Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sania survived 2009 with pain killers

Sania Mirza had a one constant in 2009; her bottled companion of pain-killers. It was that kind of a season. Still, the 23-year-old Hyderabadi, who started the year at 101 and finished at 58, was happy to be competing.

"After sitting out for almost seven months last year it was a relief to be out there again," she said. "But it wasn’t easy. I played in about 19 tournaments this year, and half of them were with the help of painkillers. There were times when in a period of 24 hours I was taking an unimaginable number of pain-killers and even then it wasn’t like I was playing without pain. Still, it was a good year, hugely challenging and a great learning experience."
What Sania refuses to acknowledge just yet, is the side-effects of the medication, even though she has already swallowed the bitter pill of physical and mental lethargy. She managed to get on court and for most part the pain had been blocked, but she wasn’t the same player. The edge was decidedly missing as was so obvious in later stages of tournaments in the summer and the hardcourt season.
"The truth is that I came back from a career threatening injury and the fact is that I have a painful wrist that needs to be managed," Sania said of her right wrist that went under the knife in Miami last summer. "I started the year with no expectations and a huge amount of pressure. I like pressure and mostly I perform well under pressure. If I hadn’t done reasonably well in my first few weeks my ranking could have dropped out of the top-200. That would’ve been a long climb back."
The key to Sania’s 2010 season will be in how she applies the lessons of last year. Most importantly, she has shown that she can manage her injury and handle the excruciating pain that’s not only part of the soreness of the wrist, but also part of her treatment, but there’s only so much any player, however gifted, can push and punish her body. Sania will have to pick her tournaments carefully and balance her schedule. She has a long and busy year ahead with the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games scheduled for the end of the year. Her task becomes doubly tough as the calendar eats into the off-season.
Sania’s management team has ensured she has used her off-season well, flying in Australian trainer Len Chong for a three-week stint in Hyderabad. Chong worked on strengthening her wrist, after the big-hitting pro received intensive treatment in November. On Thursday, she joins Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in Mumbai for a two-week camp where she will work with American coach Scott Davidoff and South African trainer Shyamal Vallabhjee before flying to Kuala Lumpur for an exhibition event.
"I’ve been training for a month now," Sania said. "I’m pain free even though I’m prepared for the fact that the pressures of matchplay tell differently on your body. The focus of my training has been ‘fitter, faster and stronger’ and that’s the kind of year I’m hoping to have. I have said for sometime now that I like the way I’m hitting the ball. I’m a better player, more experienced and more confident."
Sania begins 2010 with two $200,000 in Auckland and Hobart, after which she will head out to Melbourne for the year’s opening Grand Slam, the Australian Open, beginning January 18.

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