The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Brave forehand, safe food
- Sania celebrates father’s birthday before feast on court

Calcutta, Sept. 18: Pasta for lunch, boti kabab for supper.

Will it be Likhovtseva for breakfast and Myskina for dinner'

Come Sunday the 25th and, if the question is settled the way Calcutta hopes it will be, Sania Mirza will perhaps permit herself that big banquet.

But today it was just a cake, followed by Bolognaise pasta. Two days before she kicks off her WTA Sunfeast Open campaign, the world’s number 34tennis player is taking no chances with her food.

The cake, with a single burning candle on it, arrived just after noon at her hotel room. There Imran Mirza quietly celebrated his birthday with wife Nasima and daughters Sania and Anam before they all came down to the dining room for a bite.

Calcutta, looking forward to a mouth-watering feast of whipping winners, pumping fists and arrogant tosses of the head, must whet its appetite for an extra day. Though the tournament starts tomorrow, India’s favourite teenager will not be taking the court till Tuesday.

An extra day of respite for her ankle and strained stomach muscles ' perhaps also for the qualifier who will be facing that fearsome forehand from across the net.

Sania isn’t taking things lightly. “At tournaments of this level, it makes little difference if you play the top seed or a qualifier,” she said yesterday. “You have to focus and play with intensity. Take it round by round.”

The road could be bumpy. Ma Emilia Salerni of Argentina (world no. 103) or Hungarian Melinda Czink (no. 121) ' possible second-round opponents ' mightn’t trouble her, but experienced Croatian Karolina Sprem (no. 85) could in the next.

Things hot up in the semi-finals, where the likely opponent is world No. 16 Russian Elena Likhovtseva. If she lives to fight in Sunday’s final, she would probably be up against top seed and world No. 13 Anastasia Myskina, another Russian.

Though her hotel menu won’t betray this, Sania has shown an appetite for Russians: Svetlana Kuznetsova (then world number 7) and Nadia Petrova will vouch for that.

The one thing that might put Sania off her food is coconut, say hotel staff. Their star guest has clearly spelt out that none of the stuff served to her must bear any trace of coconut.

Among those rooting for Sania will be the All India Minority Forum, which today urged the player to ignore the clerics’ fatwas against her “un-Islamic” short skirts and focus on her game.

“Those issuing the fatwas on her dress and thus imposing mental pressure on the girl, who made India proud through her performance, should be condemned,” forum president Idrish Ali said in Calcutta.

The hemline controversy, however, has prompted city police to throw a massive security ring around her.

Three SLR-toting commandos from the special branch -- led by the man who used to protect former chief minister Jyoti Basu ' kept a close watch as Sania travelled to the Netaji Indoor Stadium to hit a few balls.

That apart, there is a special security unit within the hotel and plain-clothes police posted outside. “We have provided her with maximum security,” said Pradip Kumar Chatterjee, deputy commissioner of police (special branch).

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