Sania Mirza said she was “on top of the world” after completing her “dream” of being the number one doubles player in the world.
Mirza, 28, climbed to the top of the rankings after she won the Family Circle doubles title in Charleston, United States, on Sunday while partnering Swiss great Martina Hingis.
They beat Casey Dellacqua and Darja Jurak 6-0, 6-4 in the final to confirm Mirza as the first Indian women to top the individual doubles rankings. There was also more reason to celebrate with Mirza and Hingis top of the doubles tree too.
It was the third successive title for the duo, after their victories in the hard court events in Indian Wells and Miami.
“I am really excited. It’s surreal feeling. It’s something I dreamt about,” Mirza, a three-time major winner, said. “It just means everything.
“I feel privileged that I was able to achieve it, and the way we did it in the last five weeks to have played our best tennis. I feel honoured and hope I go forward from here.”
Mirza was once ranked in the top 30 in singles before a string of injuries made her take up doubles as a full-time career. She said she hoped her rise to the top would inspire women to believe in themselves.
“I hope this makes girls in India believe that anything is possible; we can achieve anything we want if we put our mind and body to it,” she said in a statement.
“I feel extremely honoured to be No 1. It’s something that I’ve worked for all my life.”
Pakistan’s ex-cricket captain Shoaib Malik said on Tuesday (14) he was proud his Indian wife Mirza, adding it was an honour for both countries.
“I am extremely proud and overwhelmed with joy,” Malik said. “It’s a matter of pride for Pakistan as she is my wife and, of course, she is from India and she represents her nation with 100 per cent determination to be the best.”
The celebrity couple, who wed in a series of lavish ceremonies across both countries in 2010, have been called South Asia’s answer to ‘Posh and Becks’ – former English footballer David Beckham and his popstar wife Victoria.
Malik, who has been out of the Pakistan team for a year despite success at the domestic level, said Mirza’s victory would prove an inspiration for young fans.
“It’s also a victory for all tennis players and tennis fans in India and Pakistan on what is possible with hard work at a global level,” he said.
Malik said he had celebrated with his family after watching the match from his hometown of Sialkot in Pakistan before calling his in-laws in India to congratulate them.
“I loved tennis before I married Sania, but now my heart is really in it. I watch her matches, and also those of her rivals to keep up to date. Also since most of the time she is playing I’m not with her, I watch also because I miss her a lot.”
The 33-year-old all-rounder, who has played 216 one-day internationals, 59 Twenty20s and 32 Tests, added he was working hard to make a comeback to the Pakistan national team.
Meanwhile, prime minister Narendra Modi led the accolades for Mirza in India, tweeting “An excellent accomplishment @MirzaSania! Congrats on being World Number 1 in doubles” to his 11.6 million followers.
Messages also poured in from cricket great Sachin Tendulkar, current Test captain Virat Kohli and badminton star Saina Nehwal, who had briefly ranked as the number one singles player earlier this month.
“Congratulations to @MirzaSania on being crowned World No. 1 in doubles. Terrific achievement and will inspire more to pursue the sport,” Tendulkar tweeted.
Kohli wrote on his Twitter page: “First Saina and now @MirzaSania. Indian women conquering the No.1 spot and making us proud! Congratulations!”
Mirza has been a trail-blazer for women’s tennis in India, despite being hounded by controversy throughout her career. She even faced a fatwa – a ruling by an Islamic religious leader – for wearing short skirts on court.
Last year a member of Modi’s BJP party in her home state of Andhra Pradesh called Mirza a “daughter-in-law of Pakistan” because of her marriage to Malik.
Modi had to step in to defuse the situation, inviting a furious Mirza for tea in New Delhi.
Only three other Asian women have achieved the top WTA doubles ranking: Japan’s Ai Sugiyama, China’s Peng Shuai and Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei.
The doubles pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi are the only other Indians to achieve number one rankings in tennis.