Heady for India, Sania cool - Past and pain behind, teen sensation focuses on Jelena

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By Staff Reporter in Calcutta
  • Published 2.03.05

Calcutta, March 2: Serena Williams acknowledged her potential, as did half-a-dozen awe-struck rivals, and a billion Indians starved of sporting success swooned.

The rest of the world sat up and took notice yesterday: a cute Indian girl is the fastest-rising player on the women?s circuit.

But 24 hours after dumping US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova from the high-profile Dubai Open, Sania Mirza would only say: ?I may have won yesterday, but that is history. Yesterday was a different day and tomorrow is going to be different as well. I?ve just got to go out there and give off my best. I can?t live in the past? I have to look ahead.?

Asked if she was revising her goal of bursting into the top 50 by the year-end, she replied: ?I?ve had a great season so far but right now I?m not thinking of any numbers, just focusing on my next match (against Serbian Jelena Jankovic)? In any case, I think I still need close to 200 more points to move into the top 50,? said Sania, who should be jumping to around No. 75 after ending the 2004 season at 206.

Having lived through some agonising moments on Tuesday afternoon when she was contemplating conceding the match to Kuznetsova (after falling and twisting her ankle), Sania woke up this morning to find that the painkillers had worked like magic.

?I had a light workout this afternoon for about 20-25 minutes? there wasn?t much discomfort, I should be ready to play tomorrow,? Sania said while driving to a clinic organised by the Dubai-based Zeeshan Ali?s Matchplay Tennis Academy.

?The ice treatment has worked wonders,? she added. Sania had an hour-long ?hit? with Zeeshan at the academy in the afternoon.

?Her ankle seems to be healing. She?s moving perfectly and there seems to be no pain as such,? Zeeshan said.

He has been surprised by her ability to stay focused and not let all the attention go to her head. ?Her success will now lie in her staying fit and injury-free since she has the game to be in the top bracket,? he added.

How does she see her quarter final against a player who is a nobody in comparison to her latest victim?

?Each opponent is different, so each match is different. Jankovic is an all-court player with good groundstrokes. It won?t be an easy match, but my confidence level is high? I?ll go out there and play my natural game. Hopefully, the result will go in my favour,? Sania said.

Jankovic, who turned 20 on Monday, is currently ranked No. 28. Like Sania, she has one WTA Tour title on her CV but, unlike the Indian, the Serbian has not progressed beyond the second round of a Grand Slam.

The father agreed with Sania?s assessment of Jankovic. ?She has a hard-hitting game like Sania?s? I think Silvia Farina-Elia (the Italian who lost to Jankovic yesterday) would have been an easier opponent, she doesn?t have the big weapons to hurt anyone,? said Imran Mirza, perhaps trying to play down the high expectations of a country which has overnight turned into a tennis-crazy nation.

Recalling the pain his daughter went through early in yesterday?s match, Imran said he hadn?t thought Sania would be able to take the court after the ankle injury.

?After getting medical attention, she just wanted to complete the first set? we prayed that she could at least put up some fight for the thousands who had turned up to watch her play.?

An hour later, the Mirzas were celebrating the most memorable moment in their lives.The celebration came in the form of a dinner at Le Meridien with close friends.

With a possible rematch with Serena looming (if both players win their respective quarter finals tomorrow), better fasten your seat belts. Indians have quickly learnt to expect the unexpected from Sania.

As the 18-year-old herself said: ?Jelena may be better ranked than me, but I don?t know if she is a better player. Perhaps tomorrow??