Sania Mirza celebrated her engagement to childhood friend Mohammed Sohrab Mirza by winning the $50,000 Lexington Challenger ITF women’s tennis event in Kentucky on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Hyderabadi girl, who was returning to the courts after her betrothal earlier this month, made light of top seed Julie Coin of France for a 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory in the summit clash.
It was Sania’s first appearance in a Challenger tournament in more than four years and, interestingly, her maiden triumph at this level although she has a Grand Slam in mixed doubles, a WTA Tour title and a dozen wins at the $10,000 level under her belt.
Coin had made rapid strides over the last 12 months to be ranked at 62, but Sania, who was ranked as high as 27 in 2007, proved to be too hot to handle for the French woman. And a large contingent of partisan, diaspora fans gave Sania the ‘home advantage’.
“Everyone here hits the ball and moves well (in Challengers). But winning is about having the experience and doing it consistently.
“My biggest strength is that no one can read my forehand… I can hit it anywhere,” Sania said after her win.
A fall-out of her victory was that Sania had to miss out on playing the qualifiers of the $700,000 WTA Tour Premier event in Stanford over the weekend.
In fact, the tournament had awarded Sania a wild card but that was overruled by the WTA as she had already received three main draw wild cards this year, the maximum allowed under the rules, for events in Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami.
She was also forced to withdraw from doubles main draw due to an injury to her partner Meghann Shaughnessy of the US.
Sania squandered a 5-2 lead in the first set tie-breaker but Coin, after levelling the scores at 5-5, failed to take advantage of a weak second serve from Sania and netted her return.
The 26-year-old French went up 2-0 with an early break in the second. But Sania hit back with a double break to go up 5-3, and although she again dropped serve, the Indian uncorked a third break of serve to seal the match.
The win saw Sania move up three places to 80 in the WTA Tour rankings. However, she dropped 10 spots to 49th in the doubles chart.
On the ATP Tour, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi held on to their sixth and eighth spot respectively in the men’s doubles rankings.