hyd Doub.F--Yan/Zheng d. T.Li/Sun
...6-4/6-1. The top two teams of Cookies faced off, and it was Yan/Zheng who had the good "fortune."
4.Hyd QF--Kirilenko d. Na Li
...6-4/6-3. No wonder Kirilenko is the Supernova's favorite Russian.
5.Paris SF--Safina d. Golovin
...6-1/4-6/7-6. They'll meet again in the 1st Round in Antwerp, with the winner facing Myskina.
HM--Hyd 2r--Pelletier d. Peer
...6-4/6-3. So much for Peer's "breakthrough." But it WAS the Canadian Pelletier's first career WTA QF appearance.


==2005 1st-TIME CHAMPS==
Jan...Jie Zheng (Hobart, age 21/China)
Jan...Ana Ivanovic (Canberra, age 17/Serbia)
Feb...Sania Mirza (Hyderabad, age 18/India)

17y2m1w Ana Ivanovic (Canberra)
17y9m3w Maria Sharapova (Tokyo TPP)
18y3m0w Sania Mirza (Hyderabad)
18y9m2w Dinara Safina (Paris)

#134 Sania Mirza (Hyderabad)
#100 Ana Ivanovic (Canberra)
#87 Katarina Srebotnik (Auckland)
#82 Jie Zheng (Hobart)



...okay, I see. So the Backspin predicted champion in Paris (Sharapova) gets sick before playing a match and pulls out of the tournament. With a "new" draw, a "new" player (Serena) takes her place as the Paris pick. She wins a match, then gets sick and pulls out of the tournament. It's just been that kind of season.

04 F: Clijsters d. Farina Elia
05 TOP: Mauresmo/Myskina ==============================
SF: Mauresmo d. Molik; Myskina d. V.Williams
FINAL: Myskina d. Mauresmo

...Mauresmo and Myskina are two of the best indoor players, so it seems a decent bet. The Czarina's gotten off to a slow start, but she has to right herself sometime, right?

04 F: Zvonareva d. Raymond
05 TOP: Zvonareva/Frazier
SF: Linetskaya d. Zvonareva; Vaidisova d. Spears
FINAL: Vaidisova d. Linetskaya

...Linetskaya has been making a habit of defeating better-known teen stars this season (and already has a win over Vera the Almost).

04 F: Zuluaga d. Sanchez Lorenzo
05 TOP: Zuluaga/Pennetta ==============================
SF: Zuluaga d. Sanchez Lorenzo; Pennetta d. Czink
FINAL: Zuluaga d. Pennetta

...ah, the first the red clay event of the season. So, who the hell knows what'll happen? But Zuluaga's already won her hometown tournament three years running, so...

All for now.


Post a Comment

<< Home