Ever since she won the junior Wimbledon doubles title in 2003, Sania Mirza has been a flag-bearer for Indian tennis at the most prestigious tournaments in the world, winning six doubles titles at the Grand Slams.
She has always been a fierce competitor on the court and the 33-year-old recently talked about how her clash against Serena Williams at the 2005 Australian Open helped her cultivate the self-belief.
“I was seeing Serena Williams for the first time. And I was to compete against her. That gave me a different level of confidence, to compete against the best and be one of the best,” the Indian tennis ace explained in a webinar hosted by the All India Tennis Association (AITA).
Sania Mirza, then only two years into her professional career, had entered the Australian Open as a wildcard and enjoyed an impressive campaign.
She battled past local girl Cindy Watson in three sets in the first round before upsetting former world no. 30 Hungarian Petra Mandula in straight sets in the next to become the first female Indian tennis player to make it to the third round of a Grand Slam.
Sania Mirza then came up short against Serena Williams her next contest, who was already on her way to becoming a bonafide legend, having won six Grand Slams, and then eventually adding a seventh at the tournament.
This followed a year after the Indian tennis ace had become the first woman to win a WTA title - at the Hyderabad Open, her home event - and though that victory added to her burgeoning reputation, this match is what made Sania Mirza feel like she had arrived.
‘’If I can compete against Serena, I can compete against anyone’’, she reasoned.
The Hyderabad native, who recently became the first Indian tennis player to win the Fed Cup Heart award for her part in leading the nation to its first Fed Cup playoffs, had only made a comeback from her maternity break at the beginning of the year.
Incidentally, it was again Serena Williams who had a small role to play in Sania Mirza’s comeback journey after the former had done so a few months after the birth of her child Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.
"There is enough self-motivation to come back but it's nice to see people like Serena competing at Grand Slams after having a baby. It's obviously very inspiring," the Indian tennis veteran had told the Press Trust of India last year.