DUBAI // Sania Mirza feels almost as much a local heroine in the UAE as she does in her native India so there was extra sadness on her side of the net yesterday at her frustrating failure to rise to the occasion in the Dubai Tennis Championships.
A recurrence of the troublesome wrist injury which has blighted a promising career prevented her from firing on all cylinders against Spanish opponent Anabel Medina Garrigues and led to a 6-3, 6-4 downfall at the hands of a player she had beaten in their only previous encounter. "It was hurting me when I was trying to change the direction of the ball, so that doesn't help in a match if you can't change direction," said a worried Mirza who disclosed that the problem affects her mentally as much as physically.
The 77th-ranked Mirza, who has suffered first-round exits in four of the five events she has played in this season, added: "When you have experienced a careerthreatening injury, and it starts to come back, you obviously start having a lot of thoughts in the middle of the match. So yeah, I started to think. "The doctor came and she said she couldn't do anything about the swelling except tape it. So she just taped it and I took a few anti-inflammatories for the pain. But you're thinking of a lot of other things when something like that is happening in the middle of the match, which is not good, but it's human, I guess."
Mirza, 23, who underwent surgery in April 2008 when the injury first occurred and made an unsuccessful comeback attempt at the Beijing Olympics, is resigned to having to put up with the inconvenience for what remains of an uncertain future as a sportswoman. "Unless I change my grip, which is not going to happen, I think this is something that I'm going to have to deal with for the rest of my career," she said. "It's all about how to manage it, rather than how to prevent it, because prevention is something I can't do unless I go off the tour for something like two years."
Mirza and Medina Garrigues opened the proceedings on day two of the women's tournament so the crowd at the Dubai Tennis Centre was not as large as for evening sessions. But most of those in attendance were rooting for the Indian who desperately wanted to give them more to cheer about. "There is so much support for me here, because of the large [Asian] community that lives here. I see myself as something of a local favourite so it's obviously good to play in front of the crowds here."
Victory in an untidy match of 10 service breaks would have earned Mirza a second round date against the second seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, the French Open champion and a former US Open winner whom she defeated on her first appearance here in 2005. That prize instead went to Medina Garrigues, who was also in danger of having to retire yesterday after twisting an ankle in a baseline fall. "But I discovered that it was not too serious and was able to carry on to get through," she said.
Virginie Razzano will have a Dubai fan club as vast as Mirza's if she keeps up her impressive work here for another year. The Frenchwoman, who surpassed even her own wildest dreams by battling through to the final a year ago, made a solid start to her next challenge by sweeping aside the Tunisian wild card Selima Sfar 6-2, 6-2 in 71 minutes. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org