Breaking a barrier

"Coming into this tournament as the top seed meant nothing to me. Having been considered a contender for eight years and not coming close to winning, I was happy to consider myself as an underdog," said Indu.

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

SHE overcame mental barriers when occupying the top-of-the-table position in the women's singles. The Pune Nationals triumph was N. R. Indu's first in two finals. Eight years of bearing the `contender' tag was becoming too huge a burden, forcing the top seed to give up hopes of ever winning a National title, before going on to accomplish it. "I can enjoy the game now," admitted a relieved champion, after thwarting arch-rival Mouma Das' designs in the final by a 4-1 margin.

It was a face-saving achievement. "Coming into this tournament as the top seed meant nothing to me. Having been considered a contender for eight years and not coming close to winning, I was happy to consider myself as an underdog," said Indu, revealing that, besides her parents, coaches Srinivasa Rao and Muralidhar Rao had more faith in her winning ability. "I have won at least 20 tournaments all over the country but a National title eluded me. So they used to assure me that it was only a matter of time before I got over that block."

Now those scars of being an under-achiever no longer matter and the top seed is in a frame of mind for a second glance at the competition. "Mouma and Poulomi (Ghatak) are two of the hardest hitters around. Earlier it was possible to engage them in a few rallies before a point was decided but now I have to finish at the first opportunity or get beaten," said the India number one, too deeply involved in her own inner battles to notice `Generation Next', among whom Anandita Chakraborty and Vishaka Vijay have the power to trouble the newly-crowned National champion.

Indu cannot get faster to counter the hit-and-move types in a sport evolving into a spectacle due to the 11-point format, but is aware of sticking to her strengths (compact defence and percentage play) and maintain the success rate through sheer hard work at the preparatory stage. The confidence of being India's best can also be a morale-booster for this Indian Oil employee, who knows the battle will only get tougher, with waves of players from the Bengal assembly line, trained under foreign coaches at Centre of Excellence (Kolkata), ready to question a few reputations.

Indu is fortunate to be based in Chennai, training alongside men's number four Sharat Kamal (RSPB) at YMIA. The coaches are also the same, the latter's father and uncle aware of the need to stretch Indu's winning streak while helping their Sharat develop a winning habit. "The victory is the result of the efforts taken by my coaches over the last two years. Now I wish my success encourages more young girls to take up the game, so that my coaches can keep on producing new champions."