Sania Mirza (left) shares her experience with some SportCares youth athletes at a meet and greets session. Photo: SportSG
The world’s highest-ranked female tennis doubles player Sania Mirza might now be at the top, but she was, too, once a budding junior seeking a role model whose achievements she could aspire towards.
In town for the BNP Paribas Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals presented by SC Global
, the defending doubles champion had named German ace and former world number one Steffi Graf as her childhood hero. Yet, she also lamented the fact that, growing up in India, there were few known female athletes that young girls could look up to.
As such, she has committed to being a positive influence to young athletes in the region, both on- and off-court. Taking the time to sit down for a brief sharing session ahead of the doubles draw ceremony on Tuesday, she imparted encouragement and advice to a group of young athletes from SportCares.
Youth of SportCares listening intently to Sania Mirza's words of advice during the sharing session. Photo: SportSG
Suffice to say, the students left the session with new role model to emulate. Mirza had left them all stirred with her willingness to work hard for what she loved, her humanitarian efforts, as well as her tenacity in the face of naysayers.
The 29-year-old, who also runs a tennis academy back home in Hyderabad, kicked off the session by speaking on the value of hard work. She told the kids in attendance: “I don't like the burn in my legs when I go to the gym, but I know that if don’t do that I’m not going to be able to do the thing that I love the most – playing tennis at the highest level.”
As 13-year-old SportCares participant Nabila Malek surmised later on: “Hard work is everything. Mirza showed me that if we work hard, we will get what we want.”
“She also gives back to the community now that she’s so successful, teaching tennis at her academy. This has inspired me a lot,” she added.
Sania Mirza takes a group photo with SportCares Youth after the sharing session. Photo: SportSG
Having been the United Nations (UN) Women Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia for about two years now, Mirza also explained why contributing to her community and her work with the UN mattered so much to her.
“I come from a part of the world where there are a lot of obstacles. There are women who are facing a lot of bigger problems. Everywhere in the world, actually, not just where I’m from,” she explained.
“We do a lot of work with speaking on equality, about women having equal opportunities and being treated equally, about women just being treated right. I feel that even if I can help one woman lead a better life and help her to believe that she can do what she wants and she can do what she loves, it would be worth it.”
Indeed, Mirza herself has had her fair share of unequal treatment and expectations, growing up as a girl in a traditional Indian society. Faced with admonitions on how she did not belong outdoors because her skin would turn dark and where she would not be able to learn to cook, the plucky player revealed how her naysayers had been a source of motivation.
A SportCares youth presenting a token of appreciation to Sania Mirza while getting her autograph. Photo: SportSG
“I just learnt to fight against the odds because I’m a very stubborn person and if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’ll want to do it even more. That's my way of dealing with it, and I think my parents had a hard time with that attitude. But I feel that this is one of my biggest strengths; and also why I’m here,” she asserted.
This attitude is, in fact, what resonated with Nabila the most. Expressing that her sporting endeavours had not always been smooth-sailing, the young tennis enthusiast shared that Mirza’s passionate determination in the face of adversity was an inspiration to her.
“Today’s session has given me a lot of motivation to keep working hard at what I love most, which is playing tennis. Even if things don’t go well, I will just have to keep pushing on,” she articulated.