Tennis-Mirza to boycott Indian tournaments

NEW DELHI Mon Feb 4, 2008 4:34pm GMT

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NEW DELHI Feb 4 (Reuters) - Sania Mirza will boycott all Indian tournaments, including next month's WTA Bangalore Open, after being dragged into a series of controversies at home in the last two months.

The 21-year-old Asian number one said she had been advised by her manager and mixed doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi to skip the tournament starting on March 3.

"At this moment, I have been advised by my manager not to play," she told reporters on Monday in her hometown of Hyderabad.

Mirza, who emerged a youth icon since becoming the first Indian to win a WTA tour event in 2005, would have been the big draw alongside American sisters Serena and Venus Williams.

But in the face of mounting criticism, she said she had thought about ending her playing career.

The world number 29 has been summoned by a court in the central city of Bhopal after allegedly showing disrespect to the Indian flag, punishable by a jail sentence if proved, during the Hopman Cup in Perth last month.

She was also forced to apologise to mosque officials in her hometown for shooting an advert on its premises in December after a complaint of trespass was filed against her to the police.

Mirza has also faced opposition from religious Muslim groups for playing in a normal tennis attire.

"A lot has been happening in the last few months, everytime I have played in India there has been some kind of problem so we just thought it was better not to play at this point," said Mirza, who reached the Australian Open women's singles third round and the mixed doubles final with Bhupathi.

"I don't think it was an extreme reaction at all," Mirza told the NDTV channel. "There is something or the other happening. It is not easy to be dealing with stuff like that. I felt great lows in the last few weeks."

Bhupathi defended her decision to skip the event.

"The way things have panned out in the last few months is very unfortunate," he told NDTV. "In the wake of two controversies back-to-back it's probably the right thing for her."

Chief tournament organiser Sundar Raju said he heard Mirza's comments only after being told by the national federation she would play.

"Our role is to provide a platform for Indian players and this is perhaps the highest platform," he told Reuters.

The Bangalore Open has been upgraded this year to Tier II with a $600,000 prize money.

"I'd like to think most people would be happy to be playing among their countrymen who made them a star," Raju added.

(Reporting by N.Ananthanarayanan; editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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