Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sania Mania - What lies beneath

The hype and hoopla surrounding Sania Mirza typifies what is wrong with Indian sports and reflects some serious loss of perspective. Even the thespians, I dare say are caught up in this fantasy – the fantasy of India having a potential Grand Slam winner in Sania Mirza. I do not claim to be an expert in tennis but I have been an avid follower of the game for a long time – long enough to have seen a number of precocious talents burning out and a select few making it to the top echelons of the game. From recent memory, I can recollect a match between Serena Williams and the little known Angela Haynes who was dishing out winners more frequently than fries in McDonalds. Anybody who saw that match would vouch that Haynes has the tools to make it big - they just need to be harnessed. Likewise for Sania. I do not discard (wouldn't that be sacrilege?) any statements that have been made by our experts - she has a great forehand, she has the required measure of aggression, she has the potential to win a slam and so on. Well, May be. But then, may be not. More of that later. Hopefully, everything that Sania's game promises will be achieved. But it all depends on how Sania's talents are tapped over a period of time and that makes it imperative that she does not lose perspective amidst all the surrounding jingoism. Not surprisingly , the most relevant statement about Sania was made recently by Mats Wilander (who is leading the Swedish Davis Cup team in India) - "The focus should be on becoming a better tennis player. It should not be on winning tournaments and rankings. It is the process that matters. Who knows, she can then be the top-two or the Number 1, or even win a Grand Slam”. Being a seven time grand slam champion, Wilander knows what he is talking about, which, sadly, is not the case with some of our national experts and columnists. Then there is this constant "She's only 18" fixation! Well, aren't they all that age? Graf, Hingis, Venus, Serena, Sharapova and many others were Grand Slam winners before they reached that age - some of them multiple times over. It's not the eighties any more when Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaegar were rareties. With the changing face of tennis, 18 is blooming time or at least close to it. From an Indian perspective, 18 is young but when you talk about winning grand slams you have got to take the global perspective. Sania has got to realize that and stop uttering the utterly defensive "I am only 18" one liner. Coming to Sania's game, let’s dwell on those features that have been hailed by our tennis experts. Firstly, her forehand, which has already been labelled as "great" by all and sundry. "Potentially great" would, perhaps have been a better adjective, though. No single shot in tennis can be called "great" if it cannot break down your opponent’s game. Steffi Graf's forehand and Sampras' serve for example, were weapons which could absolutely mow down opponents. Sania has an explosive forehand but far from being relentless, it is sporadic and inconsistent. That was well highlighted in her recent loss in the Sunfeast open. Secondly, her aggressiveness, which at the moment, is more like Fernando Gonzales, the Chilean with a monster forehand who inevitably ends up having less hits than misses. All these plus more have to be worked upon to make a champion out of the Hyderabad belle. But it would require more than an ouce of perspective to achieve that. The media of course has plummeted to an an all time low. Before Sania's match with Sharapova, there were more lines written about their T-Shirts and danglers than tennis. "The Telegraph" published a "face-off" profile of the two players in which we had things like "favourite movie","favourite song" etc. Excuse me! Are we in Broadway? I thought it was Flushing Meadows. Naresh Kumar, one of our veteran tennis experts, in one of his columns (again in "The Telegraph") expressed elation at Sania making Maria Sharapova "scamper" around the court. Well, Mr. Kumar, with all your knowledge and experience, you should know that it is the final scoreline that matters and not anything else. Rafael Nadal recently scampered his way to the French open crown as had Michael Chang in the past. Kim Clijsters was made to scamper by Venus Williams in the US open this year - but ended up winning it all. Sometimes top players are made to scamper - like Federer was, by Santoro recently - but they end up winning, all the same. I would, in fact go ahead and say that one of Sania's major weaknesses is that she cannot scamper. Far from that, her movement around the court is close to an embarrassment. The kinds of far-fetched comments and coverage that Sania is getting should ideally remain peripheral, but can affect a player in the practical scenario. Especially in a country like India where adulation can get to one's head, if you are as young as Sania is. We do not want Sania to be lured into a delusion about her game and what she has achieved. So why doesn't everybody get out of the fantasy zone for once and get a reality check. Realize that "One forehand does not a champion make"! Or else Sania could end up among the pantheon of Indian sportspersons whose story has been "almost but not quite". And to the media, in Agassi's words "Go buy some perspective"! - BB


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your article on Sania was great.You are absolutely right.Out here in India, media is so hyped I remember they had even done a TV serial on Leader Paes long long back.

4:49 AM  
Blogger Rishi Gajria said...

Another Great Post.
Love your writings on tennis.
And absolutely agree with what you have written.

10:31 AM  
Blogger Adarsh Krishna said...

You can find some more interesting stuff about sania http://www.saniamirzahyd.blogspot.com

--- Adarsh Krishna

2:20 AM  
Anonymous Prasad said...

You are so correct. Leaving media alone, somehow I got a feeling that she is in her real world when I watched her couple of interviews. After all she is in her first year of pro tennis. Rank 30 is not bad for the bebut year. Hope she will continue in the same spirit and fashion to give some real delight to the indian fans.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Yadu said...

Agree, even I have been wondering about all the hype ! Usually you need to win to deserve all this attention. However being the cynic I am,I believe the Sania craze has more to do with markets selling to a need - Young attractive girls to grace their covers to sell. Anna Kournokova comes to the mind as a similar example.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Mridula said...

Enjoyed your post to the hilt. I wrote about the same sometime back. I remember when Sania was to play Sharapova, 84% people on Zee News said she would win! I guess if people are willing to believe anything, newspapers and news channels will continue doing this.

I also feel so bad when someone like Gopi Chand wins All England Badmintion and gets so little publicity (OK, he won it just once, but still it is no mean feat).

9:53 PM  
Anonymous paresh said...

I agree that media has created a hype but i think Sania knows the weaknesses in her game going by the fact that she is hiring well known coaches.

11:00 PM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

Thanks all for your comments. I think there is a general agreement that the hype is over the top. As for age factor that Biswabijoy mentioned, an example is Nicole Vaidisova who is not yet 18 but has won three consectutive titles recently. I guess it's a bit much to expect the media to keep it all in perspective, when they're trying to sell copy.
Paresh, you're right, I read yesterday that she'll be working with Tony Roche to fix her serve, hopefully her serve will improve.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

Mridula, I agree, winning the All-England is the equivalent of winning Wimbledon, to put it in perspective! Badminton is one sport where India could do well, sadly, it has lost favour with the public as well as media.
- NK

12:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow!! Finally somebody said something about the nuisance going around in all the magazines, tv channels and newspapers.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

Thanks everybody for your comments. Well, I believe that print journalism in India is going through an all time low - and Sania's case is just one example. There is a certain Mr. Lokendra Pratap Sahi who seems to have taken up the cudgels for Sourav - well, backing Sourav is one thing, but blatant bias is just not on. And there are many more of his ilk. And yes, people like Gopichand, Rathore and Anju do not get their due.
I sincerely hope that Sania succeeds and attains great heights. Just hope that these press monsters dont get to her head and she keeps her focus.

4:10 AM  
Blogger Gameboys said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:12 AM  

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