Vol. 5 Num 272 Thu. March 03, 2005  

Sania scalps Svetlana

Sania Mirza again suggested herself a new star in the making by producing a remarkable comeback from a large deficit and from injury to beat US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round of the Dubai Open on Tuesday.

The 18-year-old Indian needed a ten-minute time out for medical attention to an ankle injury after an early fall and was then 0-4 and 30-40 down before recovering to a startling straight sets victory over the Russian.

The 6-4, 6-2 triumph, which was cheered by thousands of Indian expatriates who made it like a home match for Mirza, carried the Hyderababad teenager into the third round of the Dubai Open as a wild card.

It followed her achievement in January in reaching the third round of the Australian Open as a wild card.

What made it all the more extraordinary was that once Mirza started to move better and strike the ball more fluently, she frequently out-hit one of the heaviest hitters in the game, especially with her flat forehand drive.

There seemed no chance of anything like that happening when Mirza was within a point of a 0-5 deficit, and she admitted she had had no hopes of winning at that stage.

"My ankle was killing me," she said.

"It was the third time in three weeks (it happened) and I was crying because I was in so much pain. I was disturbed because always my ankles are getting injured.

"But I got it re-taped and took a pain-killer, and that started to work after about 15 minutes. I don't know quite how I did it because I couldn't move that well.

"I was scrambling to the ball but I think I made hardly any errors from 0-4 down. I tried to get winners really fast because I thought I might not be able to move.

"I think from about 4-3 she started to get upset. I knew she was getting tense and that was why I wanted to put more pressure on her which I succeeded in doing. The crowd inspired me."

Mirza took seven games in a row before Kuznetsova regained some semblance of rhythm, but although she was trying to hang in hard at 2-3 down in the second set she seemed too unsettled by the barrage of flat fast winners and the noise to regain control.

Once, in the fifth game of the second set, Kuznetsova became so frustrated after a double fault that she launched a ball steepling into the air, something which brought further uproarious cheers from the Indian supporters.

"I started well and she was nervous, but I didn't do anything to make her play like that," said a puzzled Kuznetsova afterwards.

Mirza has already modified her original 2005 goal of achieving a place in the top 100 because she had already achieved it by the end of the Melbourne Grand Slam. Her current target is a place in the top 50 this year which, on this evidence, she may achieve early as well.

She next plays either Silvia Farina Elia of Italy or Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, both unseeded players. If Mirza wins again she will be in the semifinals -- little more than two weeks after winning her first WTA Tour title in her home city of Hyderabad.

Another seed was beaten when Alica Molik, the world number eight from Australia, was unabled to convert three set points against Daniela Hantuchova, the former top ten player from Slovakia, and was beaten 7-6, 6-2.

It should recover a place in the top 20 after an interval of 14 months for Hantuchova, who was more consistent off the ground than the error-prone Molik and showed plenty of tenacity in coming back from a deficit of 2-5 in the first set.

IS THIS A DREAM? Sania Mirza of India reacts after she won against US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in the second round of Dubai Open on March 1. PHOTO: AFP