Sania Mirza: 'I support my husband but I support India too'


BIRMINGHAM, England - If Sania's Mirza's detractors on social media ever think they are hurting their target by trolling her or sending hateful messages, they had better think again.

"I'm pretty numb to them," the world's No. 7 doubles player said after being criticised for being even-handed on twitter after Pakistan beat India in the Champions Trophy final last Sunday. "It is very easy to sit and judge someone from the outside and, honestly, I feel sad for the haters.

"I don't have that many -- it's probably 20 percent haters and 80 percent good - but it's still a large number of people. I feel sad for them that they have so much hate for a person they don't even know.

"To have such a strong dislike toward someone you have never met or have no idea about, and who you're so irrelevant to -- you've got to be really miserable."

The trolling of Indian superstar Mirza this time didn't plumb the depths such things sometimes do but, as the wife of Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik, and with 5.97 million followers, she would have good reasons for treading a delicate line on social media in these circumstances.

Mirza flew to the UK before the grass-court tennis season to watch the Champions Trophy and support her husband. While preparing for Wimbledon at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham on Tuesday, she just wished people wouldn't read too much into the sporting rivalry between their two countries.

"I support my husband, of course, but I support India, too. It's not as dramatic as people want to make it sound. They think we are at each other with knives every time India plays Pakistan. It's not like that.

"We have to remember it's sport. That's the message every athlete wants to put across. It doesn't matter. When India lost to Pakistan, they lost a game of cricket, that's the bottom line. It's not war, a matter of life and death.

"There were some amazing visuals the ICC put out after the match: my husband was talking to [India players] Yuvraj Singh and Virat Kohli, sharing a joke. It was 10 minutes after the match, before the presentation ceremony. That is the spirit of the game.

"India and Pakistan are so similar: we speak the same language, eat the same food, most things are the same. They [the teams] actually get along with each other as well as, or probably better than, with other people because the cultures are so similar.

"I find it absurd that people can't understand that, but maybe if you don't play a sport it's tough."

The value of being able to communicate directly with fans is clear to Mirza and, while she admitted to getting occasionally riled by some of the messages, she claimed to read few of them.

The 30-year-old's approach is to "stay true" to herself, something she said she has learnt since becoming famous in her homeland as a teenager. "It doesn't really matter what a random guy sitting 5,000 miles away is saying to me," she added. "I don't take anything to heart, whether it's good or bad, because neither of them lasts."

Mirza's off-court resilience might come in handy this summer when she dons her Wimbledon outfit at the All England Club because it is likely to be alongside a new doubles partner, Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens.

She split with long-time partner Martina Hingis last August and, after joining with Barbora Strycova repeatedly, the 2016 year-end world No. 1 doubles player had been due to play with Yaroslava Shvedova. However, the Kazakhstan player ruled herself out of The Championships with an ankle injury this week.

"Of course, it is disappointing to lose a regular doubles partner just three days before the entry deadline of a major but there is not much that can be done about it," said Mirza, who is partnering American Coco Vandeweghe in Birmingham and has reached the quarterfinals.

"Flipkens is ranked 48th in the world and we will certainly not be seeded very high at Wimbledon. Tennis for me is all about giving it my best shot and we will try to defy odds and give a good account of ourselves at Eastbourne (if we can still find a way to get into the draw at this late stage) and at Wimbledon."