Sania gearing up for important season

Returning from injury, Indian ace eyes Oly qualification

The Indian star, recovering from a left-knee surgery, has been slugging it out with the younger players in the Fed Cup camp at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA) complex. She admits the coming year will be crucial for her, with the London Olympic Games being the big event on the calendar.

But first up for Sania will be the two tournaments at Auckland and Hobart in early January before she heads for the first Grand Slam of the year, the Australian Open. The 25-year-old feels it is too early to plan things out for the Olympics and insists her immediate priority is to play her first match on return, “pain free”.

“As a tennis player it is at the back of our minds that it is the Olympic year but we have three Grand Slams to look forward to before that. So it is not like other sports where we have to solely train for eight months for one event,” Sania told Deccan Herald.

“The Olympics is eight months away. It is a long time to focus on Olympics and as of now, for all tennis players the most important thing is the Australian Open.”

It is not going to be easy for Sania, who will need to be in top 60 in the singles and top 10 in doubles to qualify for the quadrennial event. She is currently ranked 87th in singles and 11th in doubles. The Hyderabadi is aware of the need to strike a balance between her singles and doubles matches and feels the next couple of months could spell out her future course.

“Today, tennis is so physical. You play singles and doubles together. It is one of the reasons I got injured (three surgeries before turning 25). The next few months will open up a lot of things. I also need to manage things for the Olympics. So everything will become clearer in the coming months,” she said. “The more important thing is to make it to the Olympics in a healthy state.”

As of now, Sania is satisfied with her recovery from the torn meniscus,  which kept her out of action since the US Open in September.

“My knee is recovering better than what I and the doctors thought. I have been doing rehab for five hours daily with a South African and an Australian trainer in Dubai and then Abu Dhabi as Shoaib (Malik) was playing there. So I was being a wife and doing nothing but cheering for my husband,” she laughed.

While Sania is comfortable partnering any of the three men players -- Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna -- for the mixed doubles in Olympics, she rues the lack of quality women tennis players on the Indian circuit. “I have seen a lot of youngsters in the last two days in the camp. They are talented but are still very young  A lot of them are also 18-19  and it is not that young an age in tennis. When I was 18, I was ranked 30 in the world,” she said.

“It would have been great to have another woman player. On Tour, sometimes I feel lonely as other players have people with whom they can speak in the same language. It is a sad story.”

Sania now leaves for Hyderabad for a couple of days before she heads to Mumbai for a two-week training camp with Mahesh Bhupathi.

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