The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mirzas take game in stride

Hyderabad, Sept. 4: Play your natural game, leave the rest to Allah.

For a woman whose “little one” was hours away from the biggest test of her life, Naseema Mirza sounded pretty cool.

But back home in Hyderabad, separated by thousands of miles of land and sea, it was probably the best advice she could give her daughter.

And motherly advice has not been lacking for Sania. It came every half an hour, as she stretched at the nets, and between water breaks as she prepared for the bout with a fellow 18-year-old, Russian top seed Maria Sharapova.

“I am in regular touch with her since morning. She is in high spirits. Allah will take care of her through her hours of test of stamina and energy,” Naseema told The Telegraph at their Banjara Hills home.

“I told her to avoid spicy food and take lots of energy drinks. Her father is with her and I know I don’t have to worry much about her needs.”

As match time neared, the Mirza residence swarmed with people. Television channels had set up night-watch units to catch every little gesture that reflected the mood in the two-storeyed house.

If her mother was cool, Sania’s younger sister Anam could not hide her excitement. She posed for photographs with her sister’s potraits and tennis gear. “I hope I will get the same attention when I grow up,” she said. “I, too, will take to tennis.”

Many of Sania’s classmates, friends and well-wishers of the family dropped in as the hours ticked towards the grand slam clash.

Naseema put up a brave front but the tension seeped through at times. “Imagine so much pressure on an 18-year-old. At that age I had not seen even one-tenth of the outside world,” she said.

Asked what advice she gave to her daughter, Naseema said: “I just told her to play the game like she used to play all along with full concentration and leave the results to Allah. Allah has always been at her side in hours of need.”

But Naseema felt the Indian media could have been a little more positive. “Everyone is talking about the uphill task of defeating Sharapova,” she said.

“None is expressing confidence in Sania and goading her to give a good fight whether she wins or loses.”

Narendra Nath, who had coached Sania, said more than technique, it is the “pressure” of playing Sharapova that will play a decisive role. “Sania should keep her cool and not get worked up over errors.”

S.P. Mishra, a former Davis Cup player, said Sania has to “tighten her game and minimise the errors”.

Back at the Mirza home, Naseema requested the reporters not to bother her while the match was on, but said she would speak to the media later. She refused to allow the reporters in to watch the game with her.

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