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Tennis | WTA

Mirza welcomes boom in Asian women's tennis



Asian tennis poster girl Sania Mirza says the women's game is in its best state ever in the region, with Chinese stars like Li Na leading the charge and a new generation waiting in the wings.

"I think we're probably at the healthiest best in Asian women's tennis," Mirza told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of the French Open.

"Tennis is growing in Asia," she said.

Asia's former No 1 was speaking after a three-set loss with her American doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands to the Russian-Romanian pair of Nina Bratchikova and Edina Gallovits-Hall in the first round at Roland Garros. The shock defeat came after Mirza and Mattek-Sands won the doubles trophy at last week's Brussels Open.

Mirza, who was at a career-best world number 10 in the doubles ranking before Tuesday but has slipped to number 185 in singles from a peak of 27 in 2007, is now unsure of being able to play in the London Olympics.

She's only 25 but injuries have hobbled her career, which reached a climax when she won the mixed doubles with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi at the Australian Open in 2009.

With more than $2.2 million in career prize money and a celebrated wedding in 2010 to Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Malik, Mirza has to decide soon on her tennis priorities in order to preserve her health.

"That's a call I'll take, either playing just singles or just doubles."

Mirza said that after three surgeries – on her wrist and both knees –her body doesn't feel 25 at all.

"It feels much older," she admitted.

"Doubles obviously is a lot less (taxing) physically on your body, it takes less. But having said that, I sometimes do feel that I have it in me to be back again in singles."

"It's not the tennis. I've never doubted about the tennis. It's more about the body."

While more young women across Asia are taking up tennis, inspired by Mirza and Chinese stars like French Open champion Li, the men's singles game hasn't caught up.

Mirza agreed that the massive popularity of football and cricket in Asia could be factors, but also noted that Asian men have to contend with far more powerful players in Europe, Russia and the United States.

"Cricket is obviously like a religion in our country ... maybe that has something to do with it."

"For tennis, you need a court, you need racquets, you need balls," she said. "For cricket, you need a bat and a ball and 22 people can play. In football, you need a ball and you can have so many people playing."

She's keen to have another Indian girl take over from her, but that will not come anytime soon as no other woman in India is ranked above 500.

"It's been pretty unfortunate because I've been flying the flag alone for the last eight years and so I hope someone comes out. Eventually they will, I'm sure."

Indian parents should not expect the new Sania Mirza to emerge after just a few years of training.

"A lot of them expect fame and money and everything to come really quickly as soon as you start, and that puts a lot of pressure on kids," she lamented.

"But they have to understand that it takes 10, 12, 15 years to actually get there."

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