Sania thrills, continues to mystify

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Kolkata, Sep 17: Even as Sania Mirza cashed in on her license to thrill playing tennis riding a barge-turned-court afloat on river Hoogly, the fans who thronged the banks were left wondering will those passing shots be on display at Court Number One during the Sunfeast Open.

Sania, who arrived here last night, had said, ''I will need to practice tomorrow to see how my wrist feels. Only after that will I take a decision on whether I will play or not.'' Today, reiterating the same thoughts, the ace doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi said, ''As a player I know injuries are part and parcel of the game and all of us have to take it in our stride. She will practice today and take a call in the evening about her availability. We are all hoping she will recover and play.'' Bhupathi took part in an exhibition tennis match with Sania in the middle of river Hoogly. The two played a three game duel on a barge specially constructed for the event.

The 114 feet by 37 feet structure placed strategically between the Howrah Bridge and Vidyasagar Setu provided a breathtaking view for the players.

As the water swirled and waves rippled through, Sania looked resplendent in her yellow jacket and tights that matched the golden streak of the barge.

The 'Hyderabad Princess' won her first match downing Bhupathi, who seemed too please to oblige the prodigy he discovered five years back.

Her forehand, which set sail on the Hoogly, drew huge cheers from the strong gathering. The players enjoyed the uniqueness of the event with Hooghly river gently lapping at the edge of the barge and the pleasant breeze wafting along the court.

The audience, too, on jetties as well as on the riverbanks, had a memorable and first hand experience with their tennis icons.

The Sunfeast Open, which is on its third year and is the premier WTA event in the country has grown in stature over the years and is now one of the most sought after tournament in the WTA circuit, Bhupathi later said.

''Players like Anastasia Myskina and Martina Hingis had come for the earlier editions. We have Wimbledon runners-up Marion Bartoli and Daniela Hantuchova this year. We are growing every year. And probably compared to other WTA events we are growing faster because of the wonderful support we are receiving from all quarters,'' Bhupathi said.

About the whole experience of playing on a floating barge, Bhupathi, with a note of mischief in his eyes, said, ''The setting was fantastic and am sure all of us had great fun. This was definitely an experience of a lifetime. I thoroughly enjoyed the match and I guess Sania was better than me.'' Recently, Roger Federer and Andre Agassi had played tennis on a helipad atop Dubai's 321 metre-high Burj Al Arab hotel for its promotion and a few years earlier Monica Seles and John McEnroe played a game of tennis on river Thames.

UNI

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