February 6, 2008 / 5:51 AM / 10 years ago

Mirza stays a top brand: advertisers

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Asia’s top tennis player Sania Mirza will retain her strong brand value despite her decision to shun Indian tournaments in protest at being dragged into needless controversies, Indian advertisers say.

The 21-year-old Indian is skipping next month’s Bangalore Open, rattled by a court case last month which alleged she showed disrespect to her national flag, an offence punishable by jail.

“Sania has become a brand not because she won a few matches in India or because of her ranking,” Santosh Desai, CEO of India’s Future Brand, told the Hindustan Times daily.

“It is because of her success worldwide, and if she continues to play well and make us buy into the idea of her international success, sponsors will continue to support her.”

Mirza’s popularity has rivaled cricketers in India since she became the first Indian woman to win a tour event in 2005 and the articulate player enjoys many commercial endorsements. She is ranked 29th in the world.

The Muslim player has also had to pay a price for her popularity, however, and has been at the centre of a series of controversies.

She faced an edict from a Muslim group for playing in normal tennis attire soon after her rise to prominence.

In December, she apologized to Mosque officials in hometown Hyderabad following a police complaint for trespass after she shot an advertisement film in its premises.

Mirza said last month she even contemplated quitting tennis because of the issues.

Her boycott decision has won support from doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi, her mixed doubles partner and manager, but Davis Cup captain Leander Paes has urged Mirza to handle such issues better.

Reporting by N.Ananthanarayanan, editing by Ossian Shine

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