NEW DELHI, India -- Top Indian tennis player Sania Mirza has shocked fans and officials with her decision not to compete in tournaments in her home country this year.
She explained to reporters that she would not play in India's richest tennis event, the $600,000 WTA Bangalore Open from March 3-9 because she was finding it difficult to handle the controversies.
The 21-year-old Muslim has been criticized by Islamist groups for playing in short skirts, and was taken to court after media photographs showed her bare feet resting near the Indian flag.
Mirza, Asia's highest-ranked player at number 29, revealed before last month's Australian Open she had even considered giving up the game.
Mirza is managed by doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi's company Globosport, which runs the rival WTA Sunfest Open in Kolkata in September.
Bhupathi, who partnered Mirza to the mixed-doubles final at the Australian Open, said she could play in India in the future.
"It is not a permanent decision," Bhupathi said. "It is only this year she will not play in India.
"She has really been pained by all that has happened in the last few months. It is really unfortunate. We want that she should have the right frame of mind when playing in tournaments."
Vijay Amritraj, India's best-known tennis player, said: "I am dumbfounded. She is such a fine player. She is the best not just at home but in the whole of Asia. In my time, to play in India was such a big thing."
Former Davis Cup coach Akhtar Ali said it was a sad day for Indian tennis.
"That something like this should happen to a dedicated professional like Sania is extremely unfortunate," he said.
"She has become the victim of politics. She has done so much for this country, single-handedly catapulting ladies' tennis on to the world stage. She has finally given in to the pressure."
Mirza told reporters on Monday that she had been "advised by my manager not to play because a lot has been happening in the past few months.
"I have gone through great lows in the last few weeks. It has been difficult to stay focused."
Venus and Serena Williams will make their first appearances in India at the Bangalore Open. E-mail to a friend