When she first arrived here — a starry-eyed little girl sporting a pony-tail, chaperoned by doting parents — to play in the girls’ singles championship all those years ago, Sania Mirza might have hardly imagined that the early part of her career as a professional tennis player would the play out the way it has — like a game of snakes and ladders.
In a few packed, emotionally-draining years since making a breakthrough at the Australian Open in January 2005, Sania, aged 22, has been through it all in a hurry — form slumps, a series of injuries, spectacular surges, controversies on and off the courts — and it is hardly a surprise that she often sounds like a world-weary veteran after being forced by circumstances to live her life in fast forward.
The year 2008 was something of an annus horribilis for Sania as she started the year at No.32 and ended it just inside the top 100, at 99. A first right wrist injury early in the year required surgery and forced her out of the game for several weeks. This was followed by another right wrist injury just before the Olympics.
In sport, as in life, sometimes it is necessary to plumb the depths to get a clear view of the way up. And Sania, still a long way from becoming the player she can be — the consistent winner that she wants to be in the process of discovering the limits of her own potential — did prove today that she is ready for the arduous task.
In a first round match of the 123rd Wimbledon tennis championships, on a cloudy, warm afternoon, Sania quickly overcame a mid-match slump as she beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 to make her way to the second round.
After coming into the championship following her best tournament-run in a long, long time — a semifinal finish in the Aegon Classic on grass — the Indian star was unlikely to have been short on confidence. But after a dream start that saw her open up a 4-0 first set lead, Sania failed to impose herself on an opponent whose arsenal was mostly absent of heavy weaponry.
Then again, even if she blew hot and cold on the No.14 court where every single seat was taken and quite a few Indian fans had to crane their necks standing on the walkways to get a glimpse of the action, the woman from Hyderabad regrouped superbly after taking a break at the end of the second set.
Sania upped the ante on her serve, injected a strut into her court coverage and stepped in courageously for some rewarding fly-swatting on Anna-Lena’s second serves before finally blowing away her German opponent with an avalanche of blistering forehands.
Overall, it wasn’t the sort of performance that elicited a constant volley of Oohs and Aahs from the stands but it was a thoroughly professional demonstration of getting the job done on a big stage without too many missed heartbeats.
Last year, Sania, a bit rusty after coming in following a long injury-break, had failed to convert four matchpoints in the third set, losing to Martinez Sanchez, a qualifier in the second round.
This time, she plays Sorana Cirstea of Romania in the second round.
Not long after Sania returned to the locker room, the sport’s great summiteer got within six match victories of planting his Swiss flag on a peak no man has ever set foot on. Roger Federer, opening the proceedings on a brand new Centre Court in the absence of his friend and great rival Rafael Nadal, got past Yen-Hsun Lu from Chinese Taipei 7-5, 6-3, 6-2.
“Monday 1 p.m. It is a very privileged spot. Gets your heart beating, that’s for sure. He was a tough opponent,” said the five-time champion, after playing for the first time since winning a title — the French Open — that had long proved vanishingly elusive. “Rafa had dominated the championship (French) for so long. For me it was an unbelievable feeling,” said Federer.
Earlier in the day, Andreas Seppi of Italy upset James Blake (seeded 17) of the United States 7-5, 6-4, 7-6(5).
‘’This is something that has been my worst Slam, I don’t know why,” said a disappointed Blake. “Just didn’t feel like myself out there today.”