MELBOURNE: Indian trailblazer Sania Mirza bowed out of Grand Slam tennis Friday with defeat in the Australian Open mixed-doubles final playing alongside Rohan Bopanna — her first playing partner 22 years ago.
The 36-year-old Mirza, regarded as her country's greatest women's tennis player, returned to Melbourne Park for one last hurrah and made it all the way to the decider.
But she and 42-year-old Bopanna were unable to get over the line, losing 7-6 (7/2), 6-2 to Brazilian pair Luisa Stefani and Rafael Matos.
Mirza was in tears during the post-match presentation ceremony.
Speaking during her tear-jerking farewell speech, Sania couldn't control her emotions and said: "I just want to start with that if I cry, these are happy tears and not sad tears so that’s just a disclaimer."
She started off her speech by congratulating her opponents and said: "This is your moment and I really don’t want to take it away, and I really really you know from the bottom of my heart you guys played amazing you deserved to win today, so congratulations and good luck."
Sania then said that she still going to play a couple of more tournaments.
The tennis star shed a light on her career, saying that the journey of her professional career started in Melbourne.
"It started in Melbourne in 2005 when I played Serena Williams in the third round here as an 18-year-old, and that was scarily enough 18 years ago," she said.
"I've had the privilege to come back here again and again and win some tournaments here and play some great finals amongst you all and this Rod Laver Arena has really been special in my life, and I couldn't think of a better arena to finish my career at in a Grand Slam. Thank you so much for making me feel at home here," she expressed.
"Rohan was my first-ever mixed-doubles partner at (aged) 14 and we won the nationals," said Mirza, a six-time Grand Slam champion, three in doubles and three in mixed.
"It was a long time ago, 22 years ago, and I couldn't think of a better person — he's one of my best friends and best partners — to finish my career here and to play the final.
"There's no better place for me, or person for me, to finish my Grand Slam career."
Mirza, who is married to former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malik, has a young son Izhaan and said it was incredible to play in front of him in a major final.
"I never thought that I would be able to play in front of my child in a Grand Slam final, so it's truly special to have my four-year-old and my parents here," she said.
Mirza, known as a feisty convention-breaker, was the first Indian to win a WTA singles title, in 2005 in her hometown Hyderabad.
She reached the fourth round of the US Open the same year and by 2007 was among the women's top 30.
But a wrist injury caused her to concentrate on doubles, forging a partnership with Swiss great Martina Hingis which produced three Grand Slam titles.
She is due to retire from all tennis after a tournament next month in Dubai, where she has lived for more than a decade and recently launched a tennis academy.
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