Meet Imran Mirza: The Captain of ‘Team Sania’

For close to three decades, tennis has been the buzzword in the Mirza family as Sania went on keeping her promises.

By Utathya Nag ·

For the better part of the last two decades, Sania Mirza has been India’s flag bearer in women’s tennis, making her country proud all around the globe.

But the key to her success, her father Imran Mirza is convinced, lies a lot closer to home.

The six-time Grand Slam winner took to the sport when she was just six-and-a-half years old and over the years, grew into India’s most celebrated female tennis players of all time.

“If Sania has made it, it’s Team Sania that’s won. It includes my wife, my younger daughter and a lot of other people as well. As the father, I was probably the captain of the ship. I had to see that it sailed properly.

“For the last 28 years, tennis has been the absolute core around which our family has revolved. The whole family has stepped in,” Imran Mirza told WV Raman, the Indian women’s cricket team coach, on his show Inside Out.

Never let parental pressure burden Sania

Besides being a father, Imran Mirza has also been Sania Mirza’s mentor and coach for over 20 years and has played a pivotal role in her career.

Imran Mirza, however, admitted that his biggest contribution towards moulding his daughter into a tennis champion, perhaps, was ensuring she was never burdened by expectations.

“As someone coming from a sporting family, I understood that parent’s pressure can be a very serious thing and can destroy a person. That’s something I eliminated from her games,” he explained.

“One thing that I was particular about from day one was there should be no pressure on Sania whatsoever as far as winning matches and going to the top of the game was concerned. It was always about enjoyment,” he added.

A difficult road

Having recognized Sania Mirza’s talent for tennis early, Imran Mirza was always dedicated towards ensuring there were no deficiencies in his daughter’s training, even if it meant a few sacrifices for the family.

“There was a point in time when the requirement for keeping her afloat on the tennis circuit for a year was Rs 50 lakh and I was earning Rs 10,000 a month. It took a lot of sacrifice, we needed to find sponsors.

“It was not easy because they were paying for someone who had not made it big. We went through difficult times, but one thing me and my wife decided was that what had to be done, had to be done," he recalled.

Despite the effort and resources being put into her training, whether or not she wanted to continue with the sport, Imran Mirza stressed, was always his daughter’s choice and no one else’s.

“Any day she didn't enjoy the game she could walk away from it. It was never a question of playing for us or for anybody else. It was about playing for herself and for her enjoyment. That's what sport is all about, that's what I always learnt and that's what I believed in very, very strongly,” he stated.