CHARLESTON. N.C. — Sania Mirza will become the first Indian woman to hold the No. 1 ranking on Monday, after she and partner Martina Hingis continued their doubles dominance by defeating Daria Jurak and Casey Dellacqua 6-0, 6-4 to win the Family Circle Cup. It is the team's third straight title after deciding to pair up at Indian Wells in March.
"Well-behaved women rarely make history." Mirza knows that well. When she was younger, she would wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the famous adage to interviews. Outspoken from a young age, Mirza has never shied away from criticizing India's misogynistic institutions. As she sought to pursue tennis in a culture that did not value women in sports, she and her family endured an onslaught of criticism.
"It was those kind of remarks from that side of the world where women, obviously sports is not something that's the first thing they go to," Mirza said. "To come through all that after all these years, and I mean for my family, the sacrifices we put in."
"We all have a story. Every tennis player out there has an amazing story. And it all just seems worth it today. And no one can take it away from me. I'm going to be the No. 1 in the world. Even 50 years from now I'll go down as the former world No. 1, and that's something that's very, very special."
After winning the WTA Finals with then-partner Cara Black last October, Mirza openly set her sights on the No. 1 doubles ranking. The 28-year-old star's ambitions were met with not-so-subtle eye-rolling back home in India.
"Well, I'm used to people rolling their eyes," Mirza said, laughing. "I'm actually writing an autobiography, and the working title is 'Against All Odds,' because that's truly what I believe. Tennis at that point when I was six years old, there was no clay courts; there was no hard courts. We used to play and practice on courts made out of cow s***. No jokes. I mean that was the only court that was available."
"So to come from there and pick up a tennis racquet and have the guts to say, okay, I am going to go and play at the highest level in the world is against all odds. Whether I got to No. 1 or not, it would have always been worth it, but now, today, to me and myself, I'm so happy to give this back to my country, to be the first ever No. 1 from India."
Once a talented singles player owning a cannon of a forehand, Mirza stepped away from her singles career -- she is still the most successful Indian woman to ever play singles -- to focus solely on doubles. She is a three-time Slam champion in mixed doubles, but a pure doubles title has alluded her at the majors. Her best result came nearly four years ago at the 2011 French Open, when she lost in the final.
After Black chose to retire after the 2014 season, Mirza paired with Su-Wei Hsieh to start the season but the two found their games incompatible. Both women wanted to play on the right side and the split was amicable. When Hingis came available after she split with Flavia Pennetta, the Mirza and Hingis quickly realized they were a perfect fit on paper. Mirza could patrol the baseline and control the cross-court rallies with her forehand, while Hingis' preternatural skills at the net could poach and clean up any errant balls.
"She prepares, I finish," Hingis said last month. "That's pretty cool to me."
Since pairing, Hingis and Mirza haven't lost a match. They are 14-0 together, winning three consecutive titles in Indian Wells, Miami, and now Charleston. After just three tournaments they already lead the WTA Road To Singapore rankings. With the surprise split of the No. 1 team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, Mirza was able to move up the rankings faster than she might have expected.
"I think the last five weeks have been very special," Mirza said. "When we came into Indian Wells, honestly, I was 2,500 points away from being No. 1. So for this to happen over three tournaments is pretty amazing."
Mirza and Hingis will now head off to Fed Cup duties for their respective countries, before reuniting at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany. Their plan is to play in Madrid and Rome before going for the title at the French Open. But given the mental and physical fatigue from playing five straight weeks their pre-French Open schedule could change.
In November Mirza became the first Indian woman to be appointed as the United Nations Women's Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia. The significance of her historic achievement was slow to sink in for Mirza personally, but the message she hopes it sends to women back home is clear.
"You have to believe that as a woman and as a girl you are not a weakness; you're a strength," Mirza said. "Anything is possible. If you put your mind to it, you put sacrifices to it, you put hard work to it, anything is possible, no matter where you're from. Even if that means you've grown up playing on courts made of cow dung. And I think for me that's women empowerment, and I hope that we get there one day where women believe that anything is possible.