With her straight-set victory Friday over Marion Bartoli of France, 18-year-old Sania Mirza of India earned a fourth-round meeting with the U.S. Open's top seed, Maria Sharapova, and no doubt added to the frenzy already rampant back home over her achievements.
In February, Mirza became the first Indian woman to win a WTA singles title, claiming the spoils at the Hyderabad Open before a packed house in her southern Indian home town. In August she reached the final at Forest Hills, N.Y., which boosted her ranking to a career-high 42nd on the eve of her first U.S. Open.
Sunday at Arthur Ashe Stadium she'll face Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion.
Based on her hard-slugging game, blunt interviews and sassy T-shirts, there's nothing to suggest that the plucky Mirza will be rattled by the big stage.
"I'm actually very excited," Mirza said. "I still have nothing to lose."
She started playing tennis at 6, tutored by her father on clay courts that were riddled with ruts. "I twisted my ankle about a dozen times a day."
She didn't get instruction outside of India until last year, and her ranking leapt more spots in the last 12 months -- from 326 to 42 -- than any player in the U.S. Open's main draw.
Along the way, Mirza has become a fascination among reporters, who probe her after each match about everything from her status as an Indian superstar to the T-shirts she wears to news conferences. Asked Friday about becoming the first Indian to reach the U.S. Open's fourth round, Mirza said: "That's not what I think every time I step on court -- that an Indian never did this, an Indian never did that. I'm just there because I just want to be there."
Her T-shirt read: "You can either agree with me, or be wrong." At Wimbledon she sported one that stated: "Well-behaved women rarely make history." And Wednesday she wore a pink T-shirt that read: "I'm cute? No [kidding]!"
"It's no big deal," Mirza said. "I'm 18 years old. Give me a break! I'm trying to have some fun here. I'm bored of the stripes or checks or the lines."
Upset over a proposal to radically retool the rules of doubles, several of the world's top doubles players, including Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, filed an antitrust suit Thursday against the ATP, arguing that the proposed reforms would hurt the game and run doubles specialists out of the sport. Under the new rules, doubles players would have to play a certain amount of singles to qualify for tournaments. Scoring would also be changed, with sets shortened and sudden-death points played following deuce.