Before meeting Sania Mirza for a fleeting interview, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect — the personality I’d gotten to know from her autobiography, Ace Against Odds, the tough on-court gritty tennis player we’ve all learned to know and love? The one who’s had more comebacks than she can almost keep track of! (With her 3 Grand Slams back-to-back with the Australian Open this year, quite the epic moment; not to mention her World Number 1 ranking in doubles.)

Well, this 29 year old has some major aces up her sleeve and navigates the off-court space completely at ease, calling a spade a spade, and more than holding her own in several interviews. She’s clearly learned how to deal with press questions the hard way, and there’s no holding her back. I was quite enthralled by her book Ace against Odds, (almost despite myself!) and read it straight through one rainy afternoon. 

Meeting her, I’m impressed how composed, self-contained and sharp she is — talking about having to grow up very much in the public eye; how it’s not just women in India, but women world-wide who are struggling just that little bit more than men, in what’s essentially still a man’s world. She brings up the Jennifer Aniston piece slamming body-shaming; Venus Williams paving the way for pay parity in the tennis space… We also talk about Serena Williams and her awesome and apt comment about how instead of calling her one of the world’s best women athletes, people should be saying best athletes, period.

She brings up the Jennifer Aniston body-shaming mess; Venus Williams paving the way for pay parity in the tennis space; we talk about Serena Williams and her awesome comment about how instead of calling her one of the world’s best women athletes, we should be saying best athletes, period.

 

Ace Against Odds: The Sania Mirza Autobiography
Ace Against Odds: The Sania Mirza Autobiography

It’s hard sometimes to realise how sexist we all are; how much we expect from women in the public space, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the way we’ve collectively objectified, denigrated, loved, hated, loved to hate, Sania Mirza, discussing her off-court and on-court life with a casual disregard for her personal space, or for the incredible laurels she’s won. As an Indian.

She won’t let you forget it either — it’s all there in black and white, the painful moments, the skewering by the media, the unending pressure, the controversies, and the obsession with her personal life, choices, fashion sense, and so on. There’s not much truck with the media’s role — or at least some members of the media — though one can sense the restraint. She’s holding back a little!

She won’t let you forget it either — it’s all there in black and white, the painful moments, the skewering by the media, the unending pressure, the controversies, and the obsession with her personal life, choices, fashion sense, and so on. 

It’s amazing how candidly she writes about how opinionated women seem to make people uncomfortable; and I can’t help but think how poorly it reflects on people who say how “arrogant” or worse, “aggressive” she is. She’s an athlete, a world-class tennis player. If she’s not going to be aggressive and go for the wins, then pray tell, what is the point? 

Oh, that’s right, she’s also off to the Olympics shortly, representing India one more time — a far cry from the controversial London Olympics of 4 years ago, where she was almost a pawn in an appeasement strategy, at a time that Indian tennis’ uglier side was on open display — egos and messy battles and all.

And for the record — no arrogance on display here. Just a very smart, sharp, self-contained 29 year old, who’s packed a hell of a lot into her young life… and sounds like she’s just getting started.

Kudos to Sania Mirza, as we cheer you on at Rio!

Ace Against Odds is the autobiography of Sania Mirza, written with Imran Mirza and Shivani Gupta, published by HarperCollins India