Pushing through: Sania Mirza avoided the perils of the 1st round by defeating Uzbekistan's Iroda Tulyaganova easily 6-4, 6-2; she'll play Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky today for a spot in the Australian Open 3rd round. Though she's smiling here, the No. 31 seed has talked recently about her struggles to stay focused amidst the firestorm of criticism from her home country of India, where her commitment and loyalty to her country have been fiercely questioned.
The scrutiny hit a high point during last week's Hopman Cup when Sania was photographed with her bare feet in front of the Indian flag. Consequently, a social worker who viewed the image requested a judge in Bhopal issue a summons under the 'Prevention of Insult to the National Honor Act' arguing she disrespected the Indian flag by "sitting in a manner so that her feet pointed at the flag, which he felt was derogatory and had hurt him."
For her part, Sania said,
"I wouldn't do anything to disrespect my country, I love my country, [...] I wouldn't be playing Hopman Cup otherwise. But other than that, I am not allowed to comment because it is before the courts."
But the controversy has had an impact on the India sensation, even prompting thoughts of quitting tennis altogether. Sania told the press,
"It does play on your mind, you do start to think that at the end of the day, I am not a politician to outsmart people, [...] That's not what I am trying to do, which is to play tennis. I'm 21 and trying to be the best I can be. [...] A lot of thoughts went through my head in the past couple of weeks, and one of the thoughts was (quitting). But I wouldn't say that they were serious enough that I would quit right now."
She has been the object of criticism since arriving on the WTA Tour in 2005 when Sania, a Muslim, was called out by the orthodox clergy for baring too much skin with her tennis fashions.
(images via GREG WOOD & TONY ASHBY/AFP/Getty Images)