Another Sania on the horizon?

Lee Duck Hee of Korea and Snehadevi Reddy, who won the singles titles in the Asian Junior tennis championship in New Delhi.-

Snehadevi Reddy shows a lot of promise. Kamesh Srinivasan saw her triumph in the Asian junior tennis championship recently.

Snehadevi Reddy packs a lot of punch in her small frame. She does not have the height to be a dominant force on a tennis court, but the 16-year-old girl has the heart of a champion, and the healthy attitude to never give up.

It was a demonstration of pure courage as Snehadevi played robust tennis despite pain in her serving shoulder in the Asian junior championship in Delhi, on way to being crowned the champion. The effort pushed her from No. 203 in the world to No. 76, which should get her entries in the Grand Slam junior events in the French Open and Wimbledon.

With the Vice-President of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA), Karti Chidambaram, taking personal interest, and assuring Snehadevi support for competing in the two Grand Slams and in a few preparatory tournaments apart from training in Europe, the girl who is based in Hyderabad, and trains with Neelakanta Rao, should make a healthy progress.

In fact, with Snehadevi also likely to get coaching support for the tournaments abroad, it should be interesting to see how well she channelises her game and the resources to get better.

Indian women’s tennis has had a few champions at the Asian junior level, but nobody has matched Sania Mirza who had won the crown in 2002, and went on to be ranked as high as No. 27 in the world of women’s tennis.

Sania outclassed Li Na of China in the Asian Games in 2006 on way to the silver medal. Some inherent flaws in her game, and the lack of a strong physique like Li Na who went on to win the French Open in 2011, had perhaps stopped her from going further than the fourth round of a Grand Slam in singles. But the greatness of Sania was that she always had the attitude of a champion, and never allowed herself to be intimidated by anyone, whether it was Serena Williams, Svetlana Kuznetsova or Maria Sharapova who stood across the net.

It is perhaps this attitude that Snehadevi may need more than anything else to carve a place for herself in the intensely competitive world of tennis. She has got the foundation and the launching pad, but it will be entirely up to her to realise her potential.

Another diminutive girl, who followed Sania to be the Asian junior champion in 2003, Isha Lakhani, did well to reach 291 in the women’s ranking. A gutsy left-hander, Isha, was the last Indian woman to beat Sania, and did so in a $25,000 Challenger tournament. Sania and Isha had, in fact, made the semifinals of the US Open junior doubles event, before Sania leapt ahead to become the Wimbledon junior doubles champion.

“It is no mean achievement to win the Asian juniors. I congratulate Sneha,’’ said Isha, who incidentally had won a double crown in the Asian juniors, a decade earlier.

“Sneha is a very focussed player. She plays the game very smartly. Her strength is that even on a crucial point, she will go for her shots. This is a positive point, as not all can dare to go for their shots,’’ said Isha, who had tried her hand at coaching, before diversifying recently into marketing six varieties of modular kitchens in Mumbai.

Sunitha Rao (144) and Shikha Uberoi (122) were stopped by a government ruling from continuing to represent India, for lack of an Indian passport, and Indian women were finding it difficult to break into the top 300. Only Nirupama Sanjeev could reach a high of 134. Despite financial constraints, Isha did very well to reach where she did.

The good thing about Snehadevi is that she beat a clutch of players better ranked than her without any fuss, despite the shoulder pain, that forced her to have ultrasound therapy and take pain-killers. She beat the second best Asian in the world rankings, Katherine Ip of Hong Kong, for the loss of just five games in the semifinals. She had beaten the fourth-seeded Mami Adachi of Japan, dropping only six games in the pre-quarterfinals.

In the final, she mustered a lot of courage to turn the match around against the athletic Asiya Dair of Kazakhstan, seeded fifth. Incidentally, Snehadevi beat five foreigners in as many rounds to win the title at home.

It will be interesting to see how well Snehadevi shapes up to the challenges of participating in both the junior and women’s events in the season ahead. She had, in fact, shown her class by beating Rutuja Bhosale, who had won the Asian junior championship two years ago, by dropping only one game in an ITF junior event.

The trick would be not to burn out in training! In trying to follow Sania Mirza, many an Indian girl has lost her way, unable to get the right formula of training and tournaments. Snehadevi has to retain her hunger for playing good matches and train just enough to be sharp and energetic.

In the tournament, the focus was also on a boy, the 15-year-old Sumit Nagal, who is supported by Mahesh Bhupathi and trains with Bobby Mahal in Canada. Sumit did show improvement in his game, but the lack of sting in his serve stopped him from going beyond the semifinals. He had made the semifinals last year as well.

For sure, there is a lot to look forward to from the Indian juniors in the season ahead.

THE RESULTS Boys (final):

Lee Duck Hee (Kor) bt Ken Onishi (Jpn) 7-6(3), 7-6(4).

Semifinals:

Ken Onishi bt Kim Dukyoung (Kor) 6-4, 4-6, 6-2; Lee Duck Hee (Kor) bt Sumit Nagal 7-5, 6-3.

Doubles (final):

Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul (Tha) and Sumit Nagal bt Ken Onishi and Takashi Saito (Jpn) 4-6, 7-6(2), 10-7.

Girls (final):

Snehadevi Reddy bt Asiya Dair (Kaz) 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

Semifinals:

Asiya Dair bt Kamonwan Buayam (Tha) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4; Snehadevi Reddy bt Katherine Ip (Hkg) 6-3, 6-2.

Doubles (final):

Mami Adachi (Jpn) and Hikari Yamamoto (Jpn) bt Kamonwan Buayam (Tha) and Kim Dabin (Kor) 6-3, 4-6, 10-2.