Ankita's consistency pays off

YOUNG minds have room for education. The ability to grasp is so good that it is not that difficult to guide them, unless you confuse them with complicated ideas.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

YOUNG minds have room for education. The ability to grasp is so good that it is not that difficult to guide them, unless you confuse them with complicated ideas.

Keep it simple. Keep the ball in play. Keep your feet moving and your mind ticking, all the time. Keep your anger in the locker room. Keep your concentration and forget about the people and things around. More than anything else keep your confidence, for if you lose it, you cannot win!

By winning her second Masters title in the ITF women's circuit in Delhi, the 16-year-old Ankita Bhambri showed that she was learning to compete, with a solid game, backed by a cool mind.

Competing on home territory can be a double-edged weapon. It can cut both ways. You have the pressure of high expectations, but you also have the advantage of a familiar environment.

Ankita had struggled to take advantage of the home court for some months, as she lost in the final of the Asian junior championship to Sania Mirza last December and more recently the final of the second leg of the ITF women's circuit to Liza Pereira.

Well, there is no better way to learn than from your own mistakes. Ankita seemed to have understood a thing or two about putting on a winning game in the climax, as she beat the second-seeded Isha Lakhani 6-3, 6-3 in the final of the Masters.

Many times you do not need a spectacular game to win a final. You have got to be consistent and keep it simple. Ankita kept her focus on the target, and Isha, who had won the first leg, cracked under the intensity and buried herself in a heap of errors.

"This title is very important for me. I had not done well in the $10,000 events in Mumbai and Muzaffar Nagar recently, losing in the first round. These WTA points will help push my ranking," said Ankita, elated about winning her second Masters title. She had accomplished the task last year in Pune, and joined Sheethal Goutham as the only other Indian to have won two Masters titles, in the eight editions held in the country.

Ankita has a big serve, which is gaining in strength and has groundstrokes that are craftily conceived and executed with improving muscle power. The young girl played consistently well to beat Preeti Rao, Madura Ranganathan and the top-seeded Liza Pereira for the loss of 14 games in all in the first three rounds of the 16-draw Masters.

The victory over Liza gave Ankita a lot of confidence and it was easier for her to beat Isha, whom she had beaten earlier in the circuit, albeit in three sets.

Ankita will have to plan her tournaments in the junior and senior sections well to make the most of the chances in the rest of the season. She cannot play more than 12 women's tournaments, and Ankita has not been that keen to play the juniors.

Sheetal Goutham (left) and Shruti Dhawan, the doubles winners. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

With $800 for the Masters title, Ankita took her collection from the circuit to $1892.5, which should help her plan a few tournaments abroad.

The 18-year-old Isha Lakhani was unusually erratic. The national champion lacked the intensity of concentration to complement her fighting qualities, and thus it was a struggle for her. Even in the semifinals, Isha scraped through in three sets because Shruti Dhawan suddenly lost confidence in her game after a dream start when she had led 5-0 within 12 minutes of play.

The 21-year-old Shruti, who has completed a post-graduate course in mass communication, hardly gives a chance to her opponents to beat her these days. She beats herself.

For someone who had won the Masters title of the $5000 women's circuit as a 16-year-old in 1998, apart from reaching the semifinals of tough $10,000 events abroad thereafter, Shruti has unfortunately not been able to graduate to the higher echelons of the game for various reasons.

Her complicated mind is the first and foremost reason. If she keeps it simple and plays with a strong will, Shruti should still be able to do justice to her immense potential.

Liza Pereira was perhaps tired after her consistent performance in singles and doubles over four weeks. She could hardly do a thing right in the semifinals against Ankita, whom she had beaten in three sets a fortnight earlier. In any case, Liza returned with a lot of confidence and the tag of the richest woman from the circuit, as she collected the biggest purse among all, a neat packet of $2075.

Sonal Phadke, Archana Venkataraman, Kamini Murugaboopathy and Madura Ranganathan had all done well till the Masters, but were unable to cross the second hurdle in the event that mattered, and had to be content with 1.5 WTA points each.

Sheethal Goutham, the champion of three successive events who had finished runner-up to Radhika Tulpule in the Masters event in the last circuit, was unable to record any such success this time, as she was troubled by a recurring back pain.

Still, Sheethal managed to win the Masters doubles crown with Shruti. The duo had won the title in the first leg in Indore and had lost in the final of the third leg.

Overall, it was a fruitful experience for most players. The young ones went back with more lessons and less money. If they learn from their mistakes, and grasp the points from the invaluable experience, the young girls would be strengthening Indian women's tennis a lot further in the near future.

The results:

Singles (final): Ankita Bhambri bt Isha Lakhani 6-3, 6-3; Semifinals: Ankita Bhambri bt Liza Pereira 6-2, 6-0; Isha Lakhani bt Shruti Dhawan 3-6, 6-3, 6-2; Quarterfinals: Liza Pereira bt Kamini Murugaboopathy 6-0, 6-2; Ankita Bhambri bt Madura Ranganathan 6-4, 6-3; Shruti Dhawan bt Archana Venkataraman 6-3, 6-2; Isha Lakhani bt Sonal Phadke 6-2, 7-5.

Doubles (final): Shruti Dhawan and Sheethal Goutham bt Isha Lakhani and Liza Pereira 7-5, 6-2; Semifinals: Shruti Dhawan and Shethal Goutham bt Ankita Bhambri and Sonal Phadke 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; Isha Lakhani and Liza Pereira bt Anupama Rajur and Chirashanti Rajur 6-3, 5-7, 6-1.