Best of Sania Mirza: Ties that put her among tennis’ Who’s Who

From facing Serena Williams as a teen to winning after becoming a mother; Sania Mirza’s tennis career has witnessed some memorable contests.
By Utathya Nag

Sania Mirza, throughout her career, has played a leading role in transforming Indian tennis.

With her insatiable drive to succeed, the Indian tennis player won six Grand Slams, reached the summit of the WTA doubles ranking, became the first Indian woman to break into the top 30 in WTA singles ranking, and achieved several other feats along the way.

That indomitable spirit has helped the three-time Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medallist produce some breathtaking displays on the tennis court. Here, we cherry pick some of the matches which can be considered Sania Mirza’s best from her career.

Australian Open 2005: A fiery introduction against Serena Williams

Following a breakthrough 2004 season which saw her win six ITF singles titles and her first WTA doubles title at the Hyderabad Open, Sania Mirza was already a rising star heading into her maiden Grand Slam – the 2005 Australian Open.

A wild card entry to the tournament, the Indian tennis player upset Australia’s Cindy Watson and Hungary’s Petra Mandula to set up a third round clash against none other than Serena Williams.

Up against the American icon – a six-time Grand Slam winner at the time – the Indian youngster came up short.

Sania Mirza lost the first set 6-1 but put up a gritty display in the second, often frustrating Serena with her relentless pursuit to keep the ball in play.

Though Sania lost the second set 6-4 and consequently the match, an 18-year-old Indian standing tall and playing tennis without fear against a behemoth like Serena Williams was an inspiration.

Sania Mirza in action against Serena Williams at Australian Open 2005

For most Indian fans, that was the day when Sania Mirza turned the corner -- from a precocious youngster to a burgeoning talent.

That gave me a different level of confidence, to compete against the best and be one of the best. If I can compete against Serena, I can compete against anyone.

Over the next decade and a half, Sania Mirza went on to become the flagbearer of women’s tennis in India, much like Leander Paes had done for the men’s game since the Nineties.

Result: Sania Mirza lost to Serena Williams 6-1, 6-4

Dubai Open 2005 quarter-final: First big scalp

While the match against Serena Williams marked her arrival on the big stage, Sania Mirza’s victory over Russian tennis player Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Dubai Open later that year announced she was there to stay.

Pitted against the reigning US Open champion and then world No. 7 in the quarter-final, Sania Mirza was in trouble early on.

Playing with an ankle injury, the youngster trailed 4-0 and she was on the verge of retiring.

“I was actually crying because I was in so much pain. But I took a painkiller and I think it took a couple of games for me to get used to the taping,” Sania recalled.

But what followed was a sensational comeback. Sania Mirza conquered pain to take the next six games and the set. She continued her momentum in the second, winning it 6-2 and produced a huge upset.

Result: Sania Mirza beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-2

US Open 2014 mixed doubles final: Nerves of steel

Sania Mirza won her first-ever Grand Slam in 2009, winning the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Mahesh Bhupathi. The duo also claimed the French Open mixed doubles title three years later.

However, it was her triumph at the 2014 US Open mixed doubles final with Brazilian Bruno Soares which stands out as Sania Mirza’s best from her career in mixed doubles.

US Open joy for Sania Mirza and Bruno Soares

Having shifted her focus entirely to doubles from 2013 owing to a recurring wrist injury, Sania Mirza was on the lookout for a big win.

Playing together for the first time, it was a tough tournament for the Indo-Brazilian duo who dug deep to survive several close calls en route to the final.

Sania-Soares faced USA’s Abigail Spears and Mexico's Santiago Gonzalez in the tfinal and cruised through the first set 6-1. Spears and Gonzalez, however, fought back to take the second set 6-2 and took the contest to a super tiebreaker.

With Sania and Soares working well together, the duo took a 9-4 lead but the US-Mexican pair put up a resilient front, and levelled it 9-9. With the momentum against them, Saina-Soares held firm to turn the tide yet again and clinched it 11-9.

Hopefully wins like these inspire people to pick up tennis racquets. In India, cricket is like a religion but I think people believe now that you can also be a tennis player and succeed.

Result: Sania Mirza and Bruno Soares beat Abigail Spears and Santiago Gonzalez 6-1, 2-6, 11-9

Wimbledon 2015 final: Santina’s first Slam

Having parted ways with her long-time women doubles partner Cara Black after winning the WTA Finals in 2014, Sania Mirza teamed up with Swiss legend Martina Hingis in 2015 ushering in the Santina era.

The Indo-Swiss duo, over the course of the next year, went on to win three Grand Slams. The first, at Wimbledon 2015, however, was a special one.

Santina cruised through to the final winning all their matches in straight sets, before coming across Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

In a match which pushed all four players to the brink, the Russians took the first set 7-5, before Santina drew level, winning the second set 7-6 via a tie breaker.

The decider followed the topsy-turvy trend as the Russians raced to a 4-1 lead but Sania and Hingis clawed back to level it up at 5-5. It was the Indo-Swiss pairing who finally clinched the two-and-a-half-hour marathon with a 7-5 win in the final set.

For many reasons that is one of the most special moments of my career because it was like watching a movie wherein the end you know that the hero is going to win. But you still watch it right? And you're still nervous thinking that is it going to happen?

Result: Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis beat Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 5-7, 7-6, 7-5

Hobart International: Ushering in a new innings

Sania Mirza enjoyed an incredible 2015, winning the US Open and WTA Finals with Hingis before starting off 2016 with an Australian Open doubles title. A quarter-final run at the 2016 Rio Olympics with mixed doubles partner Rohan Bopanna followed.

However, after a split with Hingis and several injuries, the Indian ace had a quiet couple of years before going on maternity break from April 2018.

After giving birth to son Izhaan Mirza Malik, the Indian ace marked a triumphant return to the court at the Hobart International 2020, winning the doubles title with Ukrainian partner Nadiia Kichenok.

Despite showing some signs of rust early in the tournament, Sania Mirza went from strength to strength as the tournament progressed and saved her best for the final against the Chinese team of Zhang Shuai and Peng Shuai.

The Indo-Ukrainian duo won the match 6-4, 6-4 but both sets were closely-fought. On both occasions, the score stood level at 4-4 but Saina and Kichonek managed to get themselves over the line.

The win might not rank high in Sania Mirza’s list of achievements from a statistician’s point of view, but bore unparalleled personal significance for the tennis star herself, as she would later tell the Olympic Channel.

I have won so many tournaments in my life and there’s so much that I have achieved and everything. But that feeling when I won in Hobart was irreplaceable. I knew that I had earned it. I earned it for myself and for my son and I earned it after a huge battle with so much more that went through it.

Post her comeback, Sania Mirza has also led the Indian team to their maiden Fed Cup playoffs.

Result: Sania Mirza and Nadiia Kichenok beat Zhang Shuai and Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-4.