Indian tennis superstar Sania Mirza feels that women’s sport in India is heading in the right direction and has come leaps and bounds since her younger days with a racquet in hand.
In a chat show on YouTube called Double Trouble with Smriti & Jemi, the six-time doubles Grand Slam champion pointed to the presence of stars like PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Sakshi Malik and Dipa Karmakar among others today as an indication of the change.
“When I started I used to play on tennis courts made out of cow dung. We used to have to take tetanus injections to have to play tennis in case we fell so that there won’t be any infections,” she told Indian cricketers Jemimah Rodrigues and Smriti Mandhana.
“That’s the sort of facilities we started with, so considering that to where we are today, we have come a long way. When I started playing tennis, the only woman athlete from India was PT Usha. There was no other person that you had heard of.
“Twenty five years down the line, we can now at least name 10-15 star women athletes from this country. That itself shows how much we progressed… sports for girls is becoming more of a career option,” she said.
A former world no. 1 in the doubles circuit, Sania Mirza has been a professional tennis player since 2003 and has been an inspirational figure for budding sportswomen in India.
She made a comeback to tennis earlier this year following a maternity break and hit the ground running by winning the Hobart International doubles title and then leading India to the Fed Cup playoffs for the first time.
Challenges of motherhood for an athlete
But as she prepared for motherhood during her time away, the tennis player in her remained.
“Believe it or not, two nights before I gave birth, I woke up at 2am. I couldn’t sleep and was very uncomfortable,” Sania Mirza disclosed.
“Because I have a tennis court at home…I took my sister and dad to the tennis court and went and hit balls at 39 weeks and five days,” she said. “I hit balls for about 25 minutes and it felt so good.
“I think our bodies (as athletes) also take pregnancy differently compared to people who aren’t athletes because their bodies aren’t as strong. I didn’t feel restricted but it’s very difficult to accept how your body changes. That is something which was a huge mental task,” she admitted.
But her comeback to the sport wasn’t easy. During her time away, Sania Mirza had put on considerable weight, shooting up 89kgs at one point.
“The first time I stepped on a treadmill I felt so heavy that I thought I was never going to lose the weight again,” she quipped. “Four months later I lost 26 kgs. It was very hard. It took a lot of stubbornness and a lot of determination.”
“I had a dietician and a set diet. I also used to do about two and a half hours of cardio every day and only that because when you have a C-section you can’t use your core and you literally lose your core because it’s just soft and there’s nothing there.
“My trainer came after I lost 20 kgs and then for six weeks I started tennis-based training, which included everything for about three hours a day. It was only after five months that I started playing tennis,” she said.
Sania Mirza is currently at home in Hyderabad and continues to stay motivated with the aim of winning an Olympic medal that has eluded her over the years.