Incheon: Indian tennis ace Sania Mirza feels the five medals that the team has managed to grab at the ongoing Asian Games is a pretty good performance given that the country did not come with the best unit possible for the event.
"It has been a pretty good week. We (she and Prarthana Thombare) got a medal (bronze) in women's doubles which is huge because it's something that we never did. I had to be the leader. It's a young team we came here with, didn't come with the best team possible, especially with the guys. Five medals (including today's) is pretty good," she said ahead of the mixed doubles semifinals with Saket Myneni at the Yeorumul Tennis Centre.
Hyderabad and Dubai-based Sania spoke to reporters as the matches for the day had been put off due to continuous rains at Incheon since last night.
The 27-year-old Indian tennis star, who was initially inclined towards skipping the Games to gain doubles points on the WTA tour before changing her mind, said the reason was to provide the country with its best shot at picking up more medals in these Games, her fourth on the trot.
"The minute I made the decision to come here, I knew it was the right decision. For me the most important thing was to give India the best chance of winning as many medals as possible. I did what I could and I got two in the two events I played (women's doubles and mixed doubles where she and Myneni will fight for the gold).
"I am happy that there was my contribution. Personally it's my fourth Asian Games in a row and I have got medals in every single Asian Games I have been to. For me to get eight medals in the last four editions is pretty good," she remarked.
Before the current Games she had won a gold (in mixed doubles in 2006 in Doha), three silver medals (women's singles and team in 2006 and in mixed doubles in 2010 at Guangzhou)and two bronze medals (women's singles and doubles in Guangzhou). Besides, she also won silver (singles) and bronze (doubles) in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
Sania said she has played her part as a mentor to her women teammates here who are of the same age as her younger sister and is hoping they win medals on their own in the next Games which are scheduled at Jakarta in 2018.
"I have a good rapport with these girls and I am always there to help if they ask. They are all of my sister's age, like babies for me. They are 7-8 years younger than me. I am sharing a room with one of them."
"Most definitely these are the best youngsters we have had in a while. My doubles partner (Prarthana) has some potential and is still pretty young. We need to build on this. I hope this gives them a lot of confidence that they can achieve certain things," Sania said.
"I have held this flag for a long time. It will be great to pass it on to someone else. Hopefully by the next Asian Games, they will be ready to win a medal by themselves," she added.
Sania, who was the world no 23 at her peak in singles, pointed out quite a few factors like lack of guidance and proper coaching as reasons for the other Indian women being unable to break into even the top 200 In singles.
"There are a few reasons. I definitely think planning is one of them, lack of knowledge and lack of maybe even coaching abilities at certain levels. I think a lot of coaches in India haven't seen what it takes to really make it because they have not produced anyone nor have they been at that level.
"I am not saying you need to be a great tennis player to be a coach, but you need to have watched at the highest level to be a good coach. The best they might have watched is the WTA event a few years ago."
She also said that most of the women players are content to play at the USD 25,000 level which was simply not enough to go places in the world.
"Tennis is very competitive these days. Physically as well they struggle a bit, there are a bunch of reasons. I have been trying to help them with scheduling, trying to tell them which tournament to take part in."
"First of all they need to come out of the USD 25000 tournaments try and believe they can do better at the bigger tournaments. That's one of the main things. That's where they have to perform," Sania said.
"You are not going to play these for the rest of your life. If you do so you will remain in the 300 rankings for the rest of your career. That's what they have been doing, go for the easier options. It's not because they want to but because of lack of guidance at certain levels.
About her own career and her immediate plans she said she was leaving tomorrow morning to play in the September 27-October 5 China Open with Cara Black, and would probably play tomorrow afternoon.
"It's been rough last couple of weeks. Since the US open I have not had any time really. I came back after New York and had literally three days at home. I was not even over jetlag when I left for Tokyo and then came here. It's a good problem to have, it has been busy. After that I go to Singapore (for the WTA season-ending finals)," she said.
Sania said her season so far, especially the second half, has been pretty good and she wanted to finish it on a high.
"It's been a great year and especially the second half of the season has been unbelievable. Hopefully we (she and Black) can finish on a high, can win here (with Thombare) and hopefully go to Singapore which has been the highlight of my career. I want to do well there," she said.