MELBOURNE: Indian trailblazer Sania Mirza bowed out of Grand Slam tennis on 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 in the post-match presentation ceremony.
“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 at 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. Her husband and Pakistani cricketer, Shoaib Malik, posted a heartfelt message for her. Calling her “hope for all women in sports”, the cricketer said that he was proud of everything that Mirza had achieved in her career.
The cricketer wrote on Instagram: “You are the much-needed hope for all the women in sports. Super proud of you for all you have achieved in your career. You're an inspiration for many, keep going strong. Many congratulations on an unbelievable career...”Former Pakistan captain Waqar Younis lauded Sania’s passion, perseverance, and dedication. He wrote on Twitter: “What words come to mind when one thinks of Sania?
“For me it’s passion, perseverance and sheer hard work. Congratulations Sania Mirza on an outstanding career and all the Best in your second innings #Legend #Tennis #Champion.”
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