Title eludes Sania Mirza in last Grand Slam

Trailblazing Indian tennis star Sania Mirza capped off her glorious Grand Slam career with a runners-up finish alongside ‘best friend’ Rohan Bopanna in the Australian Open mixed doubles final here on Friday.

Pairing up with her first-ever mixed doubles partner Bopanna, the unseeded Indian duo went down 6-7(2) 2-6 to the Brazilian pair of Luisa Stefani and Rafael Mataos in the final at the Rod Laver Arena.

“If I cry, these are happy tears. That’s just a disclaimer. I’m still going to play a couple of more tournaments but the journey of my professional career started in Melbourne,” an emotional Sania said as she struggled to hold back tears.

“Rohan was my first-ever mixed doubles partner when I was 14 and we won the nationals; it was 22 year ago and I couldn’t think of a better person, he’s my best friend and one of my best partners to finish my career,” Sania said, thanking Bopanna, who has one French Open mixed doubles title to his credit.

The 36-year-old, who earlier announced that the WTA event in Dubai next month would be her swansong, is India’s most accomplished woman tennis player, having won six Grand Slam titles, including three mixed doubles trophies.

She had won the mixed doubles titles at the 2009 Australian Open and the 2012 French Open with Mahesh Bhupathi and the 2014 US Open with Brazilian Bruno Soares.

The Rod Laver Arena has been a happy hunting ground for the Hyderabadi. She has a women’s doubles and mixed doubles title each and has finished runner-up four times at the Australian Open.

“It started in 2005 when I played Serena Williams in the third round as an 18-year-old and that was scarily enough 18 years ago. I have had the privilege to come back here again and again, win some tournaments here and play some great finals amongst you all.

“Rod Laver Arena has really been special in my life and I coudn’t think of a better arena to finish my career at in a Grand Slam,” Sania said.

The presence of her son Izhaan, alongside family and friends, made the occasion sweeter.

“I never thought I’d be able to play in front of my child in a Grand Slam final, so it’s truly special for me, to have my four-year-old here and my parents here, and Rohan’s wife, my trainers, my family in Australia who made me feel like home away from home.

“Cara Black who is my best friend and one of my first partners, it’s been truly special, I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything without you all,” Sania said.

The Indians were on the backfoot from the beginning as they were broken in the very first game and were down 0-2.

But the two veterans managed to settle down after a nervy start, winning three games in a row to quickly take a 5-3 lead. The Brazilians, however, forced a tiebreak capitalising on Bopanna’s poor service games.

With the momentum on their side, Stefani and Mataos took the tiebreak after saving a set point in the 12th game.

The Indians let the Brazilians dominate them in the second set as Sania failed to hold serve in the fourth and eighth games to concede the fixture.

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