Mirza can inspire Asia, including Singapore
Our columnist tells SAZALI ABDUL AZIZ that Singapore can take inspiration from Indian's rise and produce top players
All it takes is one star to lead the way.
That's why I believe Sania Mirza's rise to the top of the Women's Tennis Association's (WTA) doubles rankings last week is a huge milestone for tennis in Asia.
Mirza, 28, is the first Indian woman to be crowned the world's top-ranked doubles player, after winning her third successive doubles title with Swiss great Martina Hingis in the Family Circle Cup in South Carolina.
We've seen the impact a role model can have on tennis in the region.
A fantastic example was the success of China's Li Na and how she has been such a huge driver of tennis not only in China, but also in Asia.
She is a big reason tennis in Asia has never been in a better position than now.
In 2008, there was only one WTA event in China. Now, there are eight.
Li Na's success has also been huge in terms of the growth of participation and following, as well as tennis investments in the region. And there are many other players following her footsteps and coming out of China.
It's going to be the same in India because of Mirza.
I have no doubt Karman Kaur Thandi, the winner of the inaugural Under-16 Future Stars event at last year's WTA Finals in Singapore, looks to Mirza as a role model.
The WTA Future Stars is an initiative that was created and launched last year, in conjunction with Sport Singapore, to create a platform for the region's U-14 and U-16 players to showcase their talent and compete on the same stage as the WTA stars.
Karman was recently selected as a reserve for India's Fed Cup team, and that's a huge achievement for someone still so young.
I cannot stress how important role models are. When I was growing up, Monica Seles was my idol.
I was never fortunate enough to watch "live" professional tennis when I was growing up in a small town in Newfoundland, Canada.
So I would watch tapes of Seles on TV and look at her focus, how she hit her strokes and the various elements that she was very good at then.
I could only dream about the opportunity girls in Singapore now have, to watch the world's top women players compete at the WTA Finals.
Having the WTA Finals in Singapore for five years - an expanded term from what was previously three years - allows it to build a legacy for generations to come.
We've seen a lot of different activities resulting from the WTA Finals - tennis in school programmes through some of the sponsors, more kids picking up rackets through coaching clinics and kids being inspired by appearances and speaking engagements by visiting legends.
Some of the looks on the young girls' faces when they watch these players are really inspiring and you can only imagine what's going through their minds.
The WTA Finals is certainly going to have an impact on participation, interest and awareness in the sport, and that's a very important first step.
It is also important for the sport to be accessible.
Then it comes down to coaching and having the resources to help players in their development.
China has the benefit of numbers and Singapore is smaller, but that doesn't mean Singapore cannot have a top player.
In fact, Singapore has some great collegiate players now playing in the NCAA in the United States.
For example, Stefanie Tan was just named Player of the Week in her NCAA conference, and that's a huge achievement.
Singapore is definitely moving in the right direction and, over time, I believe we will see a top player emerge.
At the end of the day, though, there are no shortcuts.
It doesn't matter if you're from Singapore, China, India or Newfoundland.
You have to put in the work, you have to be determined, you have to be hungry.
You can do all these things and bring events to markets, have great coaching, academies and tennis courts, but you can't make a player. It comes from within.
I remember as a kid, a coach told me that it doesn't matter where you're from or what you have; if you want to become something, you can - if you want it bad enough.
And that goes for any child, anywhere in the world, who wants to play at the highest level.
- Canadian Melissa Pine, a former NCAA player and vice-president (Asia Pacific) of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), has joined The New Paper as a regular columnist. She is the tournament director for the WTA Finals, which made its debut in Singapore last year.
- Tickets for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore (Oct 23 to Nov 1) presented by SC Global are on sale. Prices start from $16.90 - the same as last year.