Flag controversy ''upset'' Sania: Bhupathi

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Sydney, Jan 11 (UNI) Distressed over the National flag row, India's tennis sensation is pondering her future in the game, as she finds herself embroiled in the latest controversy.

The 21-year-old Hyderabadi has become a regular target of ultra-nationalists, since her rise to prominence in the tennis circuit and now faces allegations that she disrespected her country last week with her bare feet pictured near India's flag.

The complaint, which has been filed to the Hyderabad High Court demanding action be taken under India's Prevention of Insult to the National Honour Act, carries a penalty of three years' jail and a fine.

Mahesh Bhupathi, an ace doubles player and Sania's manager, rejected the latest allegations as ''ridiculous'' and said sge was shattered by the recent controversy.

''She is very upset. It is a major issue for her,'' Bhupathi said.

''At the end of the day she is a 21-year-old girl trying to do her best by everyone.

''Everything is adding up and she is starting to wonder whether it is all worth it, but people close to her, they are telling her to hang in there,'' Bhupathi was quoted as saying by 'The Australian'.

Bhupathi also said that off-court distractions were hindering Sania's preparation for the Australian Open.

''It is affecting her form. It is affecting her mentally,'' Bhupathi said.

Mirza, earned the ire of Islamic fundamentalists after she was found participating in an advertising shoot outside Hyderabad's mosque.

She was previously the target of a fatwa for wearing short skirts and singlet tops, while effigies were burnt after she was allegedly accused of supporting pre-marital sex.

But both Bhupathi and Hopman Cup organiser Paul McNamee said Mirza would never intentionally be disrespectful to her country.

''Not many people would know this, but I as her manager know that she turned down a six-figure sum from another event to play for her country in Perth,'' Bhupathi said.

''People don't know what goes on behind the scenes, yet they make these irresponsible and ignorant accusations. You don't turn down big money to play in another event if you don't love your country.'' Both McNamee and Bhupathi also questioned the legitimacy of the photograph, saying the angle of the shot distorted the proximity of Mirza's feet to the small plastic flag.

''Sania would have been there sitting at the back of the box, certainly not at the front,'' McNamee said.

McNamee said Mirza, who was watching partner Rohan Bopanna in his singles match, was following a practice adopted by most players in keeping her legs raised to assist in overcoming a lactic acid build-up to prevent cramping.

''Her feet were up, like a lot of the girls do, because she had to get ready to play mixed doubles following her singles. It is just a normal situation,'' McNamee said.

UNI XC TB KN1701

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