One More Digression: Tennis Rant this Time

By Mridula Dwivedi September 7, 2005 28 Comments ,

Update: Mahesh Bhupathi won the mixed doubles tennis title at the US Open playing with Daneila Hantuchova of Slovakia.

TV news channels are reporting that Muslim Board of India has issued a fatwah against tennis player Sania Mirza for her way of dressing up on court. Poor girl, I hope she will come out of this episode quickly.
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Two things prompted me to write this. One, the huge hype built around Sania Mirza back home in India. Two, hardly any mention about Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes in the Indian media though they have achieved a lot in terms of grand slam titles.

A day before Saina Mirza was due to play Maria Sharapova in the last 16 of the US open 2005, I was watching Zee News (an Indian news channel) and in their opinion poll 84% of public said Saina Mirza would win! That made me ponder real hard that why did people think so? Unbound enthusiasm or what? Anyone who had seen Saina and Sharapova play at this US open, would not be betting their money on Sania with her current level of the game, yet 84% said she would win! Is it that people are/were buying the media hype? The final score line was 6-2, 6-1 in favor of Maria Sharapova. And today’s papers claim ‘Line call hit Sania, says her coach.’ One can read it in Asian Age (where there are no visible links for a story) and at Rediff:

There is a call said to affect Sania, when she was down 2-4, and had three break points on Sharapova’s serve. Even if the call had gone into her favor the score would have been 3-4. Anyway, I thought top players dealt with such things routinely and yet managed to win games. And the replays showed very clearly that Sharapova’s service was on the line indeed.

I am not trying to say that Sania is not a good player. She is damn good, but she has miles to go in terms of second serves and reducing her unforced errors before, I (anyone?) can actually think of betting the money on her against Maria Sharapova. But for the Indian press she can do no wrong, it was a line call that ruined her chances. What chances, I want to ask?

In contrast, Mahesh Bhupathi is in the semifinals of the mixed doubles of the US Open 2005 and he even has a glamorous partner, Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia. Yet, the Indian press is largely silent on his exploits. He won Wimbledon mixed doubles crown in the year 2005 playing with Mary Pierce. Leander Paes plays with Martina Navratilova and they have won grand slam events together but it is not hype worthy news for Indian papers. In a country where there are not too many success stories to pick from, I wonder why such noteworthy achievements go under reported. Why not the song and dance about them? Below I am listing the achievements of Bhupathi and Paes (all the facts have been gathered from various internet sites).

Mahesh Bhupathi

MEN’S DOUBLES

YearChampionshipPartner

1999French OpenLeander Paes (IND)

1999WimbledonLeander Paes (IND)

2001French Open Leander Paes (IND)

2002U.S. OpenMax Mirnyi (BLR)

MIXED DOUBLES

YearChampionshipPartner

1997French OpenRika Hiraki (JPN)

1999U.S. OpenAi Sugiyama (JPN)

2002WimbledonElena Likhovtseva (RUS)

2004 – Athens Olympics, reached semi-finals of the doubles competition.

2005WimbledonMary Pierce (FRA)

Leander Paes

1992 – Barcelona Olympics, reached quarter-finals of the doubles competition

1993 – Davis Cup, reached semi-finals

1996 – Atlanta Olympics, singles bronze-medalist

1997 – US Open doubles, reached semi-finals

1998 – reached doubles semi-finals of Australian, French and US Open

1999 – reached doubles finals of all the four Grand Slams, eventually winning at Wimbledon and French Open.
2001 – French Open doubles title

2003 – Wimbledon and Australian Open mixed-doubles title along with Martina Navratilova

2004 – Athens Olympics, reached semi-finals of the doubles competition.

Now is that not impressive?

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28 thoughts on “One More Digression: Tennis Rant this Time”

  1. Mridula,I agree, the hype is too much. Even here in the US, the network and commentators were hyping it up big time. But as for Paes and Bhupathi, we have to note two main differences:1. They played doubles whereas Sania is playing singles. Obviously there is more coverage given to singles. 2. Sania is only 18, and it is her first year on the tour. To achieve what she has achieved, it is incredible. Hey, at least she has won a title – imagine someone like Anna Kournikova, who never won a WTA title, and see what kind of hype she generated! Sania is just a small drop in that kind of an ocean :-)And of course, these days, with corporate money flowing freely for anyone who can excel, and with PR companies working overtime, there is no way they are going to let a *woman* (sorry), a *muslim*, a *teenager* get away unnoticed! What say?

  2. RPM, I can say you have made a very balanced comment. I agree Sania Mirza is a damn good player, and has time on her side. Singles get more coverage that is also true but after all what Bhupathi and Paes win are grand slam titles. Martina Navratilova is a legend and she and Paes play together! Is that not exciting enough? I guess many people would love to read more about them, I get taken aback by the lack of coverage in Indian press for them.But your last line says it all. Thank you so much for giving this wonderful feedback.

  3. i agree with you M for what Sania and the others do.Tennis stars seem to have been forgotten in the new age. As you rightly said, its all about who endorses what and nothing more. Sincerely though, i would like to see the lady in question concentrate on her serves rather than on appearing in ads. Te Ashes seem to be on a path to changing hands and the coverage in media seems pitable. And finally, with the selection of 2006 drivers, Narayan seems to be under the Democles sword currently. Sadly media does not report these and stop at pretty little minority women… so much for equal opportunities !!! cheers

  4. Spiralarcitect, thanks a lot for the comment.But I am getting uncomfortable about the minority issue. Let us drop it, I really don’t think it is that important and I never really thought about it much before RPM mentioned it.

  5. HiThanks for dropping by my blog,my first visit over here :-))Indeed a very good post…I was waiting for some1 to post on Sania Mania…I was in very much enthu to watch the match but was not expecting her to win… Sharopova is hell better than her…People here have hyped Sania a lot… no doubt about that…Infact in the second set, Sania hit the only ace to lead game by 40-15 and then two double faults to make it deuce and 5 deuce after that… b4 she lost that game She has to work a hell lot on her serve… her main game and hits are awesome but serve is the key to tennis…I enjoyed this post…My reply would suggest thatGreat statistics :-)Cheers :-))

  6. Hi Puneet, thanks a lot for stopping by. I really enjoyed post on the teacher’s day, and I am a teacher by profession! I usually blog about travel only but this Sania thing was getting to me and the comments made by her coach finally did it!

  7. Mridula, good point! Yes, Paes and Bhupathi have almost been forgotten. Incidentally, Bhupathi and Bhupathi Sr. have had a major role to play in shaping Sania’s career. The Bhupathis were also instrumental in bringing the WTA tournament to Hyderabad. Hard core fans do remember what Paes and Bhupathi have achieved over the years, but the lack of coverage is sad.Sania has potential, but she has a long way to go. She finds it difficult to put together even a few good games, so winning titles is not going to be easy, especially against the top players. Her physical conditioning will also be critical. I’m out of India at the moment, but I understand that the hype is beyond belief. But then, I may have been guilty of hyping her up myself on my blog 😉

  8. i was nodding all the way along this post … succinctly put !! Sania has miles to go … and if they keep hyping her up she may well think she’s already there !! We r particularly good at making heroes out of thin air , never mind the real ones !!!

  9. Mridula: About the minority issue, I did not make it up. The commentators on the USA Network (which showed most of the matches on TV here in the US) kept saying how she is a ‘devout Muslim’ and how difficult it is for women in India to play sports professionally, etc. So my thought is that if they keep repeating those points, it must be something the marketers would like to exploit, don’t you think? And for the other comment about Grand Slam titles and teaming with Martina: It can only go that far. How many networks anywhere in the world show the first few rounds of doubles in Grand Slams? And worse, how many TV networks in the world show *other* doubles tournaments *at all*??The buzz does not come for free. The PR people will push certain athletes if they can make money off them. What’s the point of pushing Paes/Martina when no one can see them play and no one can see the ‘adidas’ logo???On the other hand, if they were to play in Calcutta or Hyderabad, I can assure you that they will be all over the papers/magazines/tv shows. That’s when the promoters want people to come to the courts to see them live. Anything wrong with being business-minded? 🙁

  10. It is true – “Sania mania” has gripped the country and understandably so, given that Sania, despite the fact that she has a long way to go, has done incredibly well in the last one year. One can’t really take it away from her. I believe the coverage given to her has nothing to do with her being from the minority group – that could be a case in the US where the attempt is always to showcase Islam as an extremely orthodox religion – but not here in India. As to why lesser coverage is given to Paes and Bhupathi, this is my take on it – something new always sells more; and currently Sania is the new rage. One is used to Paes and Bhupathi going out there and doing their thing; in fact, it is expected of them. Is it right? I don’t want to get into that, but this is my two cent on the subject.

  11. I don’t watch much TV but it seems like every year tennis has its new “It” girl. It almost seems like some of them play tennis in order to get the endorsement deals.

  12. Dear Mridula,I fail to understand why is that our country still cannot understand that reaching fourth round at a major tennis event is not winning a tournament. Yeah definitely ,Sania is a very gud player…but i don’t like the media hype!She is all over the news and even made it to the headlines of a major newspaper.Due to excessive media hype players tend to lose their focus and begin to shine brighter in the world of commercials. We have an example in Anna Kournikova. At this juncture, Sania should only concentrate on her game.And I wish her all the best in future..After all she is our city’ girl! Regional feeling!! Just kidding…

  13. Gameboys, thanks a lot for providing the interesting facts for the Bhupathis and their role in shaping Sania’s career. You are right when you say a few good games do not get translated into a grand slam title. Mahesh, Friday is a very busy day for me, I keep taking classes, so after I saw your comment I went to see the scoreboards and, yes, Bhupathi has won along with Hantuchova! Great News indeed. Those interested can scan http://www.samachar.com to see the kind of coverage it has received.Sairam, thanks a lot for your encouragement. It comes from you statement that you were nodding along the post.RPM, I am sorry if my comment in anyway implied that you were making up the minority issue. I would never ever even dream of saying such thing to you. As I said earlier your fist comment was perfectly balanced. All I was trying to say was to others that let us not make it the focal issue of this discussion because I thought there is more to the phenomenon than just that. I was afraid that minority issue might get blown out of proportion. You also bring out the tension between commerce and coverage so well.Emma, maybe you are right about the minority issue being more pertinent in the US, as it also seems from RPM’s comments. However, in the Indian media, we rarely hear about it. Today Bhupathi won the mixed doubles title at the US open and yet Deccan Chronicle has headlines ‘Sania: Inshallah, I’ll be No.’ as seen at http://www.samachar.com Deepak and Lily, you offer me such sound observations.Ganga, now you would understand why I reacted so sharply at your Sania post. You have been so gracious to ignore my rant there. Yes, the example of Anna Kournikova comes to the mind but let us hope she goes Maria Sharapova way. Poison, I am glad you liked my digression and would tolerate more.

  14. being a good or a bad tennis player is as you all have pointed out correctly not a minority issue. it was not a minority issue to Mr. GVM who has has been sponsoring Sania since she she started playing and it is not a minority issue, to bhupathi’s marketing company which manages Sania.The media does tend to be lop-sided in its coverage, tending more to focus on whatever that has captured the national imagination. there is anju george who has won a tournament recently.leander paes and mahesh bhupathi are excellent players and have always got the attention in this country which they deserve.as for her being a pretty face, well she is pretty. 🙂

  15. i agree with hype around the girl…hr t shirts and nose rings make the news than her game….our people hype everything bcos she is a girl etc…India today carried cover story on Sania mAnia….she should play the game and be treated like any other playeruma

  16. Gulnaz, for me Sania Mania has never been a minority issue. I am thrilled to pieces for Anju Bobby George. I am sure many of us are interested in reading such things. Or maybe not, after all 84% people thought Sania can beat Sharapova and newspapers have a business to run.Uma, I agree with you completely. Lest, she may go Kurnikova way!

  17. Guys, one big difference (already) between Sania and Kournikova is that Sania has already won a WTA title. Kournikova never won a WTA title. Does not matter that it was the Hyderabad title, a win is a win is a win. So the hype is somewhat justified but saying that she may take over the world #1 someday is a little too early to call. Unless I am missing a whole lot! 🙂

  18. What I could not understand was the amount of money given to Sania by the AP govt on her return back for her ‘FABULOUS’ performance. First – she doesn’t ned that moeny.. she already has her pockets full from whatever stage she reached here..second – it wasn’t fabulous at all. I saw her match and though the girl has alot of potential she gets her basics wrong. You simply can’t win a game if you get maximum of your serves wrong and the tennis ball is supposed to be placed within the court! Not saying that she didn’t make an effort . After all she (and not me) is the one who reached the US Open to play against Maria. But the hype is really uncalled for!

  19. Can’t agree more with you. Media has a very short-term, market-driven memory. Living in Hyderabad, I do feel how overrated she has become. Fashion-Fanatic, media-driven people are more interested in the punch line of her T-shirt and nose-ring rather than her game. Worst are some news papers that report Sport as style-freaks cheapos. Down with TOIs and DCs, Aaj-Taks and India TVs !

  20. Thoughts, could not agree more with you. She has a lot of potential but let us see how far she can take it.yep, I too find it very irritating when fashion takes front seat and sports the back seat. I got so fed up with TOI and Hindustan Times that now we read The Hindu.

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I am Mridula Dwivedi, I love to travel! I started my travel blog in 2005. I have been going places since! For more details do check out my media kit! In another life I did a Ph.D. from IIT Kanpur. I was a professor when I quit my job in 2015.

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