Rio 2016: Can Sania Mirza be India’s first Olympic champion?

After winning three Grand Slam titles with Martina Hingis in the past 12 months, Sania Mirza has set her sights on becoming India’s first Olympic tennis champion, says Sam Price

For the first time in history, India has taken a team of more than 100 athletes to the Olympic Games, and tennis star Sania Mirza is one of the country’s leading gold medal hopes in Rio de Janeiro.

The 29-year old was a successful singles player and broke into the world’s top 30 in 2007, before a succession of injuries and surgeries convinced her to retire in 2012. But that tough decision, which was taken to prolong her career in doubles – her true forte – has paid off spectacularly.

Mirza has been an accomplished doubles player for a number of years, capturing Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles in 2009, 2012 and 2014, but it is since teaming up with serial winner Martina Hingis two years ago that she has taken her form to a new level.

The pair went on an incredible run from mid-2015 to early 2016, winning three consecutive Grand Slams (Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open), 41 straight matches and reaching the world No.1 ranking. Although Mirza won’t be able to play with her Swiss partner in Rio, this run of success should give her maximum confidence as she bids to help India to a first Olympic gold medal in tennis.

Mirza has won two gold medals in the Asian Games and a silver medal in the Commonwealth Games, but Olympic glory would top them all. This is her third Games – injury wrecked her Olympic debut in Beijing, while in London she reached the mixed doubles quarter-finals with Leander Paes before losing to the eventual winners.

In Rio, her best chance of a medal looks to be with doubles specialist Rohan Bopanna in the mixed doubles, while in the women’s doubles she teams up with her Fed Cup partner Prarthana Thombare, who is coached by Sania’s father Imran Mirza. A first Olympic tennis title would be massive for India, who won six medals at London 2012, but none of them gold.

At the same time as her bid for gold begins, Mirza’s autobiography, Ace Against Odds, hits the bookshelves. It tells the story of a woman who made her mark on one of the most widely played and competitive sports of them all. Her unlikely rise to become an international superstar, a United Nations Women’s Goodwill Ambassador and one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, has brought inspiration to millions – and an Olympic medal would help her star shine even more brightly.

The Olympic tennis competition runs from Saturday, August 6 to Sunday, August 14