Sania Mirza’s marriage to former Pakistan Test cricketer Shoaib Mailik made front-page news around the globe but her subsequent return to tennis had hardly followed suit and British teenager Heather Watson drove another withering blow into the Indian’s credentials as a leading performer.
Watson, who comes from the picturesque Channel Island of Guersney but is based at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, Florida and won the US Open junior title 11 months ago, completely outplayed Mirza to win the AEGON GB Pro-Series $25k ITF event in Wrexham, North Wales.
Mirza’s has struggled to get her career back on track since her much-documented nuptials. India’s foremost female sports star was sufficiently fit to return to action after a long absence, enforced by wrist problems, at the Edgbaston grass court event prior to Wimbledon and after beating Taipei’s Yung-Jan Chan she lost to veteran Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand. She failed to make it through qualifying at Eastbourne and then lost in Wimbledon’s opening round to Angelique Kerber.
The Wrexham event, played on had court, was Mirza’s first tournament after Wimbledon and she reached both singles and doubles finals. On Saturday night, combined with Emma Laine, she lost the doubles final against Tara Moore and Stephenson 2-6, 6-3, 13-11. Then the following afternoon she lost out 6-2, 6-4 to Watson.
Nevertheless Mirza was upbeat and optimistic about two big Asian based events in upcoming months. “I am pleased with the way things have gone in this tournament and hope to keep improving,” said the 24-year-old. “The focus will be clearly to be at my best for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi (starting October 3) and the Asian Games (starting November 12 in Guangzhou, China) later this year.”
For Watson, coached through the Lawn Tennis Association by Billy Wilkinson, the final was her fifth straight-sets win of the week, beating top seed. Her only previous senior title came at another low key British event, a $10,000 event in Frinton, Essex last summer. She said: “I just told myself I had nothing to lose because Sania's been ranked 27 in the world before. I just did a lot of running and got as many balls in court as I could.”
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