Ankita's moment of glory

ANKITA BHAMBRI announced her entry into the big league of the country's professional circuit winning the $10,000 ITF women's meet in Kolkata.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

ANKITA BHAMBRI announced her entry into the big league of the country's professional circuit winning the $10,000 ITF women's meet in Kolkata.

Ankita Bhambri had it easy against Thailand's Wiliwan Choptang in the final. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

The recently laid synthetic courts at the Bengal Tennis Association's (BTA) new complex provided the perfect platform for the gutsy 18-year-old New Delhi girl to decorate her fledgling career with an international title. And she did this in style beating Thailand's Wiliwan Choptang in the final, which saw Bhambri flourishing with a commendable display of power, precision and character.

The meet, which was arguably the first ITF women's event of this magnitude in the East, was sponsored by the steel giant, Tata, and saw the best of the talents from the country. The main draw of 32 had only five foreigners — Katerina Polunina (Ukraine), Po-Kuen Lam (Hong Kong), Martina Caciotti (Italy), Andrea Lipovska (Australia) apart from Choptang — out of whom only the Thai received a seeding (sixth) while the rest remained out of the top eight bracket. The slender foreign attendance resulted from a spate of late pullouts with the official hotel, Hyatt, making an "arbitrary" decision to raise accommodation rates triple fold, compared to what was quoted by the organiser, BTA, in the initial missive to the international federation. With a new management taking over, the old subsidised rates for the players were done away putting the BTA in a spot of bother. Alternative arrangements were made with another hotel but that was not enough to bring back the initial list of 30 foreign entries, including the main draw and qualifiers, as only seven made it finally. While the foreign players kept away in big numbers, there was one foreigner doing a voluntary service. Abbas Abu Awad, a consultant with the Jordan Tennis Federation and a white-badge umpire, took some time off his profession as an inflight supervisor with Royal Jordan Airways to stay back in the city and pursue his passion of umpiring all across the continent. With the organiser and the ITF referee, Sheetal Iyer, responding favourably to his zeal, Awad umpired a few matches till the semifinals and was well accepted by the players.

The action in the singles main draw sided mostly with the two Bhambri sisters. Ankita was definitely ruling the proceedings as the second seed, while younger sister Sanaa, seeded fifth, also played quite impressively. The main draw began with a disaster as the top-seeded Rushmi Chakravarthi was sent packing in straight sets by the unseeded Karishma Patel in the first round. Rushmi (ranked 346), who got the top billing after Florence Harding of France pulled out, put out an uncharacteristically diffident show that let Karishma work up the biggest upset of the tournament. The first round did not see any more upsets, as the remaining seven seeds had no major problems in moving up the ladder.

The big win over the top-seed did not hold much for Karishma, who failed to maintain the tempo and bowed out in the next round losing to Ukrainian Polunina. The second round saw another seed exiting as the No. 3 Punam Reddy forced out with an injured elbow. Punam looked well on course to the quarterfinals winning the first set easily against unseeded Sheethal Goutham, but with a painful elbow making the going impossible, Punam retired in the final set having lost the second and trailing in the third 1-4. The second round threw up big challenges also for Ankita Bhambri and the eighth seeded Isha Lakhani, both of whom had to come up with their best to get past unseeded opponents, Shruti Dhawan and Parul Goswami respectively, after being stretched to the decider.

Shrruti Dhawan (left) and Wiliwan Choptang, the doubles winners. — Pic. S. PATRONOBISH-

Quite unlike the day before, when the singles pre-quarterfinals saw a few hard-fought matches, the quarterfinals saw all the matches decided in straight sets with the favoured names winning. Ankita Bhambri got past Archana Venkatraman while fifth-seeded Sanaa Bhambri created a minor upset, considering the order of seedings, defeating fourth-seed Sai Jayalakshmy. The unseeded Polunina fell an easy prey to the eighth-seeded Lakhani, who took exactly an hour to complete a 6-4, 6-1 victory. Choptang had the easiest of wins and took only 52 minutes to overpower unseeded Sheethal Goutham, conceding only three games.

The semifinals had an interesting mix with the Bhambri sisters pitted against each other and Ankita prevailed over Sanaa in straight sets. The result also settled a score for Ankita who had lost to Sanaa in a similar meet at Pune in the last week of October. The other match also justified the seedings as Choptang blew out the challenge, again in straight sets, from the eighth-seeded Lakhani. The final turned out to be a one-way affair as the favourite, Ankita Bhambri, made the most of the home support to beat Choptang. The 20-year-old Thai looked all at sea and failed to rise to the occasion in her first ITF seniors' final. Having accomplished high grades in power, fitness and application while working her way to the decisive stage of the competition, Choptang was supposed to be a big hurdle for Bhambri's title aspiration. But the speculations were belied as the Indian took centrestage and had no problems in blowing away the little resistance from her error-prone opponent. The title in the end capped a consistent effort all through the season, which saw two back-to-back final defeats against Rushmi Chakravarthi in successive weeks earlier in the year, as Ankita prepared for a bigger leap in the professional world.

Ankita, however, missed a double crown, as she could not repeat the feat partnering Sanaa in the doubles final that had Choptang pairing up with Indian Shruti Dhawan. Choptang and Shruti, who disposed of the top-seeded pair of Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy in the semifinals, looked at ease with their combination and won the title in straight sets.

The results:

Singles (final): Ankita Bhambri (Ind) bt Wiliwan Choptang (Tha) 6-3, 7-5.

Semifinals: Wiliwan Choptang bt Isha Lakhani 7-5, 6-4; Ankita Bhambri bt Sanaa Bhambri (Ind) 6-3, 6-3.

Quarterfinals: Isha Lakhani bt Katerina Polunina (Ukr) 6-4, 6-1; Wiliwan Choptang bt Sheethal Goutham (Ind) 6-2, 6-1; Sanaa Bhambri bt Sai Jayalakshmy Jayaram (Ind) 6-4, 6-2; Ankita Bhambri bt Archana Venkatraman (Ind) 6-4, 6-1.

Doubles (final): Wiliwan Choptang (Tha) and Shruti Dhawan (Ind) bt Ankita Bhambri and Sanaa Bhambri (Ind) 6-2, 7-5.

Semifinals: Wiliwan Choptang and Shruti Dhawan bt Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy (Ind) 6-3, 6-3; Ankita Bhambri and Sanaa Bhambri bt Vandana Murali and Madhura Ranganathan (Ind) 6-1, 6-1.