Sania's 'courtship' in maze of life

Melbourne: Sania Mirza is the most celebrated female athlete in South Asia. Sania's movements on and off a tennis court, including her surprise 2010 marriage to a Pakistani cricket player, are the staple of tabloids and television across the vast subcontinent of 1.7 billion people.

Cementing their rock-star status, Sania, 26, and her husband, Shoaib Malik, 30, appeared on India's version of 'Dancing with the Stars.'

On air, reported an Indian daily, "Sania also talked about the ordeal they faced ' the controversies surrounding their marriage ' and how constant surveillance by the media almost took a toll on their personal life."

That experience is one of the subjects Sania said she intends to relate in an autobiography for which she has written '19 or 20' chapters with her father. A final chapter is probably a year away, she said.

Even for tennis players on the world tour, who are used to travelling through a maze of unfamiliar cultures, the life of Sania might seem unreal. There was, for example, a tennis tournament in Calcutta.

"I remember having a thousand people for security," Sania said. "I couldn't leave the hotel room without informing about five different people. And even when I did, I had a car in front of me and I had a car behind me. I had a guy sitting with me."

Authorities had braced for what was perceived as a potential threat from enraged followers of a respected Muslim cleric, who was quoted as saying Sania, a practising Muslim, should not play in a short tennis skirt.

Nothing happened.

"Months later," she said, the cleric denied the making the remarks, telling reporters, "I never said that, they just came and asked me, 'Is it okay, is it cool?' So he said, 'no it's not, but I'm very proud of the fact that she's a Muslim and she's doing what she is.'"

The cleric's expression of pride was not included in the story, Sania said.

Sania's marriage to Malik astonished people in both countries, she said, because the pair, who met in Australia in 2004, had hidden their relationship.

"We were both high profile on that side of the world," she said. "So I think that, because of the political situation or whatever it is between India and Pakistan, everyone was a little startled by it.

"I think tennis teaches you that, and sport teaches you that religion and colour and race and country is the last thing that you look at when you meet a person.

"And I think that's the beautiful part about sports," Sania said. "I married the person I loved and he married the person he loved."

The couple reportedly resides in Dubai, although Sania lists Hyderabad as her residence in Women's Tennis Association records.

"Against All Odds," Sania said, is her preferred title for the book, a work in progress for about 18 months. Its publication has been delayed by two events, she said.

Last summer, Sania and Mahesh Bhupathi won the French Open mixed doubles title, a Grand Slam crown that could not be ignored in the book, she said.

Then, as the players prepared for the Summer Olympics, a dispute broke out between Bhupathi and Leander Paes. Sania found herself caught in the middle when the Indian tennis federation intervened, announcing that she would be paired with Paes. She was not consulted, she said. Sania called the decision "a little male chauvinistic."

Last summer's controversy involving Bhupathi and Paes, told from her point of view, will be part of her effort to write about "things that have never come out," she said.

Composing a book in the middle of a career is difficult, she said "What happens is that every time I try to write a final chapter, something major happens in my life."

So, instead of Against All Odds, another title might be in order.

Perhaps 'Adventure Interrupted' would be better.

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