Ankita blasts her way to title

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

ANKITA BHAMBRI put memories of three difficult tennis weeks behind, blasting her way to the singles title in the International Tennis Federation's women's Masters at Pune. The five WTA points and $800 will come in handy for this 15-year-old Delhi girl, now focussing on the Junior Federation Cup in Jakarta, using the confidence-boosting victories in the Masters to further her ambitions.

The competition may get tougher even in the juniors ranks, but Ankita can look back in satisfaction about all that she accomplished in the Masters against far more experienced seniors - hard-working Archana Venkataraman, the accomplished Sai Jayalakshmy and the hard-hitting Sonal Phadke - before conquering Sheetal Goutham 6-3, 6-2 for the title at the sand-topped PYC courts.

Ankita Bhambri, who won the Masters title at Pune, with the trophy.-VIVEK BENDRE

Beating these four on the way to her first ITF success in the seniors circuit may set to rest questions swirling in the Delhi girl's mind about her place in the pecking order after three forgettable weeks in the Mumbai, Nagpur and Kolhapur legs respectively. Any other player would be very low on hope and enthusiasm after these heartaches in the heat, but Ankita only got better when the Masters happened, as if biding her time for the tide to turn.

The power in her strokes even on a sand-topped PYC surface is an indication that this 15-year-old can become a dangerous opponent in the senior ranks, as long as she can hit the 'zone' more often. The final performance against Sheetal - the passing shots and line-hugging winners unleashed at will - was astonishing for its aggressive intent. Perhaps the memory of a second round loss in the Mumbai leg at the hands of the same rival, after being a set up, fuelled the champion's desire.

In the first three ITF legs leading to the Pune Masters, only Samrita Sekar's demolition of Sonal Phadke in the Mumbai leg semifinals was as forceful, and only Isha Lakhani's surge to the final at Nagpur and again at Kolhapur as focussed. Samrita just waded into Sonal's volleys as if wielding a sledge-hammer while Isha Lakhani adopted a more elaborate approach.

Samrita went on to thwart national champion Sai Jayalakshmy's designs in the first leg final, winning 6-1, 3-6, 7-5. The latter recovered her form and clinched the second leg, defeating Isha 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 while Radhika Tulpule lifted the singles title in the third leg with a 7-6 (4), 6-1 verdict over Isha.

Sheetal, richer by $500 and with four WTA points against her name at the Masters, once again underlined the value of adaptability. The Bangalore player made the quarterfinals in Mumbai and Kolhapur, lasted till the pre-quarterfinals in Nagpur and finished runner-up in Pune. Sai Jayalakshmy, who beat her in the first two legs en route to the final, broke through at Nagpur to redeem a bit of her singles reputation.

In the doubles, Sai combined with Radhika to sweep all four titles, pocketing $350 for winning the Masters final against Samrita Sekar/Archana Venkataraman 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. The second-placed pair earned $200 each after the Pune event, organised by the PYC Hindu Gymkhana with Sunder Iyer as the Tournament Director.

The results (Indians unless specified):

Masters (Pune) singles final: Ankita Bhambri bt Sheetal Goutham 6-3, 6-2. Semifinals: A. Bhambri bt Sonal Phadke 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-4; S. Goutham bt Medini Sharma 6-1, 6-0. Doubles final: Sai Jayalakshmy and Radhika Tulpule bt Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman 5-7, 6-1, 6-4. Semifinals: Sai Jayalakshmy and Radhika Tulpule bt Geeta Manohar and Eveline Rusdianto (Indonesia) 6-3, 6-0; Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman bt Liza Pereira and Sheetal Goutham 6-4, 7-5.

Third leg (Kolhapur) singles final: Radhika Tulpule bt Isha Lakhani 7-6 (4), 6-1. Semifinals: Radhika Tulpule bt Sheetal Goutham 6-4,6-2; Isha Lakhani bt Archana Venkataraman 6-1, 6-4. Doubles final: Radhika Tulpule and Sai Jayalakshmy bt Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman 6-2, 6-2. Semifinals: Radhika Tulpule and Sai Jayalakshmy bt Ankita Bhambri and Isha Lakhani 7-6 (8), 6-2; Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman bt Sheetal Goutham and Liza Pereira 6-4, 6-1.

Second leg (Nagpur) singles final: Sai Jayalakshmy bt Isha Lakhani 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. Semifinals: Sai Jayalakshmy bt Liza Pereira 6-2, 6-4; Isha Lakhani bt Sonal Phadke 6-1, 6-4. Doubles final: Sai Jayalakshmy and Radhika Tulpule bt Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman 7-5, 6-0. Semifinals: Sai Jayalakshmy and Radhika Tulpule bt Ankita Bhambri and Sonal Phadke 6-1, 5-7, 6-3; Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman bt Sheetal Goutham and Liza Pereira 6-4, 6-1.

First leg (Mumbai) singles final: Samrita Sekar bt Sai Jayalakshmy 6-1, 3-6, 7-5. Semifinals: Samrita Sekar bt Sonal Phadke 6-4, 6-0; Sai Jayalakshmy bt Sheetal Goutham 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Doubles final: Sai Jayalakshmy and Radhika Tulpule bt Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-1; Semifinals: Sai Jayalakshmy and Radhika Tulpule bt Ankita Bhambri and Sonal Phadke 6-2, 6-4; Samrita Sekar and Archana Venkataraman bt Sheetal Goutham and Liza Pereira 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.