Saturday, February 12, 2005

Can Sania Do It?

In a few hours from now, the final of the WTA Hyderabad Open would have been played and there could be history in the making. That is, if Sania Mirza can hold her nerve and put it past her Ukrainian opponent Alyona Bondarenko. I must admit I never even dreamed of an Indian winner of a WTA event, even a small event such as the one in Hyderabad. Coming on the heels of Narain Karthikeyan securing a position as one of two drivers for Jordan in the coming Formula-1 season, a win for Sania would cap quite a week for Indian sport. God knows there haven't been many such. Having followed Sania's results over the last year, I have a gut feeling she will take this. Needless to say, she'll have more than a bit of support. Dare I say, that regardless of the result of the final, her progress will be watched more keenly than that of anyone else in Indian sport since Sachin Tendulkar started making his mark in the world arena. Her telegenic appeal will ensure constant media attention - she will not only have an impact on young girls aspiring to play tennis, but young boys around the country as well, many of whose walls she would no doubt adorn! As Harsha Bhogle rightly points out, she and her family will have to be on guard. Fame attracts many characters, some of them potentially unsavoury. Ask Mohammed Azharuddin, another Hyderabad sports idol, who was among the crowd at the Open. I've never seen the world of sport from up close, but I can imagine the pressures Mirza and Karthikeyan would have to deal with (hey, most of us just struggle with our routine jobs!). After all, they carry the burden of expectations of an entire nation. Thankfully though, the pressure on them will be much lesser than it would be if they were cricketers. Their failures would be more easily forgiven, more quickly forgotten. I salute the efforts of Krishan and Mahesh Bhupathi, who run Globosport (which, not coincidentally also manages Sania), in making this tournament happen. Mahesh was also instrumental in roping in Martina Navratilova and the legend's presence would have no doubt lifted the profile of this fledgling event. I had goosebumps when I saw Martina just behind me in the Channel 7 commentary box at the Rod Laver Arena. It was a shame she couldn't team up with Leander this year because of Leander's illness. There are also the Chinese doubles pair of Ting Li and Tiantian Sun, one of the world's best, and shock winners of the Olympic gold. A word of praise for the Andhra Pradesh government, and in particular the former Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, would not be out of order. Happily, the new dispensation did not decide this was one of the Naidu initiatives they had to undo. For the moment, though, let's just cheer Sania on. - NK

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