As was expected, speculation was rife about how well the marriage would work out, whether both the countries would accept it open-mindedly. After all, they were not just two people getting married—there was the politics and sentiments of two countries, not known for their camaraderie, involved. However, both Sania and Shoaib, despite their hectic schedules, have made it work and as they complete three years of togetherness in April, they still seem as much in love as when they met. Maybe, it’s the distance that makes the heart grow fonder…Whatever it is, we are not complaining
He has taken over 100 ODI wickets, and has a batting average in the mid-30s in both Test and ODI cricket, while she is a women’s doubles top ranking tennis sensation, her latest conquest being the Brisbane doubles. While the country is reeling under Indo-Pak hostility, this super sports couple, best in their own fields, seems to share a sizzling chemistry.
The love story
Sania Mirza, now Malik, narrates her love story with a twinkle, “I knew him from a long time. We had met a couple of times, but only socially and formally. We met for the first time in 2004 in Hobart when he was playing against Australia and I had a tournament. After that, we continued correspondence and later met in Dubai. Actually, we started seeing each other more often, mostly coincidentally, like the time Shoaib was playing against England and I was there too at the same time for a tournament.” She further continues with a relieved tone that even her parents liked him when they met Shoaib.
Though Shoaib may seem like a no-nonsense cricketer, concerned only about his game, Sania shatters the myth. “He is romantic in a different way,” she says. “In fact, after we started dating, I found that once he had pretended to run into me by chance, which was not the case at all.” As a reply to this charge by Sania, Shoaib fondly says, “I knew Sania long before we met in Australia where I had gone for a match and incidentally even she was there for the Australian Open. We met by chance at an Indian restaurant or at least I made it sound like a chance meeting! So, things took its course from thereon, I got to know her better and here we are.”
About life after marriage
Sania has managed to divide her time between her professional and personal commitments which involves her in-laws too. But, for the tennis champ, nothing seems to have changed. She says, though they still travel in different directions, the feeling that Shoaib is out there supporting her truly motivates her. “Actually, I feel we are still dating,” she giggles and goes on to talk about her bonding with Shoaib’s family. “Shoaib’s family does not live with us and even though we don’t spend that much time together, I get along well with all of them. I share a great relationship with my mother-in-law.”
Meanwhile, Shoaib has made Hyderabad his second home, thanks to the pleasant rapport he enjoys with Sania’s family. “They are family to me,” he gushes. “Whenever I’m in Hyderabad, I like to spend more time at home with Sania and Anam (Sania’s sister),” he adds.
Sania and Shoaib are very different personalities but opposites attract and the couple shares a fantastic chemistry. Like a couple head over heels in love, there is no dearth of compliments that they pay each other. While Shoaib praises Sania’s positive energy and her well grounded personality, Sania is a bit tongue-in-cheek with her remark when she says, “What I like about Shoaib is that he’s very patient and what I don’t like is that he’s too patient.”
Life has not changed much for this tennis star. Maybe, it has become a little more demanding, but not that it bothers Sania. For a player, who has been playing tennis since she was a kid, Sania is used to travelling but now, she travels a little bit more, not just for herself but for Shoaib as well so that they can catch up and spend time with each other. “For me, my priority has always been my game,” she starts off and thanks her stars that her husband understands that, what with him being a sportsperson himself. Because they are on the same page when it comes to their ambitious careers, Shoaib’s understanding makes it easier for Sania to balance her professional and personal life. “As a professional athlete, I’m still playing post marriage. I am passionate about tennis, so nothing can stop me from playing,” she says with pride and continues contentedly, “Shoaib attends my matches whenever he finds the time. And, thanks to him, it’s been a great year, probably the best—winning the French Open, ranking seventh highest in the world in Women’s Doubles, as well as the Pattaya and Brussels Open, but you should never be satisfied and always strive for more, so here’s hoping that 2013 will be a better year. It has already started on a good note,” says an ecstatic Sania.
At this point, the understanding husband chips in fondly, “Well, as a professional athlete myself, I understand the rigours of the modern game. While she knows what’s best when it comes to tennis, I try to lend support in whatever manner I can—especially when she’s playing. It’s easier for me to relate to the highs and lows that come with a sport played on the international stage.”
Their games—ups and downs
Sania and Mahesh Bhupathi have partnered very often and have even had a few wins but they recently parted ways. Sania however does not agree and sets the record straight, “Mahesh and I are very good friends and will always remain that way. We haven’t moved away from each other. As of now, we have committed to different partners. I’m playing with a legend like Bob Bryan and we are committed till the Australian Open. I may play with Mahesh again in the future.”
For a cricketer who has always made his presence felt in the field, international limelight is nothing new for Shoaib and he talks about his game. Shoaib says he is well adjusted to the media attention showered on him and that he loves coming to India. “I love the warmth with which I am received here. I don’t feel any different to when I’m in Pakistan,” he says, even as he talks about Pakistan scripting a historic series win in the ODIs against India. “The experience was intense like it always is with these games, but we try to be as relaxed as possible. It’s satisfying winning a series away from home in India.”
Reaching out to the skies
After having been lavished with love and appreciation, Sania has now taken it upon herself to do her bit for the society in the form of a tennis academy. About her world class tennis academy that is coming up in Hyderabad, Sania enlightens, “I always wanted to start an academy because I strongly feel we need to provide the right training for our country to produce more tennis players. Setting up an academy is very time consuming and we have been planning for years to set up the right infrastructure. Because of my regular travelling, it has been taking time, but in spite of that, I get actively involved with it whenever I get a break and the involvement is the same.” Even marriage hasn’t brought a change in her commitment to make this happen. The academy will see the light of the day once Sania is back from Australia. But, for those who felt that the academy will ensure the tennis champ will shift base permanently to Hyderabad, well, Sania is sorry to disappoint. “I will not shift base. I already spend a lot of time in Hyderabad. Actually, I have two homes—Hyderabad and Dubai. In between my tournaments, I always visit my home in Hyderabad to spend time with my family,” she claims.
Apart from the academy, Sania and her sister, along with a few friends, will be starting a coffee shop. And, she proudly claims that it would be the biggest (around 10,000 sq ft) and the best Hyderabad will have ever seen.
Though many critics feel setting up academies by players during their playing years would affect their careers, Sania thinks otherwise. “I feel it depends on every individual. I can’t speak for others. I can only speak for myself. I feel you should know how to balance your time between your game and your academy. Fortunately for me, I have a good team around me—my parents. It will not be just me running the academy—my family and I will work on it as a team.” She takes this opportunity to mention her parents’ commitment when it comes to her career. “My parents have the best of experience. They are the ones who decided what training and coaches would be ideal for me when I was very young. They made all the decisions which were the best for my career. Since they have travelled along with me for my tournaments, the experience has helped them gain enough knowledge about the difference in training academies abroad and here,” she says.
Love—the universal language
Sania and Shoaib are both passionate about their own countries and playing for India and Pakistan is something that comes naturally to them though many have been apprehensive about their loyalties. But, Shoaib is cut and right about this when he says, “I feel there is nothing dramatic about playing against India just because Sania is an Indian. Our marriage has nothing to do with the countries we represent. We both understand and respect the fact that we play for countries that are rivals in sport but that doesn’t change the way we conduct ourselves at home. As her husband, I’m proud of the fact that she has achieved so much for her country and wouldn’t want to change that and vice versa.”
Recently, for the first time ever, Shoaib and Sania appeared on the Star Plus reality show, ‘Nach Baliye Season 5’, where they not only stole the show with their romantic dance number, but helped some contestants portray their emotional love story as well. And, last but not the least, Shoaib even sang a tender romantic number for his lady love in front of the audience. But, these shows have in no way hampered their performances either on the field or the court. The cricketer says, “The immediate focus is to play for Pakistan for a couple of years more and when the time is right, we will explore a cricket academy.” And, what about Bollywood offers, endorsements with Sania or biography proposals from Indian writers? Shoaib refutes strongly, “I don’t think so! These things are secondary and whenever any such opportunities arise, we discuss and take a call together, like we did for ‘Nach Baliye Season 5’. Our priorities remain with cricket and tennis.”
Even as Sania prepares herself for the Australian and Doha Open and then the US leg, and Shoaib readies himself for the next match, there is no denying that love still rules the heart of this successful couple.