Indian Women Tennis Players at International Level Will Hopes & Dreams Materialise?

Why have Indian woman tennis players taken so long to arrive on the international scene ? The history of tennis in India provides part of the answer. Tennis was introduced in India by the British in the last quarter of the 19th century. The Ladies event was inaugurated during the Punjab Lawn Tennis Championship in 1887 at Lahore (now in Pakistan). Those were the days of the British Raj in India and the participation of women was usually restricted to the wives and daughters of British civilians and army officers posted in India. Indian women’s participation in various tournaments started slowly and not until the end of the 1910s or the early 1920s did they come forward to play any significant role in the game, and it came in the mixed doubles rather than in the singles. It is not surprising that Indian women took time in establishing themselves in tennis, as it was, in the beginning, a sport of the rich and elite.
The first Indian woman representative in Wimbledon was Jenny Boland (Sandison) in 1929. She was the younger sister of EM Sandison, who was the first woman singles champion of Indian origin. In 1930, she beat Betty Nuthall, the US Champion while playing in Europe. She became the undisputed No.1 tennis player for six straight years — from 1930 to 1935 — in Europe. In 1934 at Wimbledon, Leela Dayal (Row) was the first Indian lady to win a round against Miss GM Southwell of Britain. In 1952 Rita Davar was the only women to become runner up in the Junior Girls Wimbledon. Nirupama Mankad was another sensation of her times in the tennis world. She was an Asian Champion as a teenager in 1965 and was the first Indian woman tennis player to get the prestigious Arjuna award for tennis. In 1990, women’s tennis was spear headed by another veteran — Nirupama Vaidyanathan. She was the first Indian woman since 1968 to win a round in the 1998 Australian Open. And talking of Grand Slam performances by Indian women tennis players, in 1998 Nirupama also beat Gloria Pizzichini of Italy who was more than 100 spots ahead of Nirupama in the world rankings.
Sania Mirza has so far been the most successful Indian woman player in tennis. She started her career on a high note when she won the junior doubles title at Wimbledon in 2003 with her partner Alisa Kleybanova. She was the first Indian woman to win a Wimbledon title. She is also the second woman after Nirupama Vaidyanathan to participate in the Australian Open in 2005. Veteran tennis player Martina Navratilova praised Sania stating that, “Sania could make her place among the top fifty.” She proved this statement later in 2007 when she jumped in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings to 27th spot in singles and 7th in the doubles. And in 2011, at Wimbledon, she entered the semi finals in the doubles and the quarter finals in the mixed doubles. She has won the 2009 Australian Open and 2012 French Open in mixed doubles. Recently in the China Open 2012, she entered the finals in the women’s doubles along with her partner N. Llagostera Vives but unfortunately lost the match.
Till now, no other Indian woman tennis player apart from Sania Mirza has been able to attain such a high world ranking and win so many awards. Today, there are other promising women tennis players on the scene like Sanaa Bhamri, Isha Lakhani but whether they will be able to emulate Sania Mirza or rise higher in the world rankings is a matter of conjecture.

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