Friday, December 28, 2007

Bhutto Passes the Torch

The last 24 hours have been rather sad for me. At breakfast yesterday (which occurred around 11:30 a.m.), my dad started talking about "Bhutto this; Bhutto that." I didn't pay much attention, mostly because we had just seen Charlie Wilson's War the night before, a movie which talks about former Pakistani president Zulfikar Ali Bhutto quite extensively.

But it was a couple minutes before I realized that my dad wasn't talking about the senior Bhutto, but rather his daughter, Benazir. This past fall I had become quite the fan of Benazir Bhutto. I listened to her interview on the BBC upon returning to Pakistan in October and followed the rocky situation there closely in hopes for a better future.

So when the news of her assassination came yesterday, I was in as much shock as the rest of the western world. I cannot imagine the loss and agony that the people of Pakistan feel after seeing the possibility for a new day come January's parliamentary elections.

In tennis terms, there's only one individual who comes close to being the pioneer that Ms. Bhutto was. That individual would be Sania Mirza, the 21-year-old Indian who has made as many headlines for her fashion as her forehand. If there's one positive that can come from Ms. Bhutto's death, it's that young Muslim girls throughout the world will look to her as a heroine, as someone to be emulated.

I've written quite extensively over that last year or so on Mirza. To me, she's a player with all the right ingredients: a strong build, a fierce groundstroke game, a level head on her shoulders and a nation (and world region) cheering her on. In a lot of ways, Mirza is strikingly similar to Bhutto: both raised in upper-class families that encouraged them to do whatever they pleased.

For Sania, the baseline has been her stage to the world as the podium platform was for Bhutto. Mirza's recent signing with adidas shows that the tennis world believes that the youngster is ready for the big time. And as Tennis Served Fresh blogger Erwin put it, it's time for Mirza to step up, as well.

Like Bhutto's self-imposed exile over much of the last decade, Mirza, too, must manage her schedule wisely. A 13-5 run during the summer showed us just how good Mirza can be, but her 0-3 finish to the season also proves that she just hasn't reached the level of global power that she can.

A new year always brings new challenges, new beginnings. No doubt the new year will hold both of those and more for the country of Pakistan, but so too, will it for Sania Mirza. And if she does her job right, the torch won't be dropped, and both the tennis world and the political world can call her a new heroine.

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