The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Serena leaves Sania hungry

Melbourne, Jan. 21: On a day when Sania Mirza has faced more questions from the international media than any other player in this historic centennial Australian Open, this is the one that embarrasses her the most.

How did it feel, I ask her, to collect a five-figure cheque from the tournament office'

'I haven't actually had the time to collect it yet,' she says, laughing out loud.

'I finished my match this evening and I haven't even had time to have dinner yet,' she explains apologetically.

It is 10 'clock in Melbourne and the sun has only just set. But the newest star in this city is a young Indian woman who came into this tournament as a wild card.

She has been flat out since the last point of her match against Serena Williams. There was the determination to savour all the adulation as she left the court. There was the polished performance in the post-match interview ('So many journalists,' she recalls in wonder).

She has spent more than an hour in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt hotel, on the phone to a succession of journalists in India, all of whom, understandably, want to speak to her.

I call four times and each time the phone is answered by a family friend who is travelling with her and who explains that Sania will try and call me back before heading out in search of dinner.

When she eventually returns to her room and takes my call, she has another phone pressed to her other ear. But she is courteous and forthcoming.

Yes, she has managed to speak to her parents, straight after the match. 'They are very excited,' she says. 'They're very happy. Of course, they didn't expect me to win. But I am very thrilled. I know that I can match Serena and realise I must work on my fitness.'

Could she ever have imagined, when she flew into Melbourne, that she would reach the third round' 'No, definitely not,' she answers. 'I didn't think that far ahead.'

Even before she took the court against Serena, she was already in the gaze of the international media. Wearing her black-rimmed glasses, she and Mahesh Bhupathi happily posed for cameramen as they championed an evocative cause, holding collection tins for victims of the tsunami.

But this evening, it is Sania herself who has created a tidal wave of her own. She lost 1-6, 4-6, but as she made her way out of the arena, autograph books stuck out and Sania stopped by to sign.

Till two days ago, Serena hadn't heard of her. Today, she said: 'It was good to see someone from India for the first time do so well.'

Is she heading to Lygon Street, the city's famous Italian quarter' I ask as she diplomatically reminds me of her growing hunger. 'I really don't know where I'm going,' she replies. 'I'll just go downstairs and see what the options are.'

I wish her well for the future and caution her not to forget to collect her cheque from Flinders Park tomorrow.

Again, she giggles at the ludicrous situation and then apologises because she is trying to conduct two phone conversations at the same time.

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