From Sialkot to Hyderabad with love – who would have ever thought! Sania Mirza-Malik and Shoaib Malik’s love beyond boundaries undoubtedly makes them one of the subcontinent’s biggest sports power couples. From a chance meeting at a Delhi gym in 2003 to dinner at a restaurant in Hobart a couple of years later that set the ball rolling; almost 11 years to their April 2010 ‘I do’, Sania and Shoaib talk to OK! Pakistan exclusively from their home in Dubai.
Tell us about your childhood and your early years. What does family mean to you?
SANIA MIRZA-MALIK: My childhood was like any other normal childhood, I guess. We used to live in the US for a couple of years when my sister and I were very young. And it was only after we moved back to India that I started playing tennis. I was an extremely studious child – a bit of a bookworm, actually. And it was therefore a very difficult decision for me to choose between my studies and tennis, because I’m a bit of a perfectionist and for me it is very important to be very good at whatever I am doing – so it was a tough call at that point. I come from a small and very close knit family that means everything to us as a unit. Our parents have taught us that without family there is nothing and I truly believe that as well, that without family you are nothing
SHOAIB MALIK: Family means the world to me. My childhood was spent as part of a loving and close knit family unit that comprised my parents and five of us siblings. My growing years were no different to any other boy born and raised in Sialkot, who grew up playing tape-ball cricket on the streets which is where I realized my passion for the game. It was my father’s unmatched and incredible support that, despite the odds, allowed for me to convert my fervor for the game into a profession. It was he who saw an advert in the newspapers for trials being conducted for the Under 15 World Cup and submitted an application on my behalf, and there has since been no looking back. Though he is no longer with us, I can never thank him enough.
As far back as you can remember, has sports always been a passion of yours? We’d love to know your first sports-related memory. What prompted you to take on sports as a profession?
SMM: I don’t know if it was always a passion, but sports has always been an integral part of my life. I was always a sporty girl, so to say. I started playing tennis at the young age of six. I used to roller-skate, I used to swim and had I been a boy, I would be playing cricket like all the other boys. I later went on to become the sports captain of my school. I think my parents wanted their child to play a sport, not necessarily so professionally.
I used to play all these sports and I was obviously better at tennis and slowly that became my path and calling.
SM: Cricket is my first love. Having now played professionally for 25 years and countless years as an amateur prior, I can safely say I have almost never known life without the game.
Had you not been a tennis player and a cricketer respectively, what would your career path have been?
SMM: Well, I always wanted to be an interior designer and I still want to be an interior designer. I’ve actually designed my own house, as well. So if I wasn’t a tennis player – maybe, probably an interior designer.
SM: Most people don’t know this but I love kite-flying and racing cars. Had it not been for cricket, I would very definitely have been a race car driver, speeding around a track somewhere.
Living in two different countries, how was it that you two met? Was it love at first sight?
SMM: We actually met in a third country – we met in Australia. We were both playing at the same time in Hobart in Tasmania. That’s how it all started. We met at a restaurant, we had known each other socially before. And we started talking and liking each other and the rest in history, as they say.
SM: Ours is a long story. To begin with, having run into each several times in various different countries, we knew each other socially, but it was a chance meeting over a meal of tarka daal and rice at an Indian eatery while we were both on tour in Australia that changed everything and set the ball rolling. And like Sania said, the rest is history.
What moment made you realize you two were meant to be together?
SMM: I don’t know if there was a specific moment – I think it was over time. For me, I loved his simplicity – for everything that he achieved and was achieving, the simplicity was an extremely attractive quality. For me it wasn’t really a moment – it was a bunch of moments together.
SM: I am a firm believer in destiny; Sania and I were meant to be – for me there was no one moment that made me realize that but actually a succession of them. However, when my mother and sister landed in India to meet Sania and her family for the very first time, I knew it was the beginning of our happily ever after.
What is the one thing that you love about one another and what is it that you would like to change?
SMM: I love that he is very, very simple. I love that he has a lot of patience – which I don’t. I think I’ve gotten better but I’m the more impatient one in the relationship. What I’d like to change…I guess, when we are fighting or arguing he just stays quiet – that drives me crazy because I just want to have the argument and get it over with and move on with life. But he won’t say anything and I have to go on and on – would love to change that about him!
SM: I have the utmost regard for Sania’s discipline and her absolute love for the game. The one thing that I would like to change about Sania are her sleep patterns, she’s an early riser and calls it a night fairly early too – I on the other hand am the complete opposite. But as they say, opposites attract.
You make a cross border relationship and union look easy – despite the odds, how have you made it work so effortlessly?
SMM: Like any other relationship cross-border, not every relationship is hard. It’s not how it always looks. It looks like it’s been very easy, it’s been very difficult at some moments. But I think we’ve both understood our priorities, we’ve both understood what’s important to us and how to handle certain situations, so it’s really not effortless, a lot of effort goes into it, a lot of effort goes into scheduling and into communication. We are both part of very high pressure jobs – so a lot of effort goes into keeping our relationship stable if we are having a bad day – which happens a lot of the time as well. So, it’s not effortless, like every relationship it is hard work but Alhamdulillah we’ve done well. We’re going to celebrate 11 years soon and it’s sure been a fun ride.
SM: It takes a fair bit of planning and coordination between the two of us to make it come together like it does – far from effortless, I would say, but totally worth it.
Sania, what is it that you enjoy most about Pakistan and Shoaib, you about India?
SMM: What I enjoy most about Pakistan is the food, I have to say it’s amazing. The Halwa Puri we get when we go to see my mother-in-law in Sialkot – oh, my goodness! I think that I enjoy it a lot. And the love that I get there is tremendous, as well.
SM: The people, the love and warmth and the very gracious hospitality. And the food, but of course; from my mother-in-law’s fabulous ‘Bhuna Gosht’ to her delicious ‘Chicken 65’, I am a much indulged ‘damaad’, whenever I visit. I feel very much at home when I spend time across the border. I’m very friendly with Sania’s family and we can discuss anything under the sun. I have a great equation with my father-in-law, my sister-in-law Anam who is more like a sister to me. I am also very close to Sania’s Uncle, Babu Chacha.
Sania you are undoubtedly the Pakistan cricket team’s favourite bhabi – tell us about your personal equation with the boys and how it has developed over the years?
SMM: I share a great relationship with all the boys. We have a lot of fun whenever I’m there or we meet – especially with Babar, Imam and Wahab. We hang out quite a lot, whenever I do travel. They are closer to my age, as well – so we have a lot of fun together. They’re a good fun bunch, they’re a really good set of boys – they work hard in the day and in the evenings we sit and chat, play cards and enjoy meals together. And now, especially in the bubble life we live, we have to stay indoors, quite a lot.
I have a personal relationship with them outside of being Shoaib’s wife and being their bhabi – I am friends with all of them and it’s a lot of fun. We honestly have a really good time when we do catch up, whether on tour or not on tour.
Though tennis isn’t a team sport, Shoaib do you have a similar relationship with Sania’s fellow players?
SM: Absolutely, they are all good friends of the family. And of course as sportspersons, the respect is mutual and the camaraderie natural.
What, for you, has been the defining moment of your sporting career?
SMM: I think it’s hard for me to pick that one moment. For me, one of the most defining moments was obviously becoming number one in the world – all those grand slams, winning a lot of medals for my country. It’s difficult for me to say that this is the defining moment – I’ve had a long career and Alhamdulillah it has been pretty amazing. But I think all my achievements have defined my career in different ways.
SM: Very definitely, the most defining moment of my sporting career was being awarded my test cap in 2001 – for me, that moment in Multan will always remain unparalleled.
Which of you two is Izhaan more like? Although it’s far too early to tell, is it cricket or tennis that he enjoys?
SMM: I want to say he is more like me – but I think he has both our qualities. He loves parathas like his father does – that’s the Punjabi in him, I guess. And he’s got a few Hyderabadi words here and there. He does spend more time with me, obviously – in the early part of a child’s life they do spend a lot more time with the mother. But I think he has inherited qualities from both of us, which is a good thing. Honestly, he is too young to even think about what he enjoys – cricket or tennis. He is barely two years old, and he is a fun and very loving boy. He loves playing all kinds of games – he loves playing with a ball, he loves playing with a football. So you know, I mean it’s way too early to say, just yet.
SM: After Izhaan was born, my world changed forever. Due to the ongoing pandemic I was forced to stay away from Izhaan for a long time – let me tell you there is no feeling worse than being away from your child and missing watching him grow. Izhaan is very definitely Mama’s boy but he is the best mix of Sania and me. And although it is way too early to say, I am happy to confirm Izhaan’s interest in cricket – he is a left-handed batsman and bowls with his right arm.
What motivates you in your personal and professional capacities?
SMM: I think in my professional capacities, it’s the love for the game that motivates me and the love to keep going, achieving more – I think that’s what motivates me. In my personal life, I don’t necessarily think I need a lot of motivation – it comes from within. My son inspires me a lot – every time I look at him, I do feel very inspired. I personally feel we don’t need motivation in our personal lives – well, at least I don’t. But my professional life is led by my passion for the game.
SM: In my personal capacity, my family, especially Izhaan, are my motivation. What motivates me professionally is attaining laurels for my country – performing well is what powers me.
Who/what is your inspiration?
SMM: My inspiration has definitely been my parents – in more ways than one. They’ve inspired me to be a better person, they’ve inspired me to be a better tennis player – they’ve inspired me to give my best in everything I do.
SM: My love for the game is what inspires me to strive harder and give each game my absolute best. The satisfaction of being on the ground as an athlete and a team player inspires me to strive harder and keep raising the bar.
What is your motto in life?
SMM: My motto in life is definitely to be honest. I think honestly is a very integral part of my life. I think it’s very important for people to be honest and for me to be honest with myself. And like the famous saying goes: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice”. I think that is something I try to live by.
SM: Simple: Desire-Believe-Become.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
SMM: Honestly, I don’t really look that far ahead in my life. What I’ve learnt in life is to live in the moment. So, I really don’t plan what’s going to happen five years from now. I mean sure, I plan what meal I’m going to eat next, what clothes I’ll wear. But I don’t really plan five years from now. Alhamdulillah, it’s been a good life – we’ve worked hard and we’ve achieved a lot. We just kind of go with the flow, at least I do. I just feel that that’s how it should be, we need to live in the moment and not worry too much about the future. But yes, hopefully in five years, we’ll have another baby – who knows.
SM: I’m someone who takes life as it comes. That said, there are lots of things in the pipeline. In the long run, I would very definitely love to give back to my country and my people through my philanthropic efforts. But for now, the goal is to keep raising the bar and focus on performing well for Pakistan.
Your message to your fans?
SMM & SM: We’re extremely humbled and grateful for all the love we receive. Both as individuals and as a couple we have always believed in doing what we love. Our message to our fans would be to never be scared to think outside of the box, always believe in yourself, work hard and give it your 100 percent, because that’s what is in your control. Love what you do because that’s the only way to enjoy it and succeed.
INTERVIEW: YUSRA ASKARI
STYLING & CO-ORDINATION: RAO ALI KHAN
PHOTOGRAPHY: AYAZ SHAIKH
MAKE-UP: DEEPIKA DESHTA
LOCATION: COURTESY OF MAHESH TAURANI
SHOAIB MALIK’S WARDROBE: MANISH MALHOTRA
SANIA MIRZA-MALIK’S WARDROBE: EUPHORIA & MANISH MALHOTRA