Sania Mirza, India’s greatest women’s tennis player, reached the mixed doubles final at the Australian Open, the last Grand Slam of her illustrious career, with Rohan Bopanna, but fell short to Luisa Stefani & Rafael Matos, the first all-Brazilian team to win a major on Friday afternoon, 7-6(2) 6-2.
I think that if I had to picture dream scenario in my head how I want to go out, it would be on center court, biggest or one of the biggest arenas in the world. Of course I would win in that dream, but I didn't in this one. We are very proud of our efforts. You know, Rohan and I go obviously a long way back, but just the fact that we are still here playing at the highest level is something that we are very proud of ourselves for. To do it together, to be able to do it with one of my best friends, has been really special. Sania Mirza
“My journey of my professional career started in Melbourne,” Mirza said “In 2005, when I played Serena Williams in the third round as an 18-year-old.
“That was, scarily enough, 18 years ago, and I’ve had the privilege to come back here, again and again, and win some titles here.
“Rod Laver Arena has really been special in my life. To play the final, obviously, we couldn’t get over the line, but there’s no better place, and no better person to finish my Grand Slam career with.
“I never thought I’d be able to play in front of my child in a Grand Slam final, so it’s truly special for me to have my four-year-old here, and my parents here, Rohan’s wife here.”
Mirza will fully step away from the WTA Tour after next month’s Dubai Tennis Championships, which is on the doorstep of her home.
36-year-old Mirza, who won the women’s doubles crown at AO 2016, admitted her emotions almost boiled over after she and 42-year old Bopanna defeated the 3rd seed pairing of Desirae Krawczyk & Neal Skupski, 7-6(5) 6-7(5) [10-6], in the semi-finals on Wednesday.
One of Mirza’s 3 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles came with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi at AO 2009, while 1 of her 3 women’s doubles majors came at Melbourne Park with Martina Hingis in 2016.
On Friday, there was no holding back the tears after her final match at Melbourne Park, 22 years after she first teamed with Bopanna, who was looking to add a second Grand Slam title after his 2017 Roland Garros victory and, despite coming up short, he paid tribute to his compatriot and friend.
“It’s truly special for me to play with Sania,” he said. “Our first mixed doubles together was when she was 14 years old and we happened to win the title.
“Today we get to play the last match here on Rod Laver Arena. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the title, but thank you so much for your time, for Indian tennis, for inspiring each and everyone.”
In the all-unseeded final showdown, Stefani & Matos’s triumph over the Indian veterans capped a remarkable month for the Brazilians Down Under.
Undefeated in 2 matches for Brazil in the season-opening United Cup in Brisbane, they carried their unbeaten run to Melbourne Park, all the way to Grand Slam silverware.
Stefani’s volleys and Matos’s left-handed groundstrokes overcame the powerful Mirza forehand and Bopanna’s net presence, with the Brazilians converting 4 of their 6 break points on the day.
The champions came back from 5-3 down in the first set, and Stefani saved a set point on her delivery at 6-5 by jamming Mirza into a return error with a big second serve.
Strong Matos volleys gave his squad a 5-2 lead in the tiebreak, and they eked out the set en route to victory.
It took them an hour and 27 minutes to take the honours, the first Grand Slam title of any kind for both of them.
“It feels really good,” Matos said. “To play with another Brazilian, a friend that we [know for] a long time, it’s just really special. We receive a lot of energy and message from Brazilians, from our families, friends. It was really special, this moment for us.”
“Rohan and Sania… I know how many people you’ve inspired,” Stefani said. “Like Brazil, like India, this means so much to our countries. It inspires the kids, it inspires the next generations.
“It’s really special for me and Rafa. It’s an honour… I think it was about Wimbledon time last year Rafa asked me how I was doing.
“I was doing rehab… when he asked me when I was coming back, so maybe we could play some mixed.
“That was a big motivation for me to keep working hard and now, here we are winning our first Grand Slam in Australia.”
While Stefani had not yet contested such a high-stakes showdown at Grand Slam level, she had snared a surprise women’s doubles bronze medal with Laura Pigossi at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
She follows in the footsteps of Brazilian great Maria Bueno, who won 19 majors, while Matos joins Gustavo Kuerten, Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo as a Grand Slam champion.
“It was special to play with another Brazilian,” Matos said. “Such a good energy, good communication on the court and outside the court… It’s a dream come true.
“When you are a kid you always dream of winning a Slam. To do it today, it’s no words to describe it.”
For Mirza, there was no change of approach heading into her final major, with the 36-year-old focused on competing at her best level.
“I play every match trying to win, whether it’s my last tournament or my last slam or my first slam,” Mirza, the first Indian to win a WTA singles title, told reporters on Wednesday. “For me, competitiveness is in my blood.
“Every time I step on the court, I want to win regardless of whether it’s going to be my last slam, whether it’s my last season…
“It’s special in many ways. It’s emotional in many ways. The approach to every match remains the same, the same professionalism, warmup, routine, sort of will to win. That doesn’t really change.”
Mirza, who spent 91 weeks as WTA Doubles World No 1, will play her last events in the doubles in Abu Dhabi, with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and Dubai, with Madison Keys, in February.
“I think that if I had to picture dream scenario in my head how I want to go out, it would be on center court, biggest or one of the biggest arenas in the world,” Mirza said. “Of course I would win in that dream, but I didn’t in this one.
“We are very proud of our efforts. You know, Rohan and I go obviously a long way back, but just the fact that we are still here playing at the highest level is something that we are very proud of ourselves for.
“To do it together, to be able to do it with one of my best friends, has been really special.”