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Sania and yet so far

Barkha Shah  |  New Delhi 

India's newest sporting sensation is dividing her time between training sessions, physiotherapist visits and the media glare.
Not every 18-year-old girl is inundated with offers for advertisements cumulatively worth Rs 6 crore in under a fortnight. But then Sania Mirza is no ordinary girl.
The only Indian woman tennis player to get into the third round of a grand slam tournament, Sania is drawing frenzied attention from Indian brands, who seem at last to have found a popular female face from the arena to endorse their products.
At 18, Sania could end up earning more than what India's best known brand, Sachin Tendulkar, earned at the same age.
Anirban Das Blah, vice president (sales and marketing), Globosport, the management company that manages Sania's portfolio, says, "Sania today definitely commands a better price than Sachin did at 18. But the comparison is unfair as the market then was different."
As of today, Sania has been offered as many as 21 commercials for products ranging from mobile phones and snack foods to personal care and even diamonds.
"The kind of products that she is being offered point to the fact that she is being looked at not just as a sports figure but as a mainstream youth icon as well," says Blah, adding that around five brands have been shortlisted.
"Of these, we will be selecting two brands for her to endorse this year, apart from the present commercial for Tata tea."
Sania, however, looks at her endorsements differently. "I do not really like watching myself in television commercials. My friends keep pulling my leg, asking me how I could do such things," she laughs.
Success clearly sits lightly on her. And in a manner only a teenager can, she does say emphatically that she will continue to do commercials whether she likes looking at her mug on the idiot box or not.
Since Sania's return from Melbourne after the Australian Open, she has been all over the media. In fact, as Imran Mirza, her father, worriedly points out, "She does not even find time nowadays for her own practice sessions!"
Sania made history by becoming the first Indian woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam tennis event after winning over Australia's Cindy Watson and Petra Mandula of Hungary.
Nirupama Vaidya-nathan, the only other Indian woman to have won a Grand Slam match, made it only till the second round of the Australian Open in 1998.
Therefore, in spite of having lost to the eventual winner "" Serena Williams "" Sania was welcomed with bouquets and compliments for giving Indian sports a new reason to smile.
"Playing against Serena was never intimidating. In fact, the toughest part of any such tournament is just the travel," says the level-headed girl, whose efforts did not go unnoticed.
While the Andhra Pradesh chief minister congratulated her on putting the state's name on the world tennis circuit, state tourism minister Geetha Reddy called her the face of the girl child and the ambassasor of the state.
Sania has again got a wild card entry for the WTA tournament at Hyderabad scheduled from February 7. So has she changed her daily regimen based on the experience at the Grand Slam? "I am working more on my physical fitness now," she says.
There have also been talks about her being paired with Martina Navratilova for the tournament.
Sania says, "It will be a privilege if I get to play with her but if I don't, I will not bother much."
Training sessions, visits to physiotherapists, media glare and college sessions. So does Sania find any time for herself? "Not much," she rues.
"But whenever I am free, I relax by watching television, listening to music, going out with friends...just like any other normal person,"she says.
Her doting father, however, says that she misses out on many things that an 18-year old would otherwise do. "We try to ensure that we spend time as a family together," Mirza says, "but with the media glare, it gets tough."
"Her day starts at 5.30 am with prayers, followed by a practice session from around 7-9.30 am. She has another practice session from around 3.30-5.30 followed by an hour at the gym," Mirza explains.
"She sometimes attends college too," he smiles.
Sania is a mass communication student. So, later in life, does she see herself writing about the sport she loves? "I am not sure. My educational priorities keep changing," she says.
But where does she see herself 10 years down the line? "Ten years is too long a period for me to think about," Sania says.
"I will probably retire. I may get married...may not get married," she trails off.
"But I will not be able to start an academy to teach budding sportspersons in tennis," says Sania. Ask her for a reason and she giggles,"I don't have the patience to teach others."
Her frankness seems to be the most endearing quality of this new star on the horizon.

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First Published: Sat, February 05 2005. 00:00 IST