Exclusive: 'Sports industry will take long time to return to normalcy' - Sania Mirza reflects on lockdown situation, cancellation of tournaments and much more

Written By: Digvijay Singh Deo WION Web Team
New Delhi, Delhi, India Updated: Jun 08, 2020, 04:30 PM(IST)

Exclusive | Sania Mirza in conversation with WION Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

Ace Indian tennis star, Khel Ratna awardee, former world number one and six-time Grand Slam champion, Sania Mirza, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up about a lot of things ranging from how she is dealing with the current lockdown, cancellation of sporting events, charity work at ground zero, how is she preparing for the resumption of season, and much more...

With the COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc, the sporting calendar has come to an unprecedented halt. Almost every sporting events and tournaments have been either cancelled or postponed with no uncertainty as to when the action will resume. Tennis is one of the sports to be affected most by the pandemic with tournaments like Wimbledon, French Open, Indian Wells, Rogers Cup, among others being rescheduled or completely called off due to the dreaded COVID-19. 

Ace Indian tennis star, Khel Ratna awardee, former world number one and six time Grand Slam champion, Sania Mirza, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor Digvijay Singh Deo, opened up about a lot of things ranging from how she is dealing with the current lockdown, cancellation of sporting events, charity work at ground zero, how is she preparing for the resumption of season, and much more...


Digvijay Singh Deo: Sania, it has been almost 3 weeks now since the lockdown began, how have you been?

Sania Mirza: I have been good and been taking care of my health, which is the most important thing. I returned from the USA about a month back, just before the lockdown started. I have actually been in lockdown for more than 3 weeks since I was self-isolating when I came to India. The nationwide lockdown began in the middle of my scheduled 2-week self-isolation. So I've been in the house for over a month now.

DSD: First up, I must say that thanks to your father we get to know all the important dates and yesterday was your 10th wedding anniversary and also the 5th anniversary of you becoming world number one!

Sania Mirza: Somehow 12th of April seems to be a very important day in my life. Celebrating my anniversary is a bit difficult because my husband, Shoaib Malik, is in Pakistan and I am in Hyderabad. He was playing the Pakistan Super League when the lockdown began, so he had to rush back to his home in Pakistan. Now, we are not sure when we'll be able to see each other again or go back to Dubai.

My son, Izhaan, is really missing his father. But having said that 10 years is a major milestone in a marriage and it seems like it was only yesterday when I got married, which I guess is a good thing. A high profile marriage brings its share of difficulties, but I have no complaints so far and I'm very grateful for that. We've had a long run and we're looking forward to spending many more years together.

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Exclusive | Sania Mirza in conversation with WION

DSD: You are blessed to have family around in these items.again thanks to your father I have sort of glimpsed what is going on in the house, so table tennis matches and also jigsaw puzzle attempts.

Sania Mirza: I think the lockdown has helped people get a new perspective on their lives. For me, getting back to the tennis court and competing again was such a priority, but now I just want my family to be healthy. I'm grateful that I'm getting to spend so much time with my family. Since there is a lockdown, you do need some activity to pass the time. So we've been doing puzzles, apart from that I've been working out for a couple of hours every day .it's tough to motivate yourself to workout every day, but I have been pushing myself.

Then, of course, having a 17-month-old child is a full-time job, he's walking and running about now so I'm constantly behind him. The only reason I'm doing this interview right now because he's taking his nap at the moment. But overall it has been an eye-opening experience for me to able to spend this time at home for such a long time. As athletes, we hardly get the opportunities to be with our families for more than a few days at a stretch.tennis is irrelevant right now, I just want me and my loved ones to be healthy.

DSD: I was speaking g to Pankaj Advani the other day and he made an important point, he said this crisis has taught us to appreciate the small things in life that we take for granted, the trash getting picked up, the healthcare workers, the food at home, the utensils...

Sania mirza: Yes, I do feel we took things for granted. Something as simple as like going out for a walk has also become a luxury. This is an eye-opening experience and puts everything in perspective for us humans. There were so much hatred and animosity that was present in the world before this crisis and I feel all that has disappeared because all that people care about is their health at this time. we are all in this together and fighting the virus as one united front. Maybe we needed a crisis like this, we needed a warning from God in order to change the way we function as a species.
Maybe it's the athlete in me who is trying to look for a positive in such an adverse situation, but I am grateful that I am home and get to spend time with my family.

DSD: You actually were almost stranded when this entire thing blew up...you were at the Fed Cup and that was a historic win for Indian women’s tennis, then you went to the US and Indian Wells was cancelled...must have been extremely worrying and thankfully your son wasn't with you...

Sania Mirza: Yes, I remember returning from the Fed Cup tie on a Saturday night at about 1:30 am and leaving for the US just a few hours later on a Sunday morning flight. If I had booked a Monday morning flight, I wouldn't have had to make the trip because the Indian wells cancellation announcement would have been made. Eventually, that decision was made just a few hours after I landed in California. Luckily, my father's sister lives in San Diego, which is a two-hour drive from Indian wells, so we were able to stay in a safe environment at the time. It was a conscious decision not to take my son the USA, I just didn't want to be on a 16-hour flight with the prevailing situation.

I reached India on the 15th of march and the borders were closed on the 18th, so I got really lucky. It would have been terrible for us if our 17-month-old child was without his father or mother in these times of crisis. There was a 24-hour delay on our flight back to India, but eventually, my father and I reached safe and sound. We were very conscious about the fact that we had to isolate for the next 2 weeks even though were feeling healthy.

Exclusive | Sania Mirza in conversation with WION

DSD: Lots happening in world sport since...but you have been extremely busy, not sure all out viewers know but you have been providing food for a lot of people...tell me a bit about that.

Sania Mirza: We do a lot of work with the underprivileged throughout the year, it's just something that I try not to publicise that much.but on this occasion I felt like I needed to come out and ask for support. One of my sister's friends was involved with an NGO, called Safa Society, working to raise funds during the crisis and trying to feed as many people as they can, so I made a donation to the organisation.  I also joined the initiative and it eventually became an initiative called the youth feed India movement. Till last week we had raised about 1.25 crores for the case, I got a lot of members of my family to pitch in and it has been a real collective effort. There are many people working on the front in Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Chennai. It is a completely youth-driven movement, so it makes me very proud to be associated with an initiative like this.

Now, we have almost raised 2.5 crore rupees and helped a lot of families get access to food. But the problem in a crisis like this is that no matter how much money you raise, there will always be people that still need some sort of support. So it is an ongoing effort and we are still trying to grow as an organisation and reach out to as many people as we can. Sometimes I almost feel guilty of being privileged, when I see workers with their kids on their shoulders, walking 700 kilometres to get home. I realised how blessed and fortunate I am to be able to be home, I want to help in any which way I can. It is also challenging to contribute while maintaining the principle of social distancing, but we're doing all we can.

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DSD: Sportspersons are role models for a reason and heartening to see many of your contemporaries, be it in cricket and Olympic sports coming forward and lending a hand, sports cuts across class, culture and religion especially in our country...

Sania Mirza: Sport has always united people. I think sport is the most level playing field in the world in terms of the opportunities it gives to individuals. Sport has the power to bring people together and we have seen such amazing stories from the sporting world over the years. Even among the biggest rivals, there is great camaraderie when they play with each other. I think that is because there is always a mutual respect for each other. An athlete realises the struggles and sacrifices that need to be put in to reach the top level. So there is respect between individuals regardless of the country or sport that you pursue.i'm so delighted that the athletes are contributing to the battle against the coronavirus. It is imperative for athletes to contribute in these times because they are in a position to do so and spread the message of goodwill and positivity. 

DSD: Getting back to sport... No French Open, no Wimbledon, no Olympics...pretty dramatic last one month in terms of announcements...

Sania Mirza: It is so sad that these cancellations are taking place. I have been speaking to some of the other tennis professionals lately, we don't get that much of a chance to connect otherwise, but this lockdown gives us an opportunity to catch up. The other day I was speaking to my former doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands trying to make sense of this unprecedented situation. None of us has any idea when we will get the opportunity to be on the court again. All major sports have been hit extremely hard because even if there is a crisis in one country, it disrupts all events in the calendar.

So I think sport as an industry will take a long time to return to normalcy. It is very unfortunate because sport is not just entertainment, it is something that unites people. I don't remember the last time I switched on the television and there was no live-action taking place. Of course, as a tennis player, I'm very sad that no Grand Slams are taking place, but sport is irrelevant right now in the global scheme of things. The priority is to get through this crisis together and be healthy.

DSD: You and Rohan reached the medal match in mixed doubles at Rio 2016 and an Olympic medal is something you desperately crave for to complete your personal set...does this postponement works out well for you?

Sania Mirza: I'm not really looking at the postponement in that manner. As an athlete, the Olympics is something you always look forward to, but we still had three grand slam and other major tournaments scheduled before the Tokyo Games. So I'm not really sure if the postponement works in my favour. But for other athletes, the postponement might be unfortunate, because 15 months is a long time for an athlete. Physically and mentally that might make all the difference for some players. I'm also going to be 34 at the end of the year, so the age factor is something I also have to consider. At the moment, I feel I will play in my fourth Olympics, but I'm just dealing with things on a day-to-day basis.

Exclusive | Sania Mirza in conversation with WION

DSD: Usually when you have. A break, you have a target...right now so much uncertainty...you do not know when the tour will resume. How do you prepare for the eventual resumption of the season?

Sania Mirza: The difficult part is the uncertainty of the calendar. Golf has come out with a calendar at the moment, but at the moment we have no way of knowing what the situation will be like in say, August or September. Canada has already banned all events till august 31, which means the Women's Rogers Cup has been cancelled. I think we have to deal with things on a daily basis, it is very difficult to plan for things two or three months in advance since the situation is changing every minute. I'm just working on my fitness at home, I can't play tennis even though I have a court at home because I don't have a partner due to the social distancing rules. The only aspect of my game I can work on is my serve. People are finding it disturbing because of the uncertainty around everything at the moment, but at the moment the only thing we can do is wait for the situation to get better. I'm just really looking forward to the day when we can all get back to our normal lives.

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