For someone that young how easy or tough was it to manage school and sport? “My school was very supportive and they let me come in after the assembly so I used to go for the practice by 6 and get to school past 8:30 am. School used to get over at 1:30, and I used to change in school, have my lunch in the car as the drive for my practice took nearly 2 hours. From 3:30 to 7 I used to practice and crash by 9.” For many years Sania had not seen life past 9.
In spite of her hectic schedules, she managed to complete her studies as she had a photographic memory that helped to a great extent. “I was adamant that I wanted to finish my education so I had to toggle between both. I passed my 10th grade with 64% and 12th with 62%,” she affirms. Was she ever tempted to miss practice and wanted to join her friends? “I wanted to go for school excursions but I could not because I would miss practice for 3-4 days. Similarly going for movies or even attending birthday parties, I always would get tempted to, but I had made a choice to play tennis so I had to resist temptations.” This dedication is what helped her become a two times Grand Slam champion and India’s No. 1 tennis player for over a decade.
‘If I say home, the first thing in my mind is Hyderabad’
What role has her home city played in her ascension? “If I say home, the first thing in my mind is Hyderabad: whether it was the government or whether it was the city in itself, whether it was the love that I was given. Time and again I have been called the favourite daughter of the state. All these things mean a lot to me. When I won the junior Wimbledon and returned there were 5000 fans to receive me at the airport, that is why this is Hyderabad for you and that is why this is home for me.”
‘The ugliness of the Olympic controversy took away some fans from tennis’
The inevitable obverse of all positives in the game is the negatives which constantly vie for attention. For someone as dedicated as Sania how was it to court an Olympic controversy and the AITA reactions? “Whether you were involved or not, if you are Indian you do not want to see any sports go through that. It got messy. It was unfortunate, the whole incident is something I hope is not repeated; it took away some fans from tennis. It did not show anyone in good light whether it was the administration or the players. At that point I had to take a stand since I was dragged into the whole thing. It was too dirty to get involved in and drag it further. It came to a stage where everyone had to say something. We went through mental trauma, trying to play Olympics and trying to play Wimbledon at that time,” she says with her characteristic candour and a tinge of disappointment.