By Ankita Ghosh:
A sensation on the tennis court and quite curiously the same off it, Sania Mirza all of 28 has had a celebrated career ever since she went professional, debuting in 2001. India’s claim to fame in the Doubles circuit, most searched Indian female sportsperson alias Google Trends, Pakistan’s ostensible ‘daughter-in-law’, Mirza has donned many a hat. Reports of her being recommended for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, has been received with timely fanfare. Within hours of its release, her big news has picked up a bigger debate centering on her credibility to feature in the running up to the country’s biggest recognition in the field of Sports. Aside of Cricket, Leander Paes’s individual Olympics win in 1996 had found a favor with the government. Mirza’s recommendation, other than bringing her back in news, has led fans to argue about her career graph and haters to argue against her hemline.
1. Sania Mirza has secured India’s Number 1 rank according to Women’s Tennis Association both in singles as well as doubles. She was former World 27 in singles, at the peak of her career, before pulling out from singles following a wrist injury. She’s currently ranked world Number 1 in doubles.
2. Mirza has crossed the 1 million US dollar mark in career earnings, is privy to 4 doubles titles (1 women’s doubles, 3 mixed doubles), a combined number of 6 Golds in Afro-Asian and Asian Games. She has also received esteemed Civilian honors, Padma Shri and Arjuna Award.
3. A remarkable record as a junior player, unmatched Grand Slam wins, Mirza an offensive baseliner made her Doubles breakthrough in the year 2009 with the Australian Open.
4. After winning the French Open (2012) and US Open (2014), Mirza won her first Wimbledon title in Women’s Doubles category with former World Number 1 Martina Hingis, thereby cementing her professional credentials.
5. She has been named on different occasions among the most influential personalities of South Asia and has an honorary Doctorate of Letters under her belt. Mirza was recently roped in as the brand Ambassador for the newly constituted state of Telengana, and as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia.
Mirza has conspicuously made more news for the wrong reasons than the right ones. Finding herself in the midst of controversies, she has frequently been targeted by religious groups for professional attire or public campaigns. In 2008 after being photographed with her feet up in front of an Indian Flag, Mirza faced a prosecution-scare under Prevention of Insults to National Honor Act. Her personal life has gathered ridiculously unfair amount of flak. Following her 2010 wedding to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, Mirza was attacked by politicians for betraying Nationality, and snubbed again after having been announced brand ambassador for Telengana. In her professional career she has a glaring number of setbacks and has to her disadvantage a prolonged period of struggle during which she kept dismally low form. The 2008-12 window was particularly dull with a series of loses and injuries, eventually making her give up her singles career. By 2013 she was stealthily making her way back to center-court with gaze set on the Doubles domain.
An undisputed achiever nonetheless, claim to an award of such prestige as the Khel Ratna becomes disputed once we pit Sania Mirza’s professional achievements against those of India’s unsung sports heroes that have never been given their fair dues. It is time that the Indian government constitutes more efficient sports bodies, reconsiders its historic tendency of favoritism and creates precedence for recognizing the talented. Few sports aces get away with claiming infinite and often more than their fair share of stardom simply because the state attributes glamour to certain selected fields or because the Ministry wasn’t keeping records of India’s powerhouse.
Update: Sania Mirza’s name, on 13th August 2015, has been officially approved for the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.
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