Hyderabad, Feb. 12: Sania Mirza today transformed Indian tennis into cricket.
She did become the first Indian woman to win an international tennis tournament but lost in that piece of statistic is the incredible effect she had on the masses and classes ringing the arena.
Indian tennis had never seen ' or heard ' anything like this before: catcalls and whistles powered by thousands of throats, a near-stampede in a usually-empty stadium and Mahesh Bhupathi scaling a 10-foot gate.
All because of Sania Mania.
The steel and style ' which helped her dwarf the defeat to Serena Williams in Australia last month and conquer millions of minds in India ' were at work in Hyderabad, too.
Defying niggling pains all over her body (she had three painkillers this morning), Sania got the better of Ukrainian Alyona Bondarenko, who did everything she could to stop the aggressive Indian. The final, played in front of a 7,000-strong hysteric crowd, was as close as it could get, but Sania held her nerves.
Anna Kournikova spent six to seven years searching for her first Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Tour title. It remained elusive. Sania, in her second year on the seniors' circuit, has done it playing only her fifth big tournament.
'It was a hugely satisfying week and doing it in front of your home crowd' you can't ask for more,' Sania said after the match.
What a crowd it was! They had queued up well before noon, knowing fully well that Sania's match would start only after the 4 pm doubles final. The merciless afternoon sun was no deterrent, neither were the overworked, sometimes overzealous, police.
At 2 pm, a stampede nearly broke out in the rush to grab the free seats in the general stands as frenetic jostling and shoving brought some of the temporary aluminium barricades crashing down.
At the main gate ' the entry point for players, officials, media and special guests ' the scene was just as chaotic at 3 pm. With close to a thousand people, all with passes, wishing to get in, the policemen just locked the iron gate.
Bhupathi, the head of Globosport which has been running the show for three years here, got so fed up after a 15-minute wait that he decided to climb the railings and jump the 10-foot gate. Men and women in suits and designer clothes looked on in awe, not able to summon such courage.
'I have got in somehow, but I don't know how my guests like (Pullela) Gopichand and Perizaad Zorabian will enter this place,' an exasperated Bhupathi told The Telegraph, vowing not to have free entry for a tournament involving Sania here. Bhupathi's guests did get in eventually.
Some of Sania's friends and relatives sat on the stairs, reporters took notes standing in the aisle, special guests had to be provided ordinary chairs while those fortunate enough to have got seats shouted their guts out.
It wasn't the ideal tennis crowd. The ones who thronged the general stands let out catcalls in between two serves, whistled and chanted Sania slogans in the midst of rallies.
In the end, of course, nobody minded. Sania had won and that's all that mattered.
'I will never forget this week,' Sania said, paying tribute to the fans, her parents Imran and Naseema and 'everyone who has been involved closely with my career'.
But can she repeat this title-winning performance away from home' 'I've played all kinds of players at all kinds of venues around the world and know how to handle different situations. The venue doesn't matter, it all boils down to me, the ball and the opponent.'
Steel, did anyone say'