The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Boosting Sania sky-high doing her no good
- Trying to put the 16-yr-old into top-100 would cost $250,000
Sania Mizra is no world -beater and has miles to go

A Wimbledon title is the ultimate dream of any tennis player. Sixteen-year-old Sania Mirza’s unexpected victory in the girls’ doubles championship at Wimbledon 2003 sent her doubles ranking rocketing to a heady No. 3 in the world and was celebrated nationwide. Write-ups in the press, interviews on news channels, cash awards and land from the state government, sponsorships and the gift of a car heralded her achievement. For ladies’ tennis in India, Sania’s victory was a big leap forward.

Records show that in modern tennis, it takes four-five years for junior champions to reach their best. Federer was junior champion at Wimbledon in 1998 and put it all together only in 2003. The tennis world is strewn with promising juniors who fell by the wayside and never made it.

The increase in pressure at the senior level weeds out those found lacking in dedication, technique, physical fitness, mental strength, temperament and some other factors.

Some become abandoned victims of sponsors. The transition from the junior to the significant senior level is the most difficult time in a player’s life. It is like walking on a tightrope. Success comes to a few, only after sustained perseverance opens the door of self-belief. Early success is more often than not a liability for youngsters.

Burdened with high expectancy at Grand Slam levels and the need to maintain sponsorship, Sania will be under much pressure to perform. Happily, she has very strong family support. Otherwise, fame and money have proved to be the downfall of many a youngster.

Sania has had a flying start, but it will require determination, blood and guts for four-five years for her to make the top-100. This will be possible only with wise counsel, proper coaching and sustained sponsorship at realistic international levels.

Participation in tournaments, accompanied by a good coach and a long-term physical training programme charted out by an expert, are a must. This would cost roughly $100,000 a year. In other words, trying to put Sania into the top-100 would cost $250,000. This is presuming that after two-three years, there would be prize-money accruals.

The other option is to go and live in Florida for a few years. Talent from all over the world flocks to Florida where facilities are the best. More important than the facilities is the opportunity they have of competing and playing against some of the best talent in the world.

Sunitha Rao, born in India but now an American citizen living in Florida, was top seed in girls’ singles at Wimbledon. Her father Manohar Rao has been overseeing Sunitha’s career. The AITA was keen to get Sunitha to play for India and wrote to the ITF for permission.

The matter fell through as Sunitha’s father asked the AITA to pay a “reasonable” Rs 5 crore for her past training. The AITA came back with a generous offer to pay $70,000 annually henceforth towards her expenses, which was not accepted. Such are the financial requirements of modern tennis!

In celebrating Sania’s success, one may have lost proper perspective of her achievement. The fact is, she lost in the second round of girls’ singles and triumphed in a doubles event which was reduced to half its size (only 16 instead of 32) for want of entries.

She is no world-beater and has a long way to go. To boost her to the skies is doing her a disservice. Talk of success in further Grand Slams is, at this stage, ridiculous. The best thing is to let her try and fight her way to the top without the weight of great expectations, give her full support for the next few years and wish her the very best of luck.

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