| Sania Mirza: New pupil
|Tony Roche: Aussie touch
Oct. 19: Come Christmas, when the world swings in merriment, Sania Mirza will be swinging her racquet under the watchful eyes of Tony Roche in Sydney.
Fifty-nine-year-old Roche, who coaches men’s world number one Roger Federer, will work on Sania’s game for three weeks in the run-up to the Australian Open early next year, the season’s first Grand Slam tournament.
A Sydney newspaper quoted Roche as saying: “The people looking after her felt that she needs a bit of work on a few areas of her game.”
It’s not easy to get Roche, who has earlier coached Grand Slam champions Ivan Lendl and Patrick Rafter.
According to Sania’s father, Imran, former Davis Cup player Jaidip Mukherjea persuaded his friend and erstwhile opponent to give the 18-year-old some time.
“He normally does not take up assignments just like that and definitely not for someone like Sania who is an up and coming talent,” Imran was quoted by PTI as saying.
Mukherjea said Roche was doing a “personal favour”. “Sania's father asked me (during the Sunfeast Open in Calcutta) whether something can be worked out for her before the Australian Open. I talked to him (Roche), he agreed, though he hasn’t seen her play, only watched her tapes and heard about her talent.”
Sania already has a coach, John Farrington. Mahesh Bhupathi, whose firm Globosport manages Sania, said: “Roche is just a one-off stint, John Farrington will continue to be her travelling coach next year. Let’s see what Sania says after working with Roche, we’ll then think of working out something more in the future.”
“I’m just going to have a look at her and just see what she needs to do,” Roche was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying.
Sania, who has risen from 200 to 32 in the rankings in a year, has her most visible weakness in her serve, particularly the second.
“She’s had a pretty good year, made some big inroads, so it will be interesting to see,” Roche said.
“I’m just going to help her with a bit of what she needs to work on.”
It was at the Australian Open in the last season that Sania caught the world’s eye, eventually going down to Serena Williams. She made it to the fourth round of the US Open before losing to Maria Sharapova.
“Training with Roche, who has helped the likes of Rafter, Lendl and Federer, will be a big psychological boost for Sania,” Imran said.
There is little doubt Sania has a strong game, but unlike most of the top women players she hasn’t had the benefit of being trained from a young age by coaches like Nick Bollettieri and Roche who know what it takes to be a leader.
Such coaches also cost a pile, though exactly how much is not public knowledge. Only top players like Federer, whose 2005 earnings stand at over $5.3 million, can afford a Roche.
Sania is also getting a trainer. Bhupathi said the physio-cum-trainer, an Australian, was not involved with any tennis player, but had been highly recommended. “She will work with Sania during her three-week stint with Roche, followed by a warm-up tournament in Australia and the Australian Open.”