Saturday, October 01, 2005

Sania Mania - What lies beneath

Sania Mania - What lies beneath

Found at is worthy of our time

The hype and hoopla surrounding Sania Mirza typifies what is wrong with Indian sports and reflects some serious loss of perspective. Even the thespians, I dare say are caught up in this fantasy – the fantasy of India having a potential Grand Slam winner in Sania Mirza.

I do not claim to be an expert in tennis but I have been an avid follower of the game for a long time – long enough to have seen a number of precocious talents burning out and a select few making it to the top echelons of the game. From recent memory, I can recollect a match between Serena Williams and the little known Angela Haynes who was dishing out winners more frequently than fries in McDonalds. Anybody who saw that match would vouch that Haynes has the tools to make it big - they just need to be harnessed. Likewise for Sania. I do not discard (wouldn't that be sacrilege?) any statements that have been made by our experts - she has a great forehand, she has the required measure of aggression, she has the potential to win a slam and so on. Well, May be. But then, may be not. More of that later.

Hopefully, everything that Sania's game promises will be achieved. But it all depends on how Sania's talents are tapped over a period of time and that makes it imperative that she does not lose perspective amidst all the surrounding jingoism. Not surprisingly , the most relevant statement about Sania was made recently by Mats Wilander (who is leading the Swedish Davis Cup team in India) - "The focus should be on becoming a better tennis player. It should not be on winning tournaments and rankings. It is the process that matters. Who knows, she can then be the top-two or the Number 1, or even win a Grand Slam”. Being a seven time grand slam champion, Wilander knows what he is talking about, which, sadly, is not the case with some of our national experts and columnists. Then there is this constant "She's only 18" fixation! Well, aren't they all that age? Graf, Hingis, Venus, Serena, Sharapova and many others were Grand Slam winners before they reached that age - some of them multiple times over. It's not the eighties any more when Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaegar were rareties. With the changing face of tennis, 18 is blooming time or at least close to it. From an Indian perspective, 18 is young but when you talk about winning grand slams you have got to take the global perspective. Sania has got to realize that and stop uttering the utterly defensive "I am only 18" one liner.

Coming to Sania's game, let’s dwell on those features that have been hailed by our tennis experts. Firstly, her forehand, which has already been labelled as "great" by all and sundry. "Potentially great" would, perhaps have been a better adjective, though. No single shot in tennis can be called "great" if it cannot break down your opponent’s game. Steffi Graf's forehand and Sampras' serve for example, were weapons which could absolutely mow down opponents. Sania has an explosive forehand but far from being relentless, it is sporadic and inconsistent. That was well highlighted in her recent loss in the Sunfeast open. Secondly, her aggressiveness, which at the moment, is more like Fernando Gonzales, the Chilean with a monster forehand who inevitably ends up having less hits than misses. All these plus more have to be worked upon to make a champion out of the Hyderabad belle. But it would require more than an ouce of perspective to achieve that.

The media of course has plummeted to an an all time low. Before Sania's match with Sharapova, there were more lines written about their T-Shirts and danglers than tennis. "The Telegraph" published a "face-off" profile of the two players in which we had things like "favourite movie","favourite song" etc. Excuse me! Are we in Broadway? I thought it was Flushing Meadows. Naresh Kumar, one of our veteran tennis experts, in one of his columns (again in "The Telegraph") expressed elation at Sania making Maria Sharapova "scamper" around the court. Well, Mr. Kumar, with all your knowledge and experience, you should know that it is the final scoreline that matters and not anything else. Rafael Nadal recently scampered his way to the French open crown as had Michael Chang in the past. Kim Clijsters was made to scamper by Venus Williams in the US open this year - but ended up winning it all. Sometimes top players are made to scamper - like Federer was, by Santoro recently - but they end up winning, all the same. I would, in fact go ahead and say that one of Sania's major weaknesses is that she cannot scamper. Far from that, her movement around the court is close to an embarrassment. The kinds of far-fetched comments and coverage that Sania is getting should ideally remain peripheral, but can affect a player in the practical scenario. Especially in a country like India where adulation can get to one's head, if you are as young as Sania is. We do not want Sania to be lured into a delusion about her game and what she has achieved.

So why doesn't everybody get out of the fantasy zone for once and get a reality check. Realize that "One forehand does not a champion make"! Or else Sania could end up among the pantheon of Indian sportspersons whose story has been "almost but not quite". And to the media, in Agassi's words "Go buy some perspective"!


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