Sania Mirza has had a great year; she capped it with the WTA doubles title on Sunday.
Obviously, you don’t become a champion, in singles or doubles, by doing anything other other than focusing on the game, building stamina, practising, getting a good coach, getting a good partner blah blah.
But the biggest thing Sania has done and should continue to do is what she is doing now: stay away from making headlines for reasons other than her game.
When Sania burst on the national conscience with her nose pin, tennis gear (for some strange reason called short skirt by everyone), and a healthy swagger, I thought she would be a darling of the masses. What’s more, she showed she had what it takes by reaching the top 16 of a Grand Slam, besides winning hearts and minds at the Wimbledon - arguably the most famous of all Grand Slams. So what was not to like here?
Wait, a young girl with a nose pin and attitude? Here, in this country? The media, not to say conservative religious groups, tore into her. Everything about her was grist for the mill - was she Indian enough? Did she respect the national flag? Was her skirt too short? Was she promoting pre-marital sex after a talk on safe sex? Who was she getting engaged to?
What Sania did not do well was to ignore the media and let her game do the talking. She gave too many interviews, and like any other teenager wanting to be cool, talked too much. I still remember thinking if I was her publicist, I would expose my young client less to sound bite-hungry cameras. Not only was Sania herself on TV too much, her parents joined in to tell the world their child was special — which everyone could see for themselves.
I would also have limited her public appearances to a select few, knowing the media’s penchant for pouncing on the young, vulnerable and "speech uncoached". In any other country, the brashness of a John McEnroe or Boris Becker would be treated as par for the course, but we are an unforgiving society, especially to anyone young or who we consider an "upstart", despite an overt pretence of indulgence and affection.
So Sania was forced to grow up, keep quiet. Now she lets her racquet do the talking. Apart from the one time when she was made brand ambassador for Telangana, and had to again, for the nth time, re-affirm her Indianness, despite being Pakistan’s "bahu" (whatever shit that means), she has kept the media at arm’s length. Which is where she should make it stay.
I like the mellow Sania, though I miss the brash one.
To take this country forward, as Reseerve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan pointed out at IIT-Delhi, we need disrupters.