MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Sania Mirza became the first Indian woman to win a senior grand slam title when she teamed up with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi to win the Australian Open mixed doubles on Sunday.
The two Indian wildcards rebounded from their loss in last year’s Australian Open final to beat Nathalie Dechy of France and Israel’s Andy Ram 6-3 6-1 at Melbourne Park.
“It’s always a dream to win a grand slam. That’s what we all play for,” Mirza said. “It’s just great. It makes it more special because it’s with someone that I know for so long and so well.”
Mirza, 22, had already achieved a series of firsts for Indian women tennis players, including the highest ranking of 18.
She became the first Indian female to capture any grand slam title when she partnered Russia’s Alisa Kleybanova to win the 2003 Wimbledon junior doubles then in 2005 she became the first Indian woman to win a WTA event when she won at Hyderabad.
She is enormously popular in India but has been dogged by controversy.
She almost quit the sport last year after being accused of showing disrespect to the Indian flag and facing mounting criticism from religious groups for playing in normal tennis attire.
“I think millions and millions of people watched this match today. Any time Sania plays at home, there’s a lot of people watching,” said Bhupathi, who captured his 11th grand slam title.
“I know for a fact the whole country’s excited now. It’s her first slam. She’s been in the news for the last four years.”
The 34-year-old Bhupathi has now won four doubles titles, including three with compatriot Leander Paes, and seven mixed doubles titles, all with different partners.
Bhupathi and his Bahamas partner Mark Knowles were beaten by Mike and Bob Bryan in the men’s doubles final on Saturday.
Sunday’s win was India’s second title at this year’s Australian Open after 16-year-old Yuki Bhambri won the junior boys final on Saturday.
“It’s been a great two weeks,” Mirza said. “Let’s hope a lot more people play and tennis grows. It’s been growing. It might take it to another level.”