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Sania plays power circuit
- Sonia yesterday, tsunami today for star

New Delhi/Siliguri, Feb. 18: Sania said: 'Sachin (Tendulkar) is my favourite.'

It should come as no surprise if Sania is Sonia's favourite.

The Congress president had a one-to-one chat with Indian tennis' first woman star who set foot outside home town Hyderabad for the first time since her victory in the WTA event there last week and immediately did a power tour of Delhi.

Sania arrived with her family ' father Imran Mirza, mother Naseema and sister Anam ' last night and met President A.P.J Abdul Kalam, sports minister Sunil Dutt and in the evening Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Turned out in a pink shawl and jeans for her day appointments, Sania changed into evening finery ' an embroidered black kameez ' for her calls on Sonia and Singh.

In between, her managers also announced conclusion of three endorsement deals. Anirban Das Blah, of Globosport, said: 'We have closed three deals for Sania and the first announcement will be made in Delhi in the first week of March.'

After her success at the Australian Open, Sania was besieged by endorsement offers, but Globosport said she would not be signing any more than the three that had been firmed up.

'With the addition of the three deals, Sania's valuation has come next only to Tendulkar, (Sourav) Ganguly and (Rahul) Dravid,' Blah added.

So is cricket under threat from Sania and the first Indian Formula One driver Narain Karthikeyan' Sania doesn't think so.

'Cricket is like religion in India. It is not going to change. In fact, I am myself a great cricket fan and don't leave an opportunity to watch a cricket match. Sachin is my favourite,' she said.

Sania's meeting with Sonia was scheduled to last 20 minutes but they spent nearly 45 minutes talking, some of it in the presence of Dutt and the Mirza family and the major part alone, sources at 10 Janpath said.

Sonia had watched live Sania's final match at the Hyderabad Open last Saturday night. 'Sonia was the first leader to congratulate her and despatch a letter of congratulation,' they said.

'Keep it up. You have a bright future ahead,' Sonia is believed to have told her.

The President spent half-an-hour with Sania.

Tomorrow, she heads to Bengal and to the northern town of Siliguri for what could possibly be her first appearance in public charity, with two other sports stars ' Sourav and soccer skipper Bhaichung Bhutia. She will be taking part in an auction to raise money for tsunami victims.

'Initially, we wanted to have Mahesh Bhupathi, Sourav and Bhaichung, but then Sourav had the idea of inviting Sania,' said Asok Bhattacharya, Bengal's urban development minister.

It was the Indian cricket captain who brought Sania in, with help from Bhupathi.

But why Siliguri and not Calcutta' 'Sourav says this is his second home, and except Sachin, all the top stars have been here,' Bhattacharya said.

The tennis player's choice was just right for the cause, going by the mood in Siliguri. 'Sania, dada, Sania' is the popular verdict when asked who they were going to cheer at tomorrow's fund-raiser.

'Sourav to kotobar eshechhe (Sourav has been here many times),' explains a security officer at the stadium. Coming from Sikkim, Bhaichung is even more the hero next door.

Throughout the day, loudspeakers blaring in various parts of the town urged people to donate to the chief minister's tsunami fund. The organisers are all too happy with the response. 'We are targeting Rs 40 lakh and already have a commitment of Rs 20 lakh,' says Bikash Ghosh, the mayor.

The counting for a cause has already begun. 'The cap Sourav wore at the tsunami benefit match in Australia has found a commitment of Rs 2 lakh from a buyer,' Bhattacharya said.

Plans are lined up for both on and off-field action. The two captains will lead Sania to a golden crown on stage during the auction. All three stars will offer personal memorabilia, jerseys, caps and tennis outfits for auction and sign a bat together.

Dravid has pitched in with a kit containing his personal gear that reached the stadium in the evening. Steve Waugh's gift to the chief minister, an autographed bat, has already made its way to the Siliguri cricket museum.

Sania and family could head to Calcutta from Siliguri. 'I've talked to her mother and it looks likely Sania would be able to meet the chief minister on Sunday,' Bhattacharya said.

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