“We are a family of four: dad, mum, my younger sister and I. We went to America when I was 4, we lived there for a couple of years, and after we came back to India I started playing tennis because I loved the game but it started out as a hobby; it was not a conscious decision to be a tennis player.” Did the fact that her father was a sport journalist have anything to do with the decision? She denies this vehemently. “No! I think sports have always been very important in our family, though not all have played at the most professional level. We had lots of cricketers in our family, my dad was a good cricketer who played at the university level but he could not pursue the sport as he lost his parents when he was 21. Hence he wanted his child to take up a sport and play it with passion.”
Sania went to Nasr School, and was a brilliant student. “I was a bit of a geek. I was a very good student because of which I really did not want to take up tennis as a serious career because I did not want to miss school. I would actually cry that I wanted 100 percent attendance,” she claims. “I had to score over 90, even 80s were not acceptable. So in my 3rd grade my mum came and spoke to my principal that I was not going for a tournament because I wanted 100 percent attendance.”
‘The realisation about taking tennis seriously dawned at 12’
At the age of 12 she found herself at the crossroads having to decide between tennis and academics. This was when she took a conscious decision to choose the former. “When I was 12 I played the under 14 and under 16 nationals and that is when I got my first sponsorship from Adidas. This instilled confidence in me. Before that I just used to play for fun.” The realisation was sudden but definite. “I foresaw this was what I wanted to do in life, because I had to choose between being a 90+ student and being a professional tennis player and it was impossible to do both together.” So Sania started her training at Nizam club under her first coach Srikant (who is no more), after which she had different coaches. Incidentally, she played her first international match in Pakistan (Islamabad) at the age of 14. She went on till the finals, but did not win.