Chasing a dream

Published : Nov 07, 2009 00:00 IST

Attitude counts... Sharmada Balu with the trophies she won at the Harvest National junior championship in Ludhiana.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH
Attitude counts... Sharmada Balu with the trophies she won at the Harvest National junior championship in Ludhiana.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Attitude counts... Sharmada Balu with the trophies she won at the Harvest National junior championship in Ludhiana.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Sharmada Balu’s immediate goal is to play in the Australian Open in January 2010. “If I qualify for that, it will be my maiden Slam event and that’s always been a big dream,” she says.

Six years ago, when Sharmada Balu, as a 10-year-old, won the under-18 singles title at the AITA Champions Series, she showed her potential as a youngster to watch. Recently, she fulfilled that promise with a deserving double crown at the Harvest National junior (under-18) tennis championship in Ludhiana. The slightly built lass, gifted with a strong forehand and a steely determination, won the girls’ title with a 7-5, 7-6 (8) victory against Prarthana Thombe of Maharashtra. Later, she teamed up with Shwetha Rana to win the doubles title as well, beating Iska Teertha and Prarthana Thombe.

“The victory has given me a lot of confidence and hope for the future,” said the 16-year-old Bangalorean who tops both the National under-16 and under-18 rankings.

Sharmada, who had earlier won the National under-16 singles title in 2008 and the doubles title (with Aishwarya Agrawal) in May this year, rated the final against Prarthana as her toughest match in the tournament. “I had easy rounds earlier and the final too seemed to go that way as I led 5-2 in the first set and held four match-points at 5-4 in the second set.

“But Prarthana, managed to stretch me. I think the difference was the attitude and I did not give in easily. This was a lesson I had learnt last year, when I saved a couple of match-points to win the National under-16 title,” she said.

Apart from the right attitude, what really counted in Sharmada’s favour was the exposure and professional training she has been getting as a ward of the ‘Mission 2018’ scheme of the Apollo Tyres at the Nike Bhupathi Tennis Village in Bangalore. She has trained under top pro coaches such as former Davis Cup player Prahlad Srinath, Sandeep Kirtane and Bobby Mahal of Canada, an expert in Progressive Tennis.

Sharmada had played in over a dozen ITF Grade I, II and III events abroad last year. “I played on different surfaces and against much tougher rivals than I have in India, and that has helped my game. The training at Nike Bhupathi Tennis Village put a lot more sting into my serve and forehand. And I am working hard on my second serve and footwork also,” she said.

Tennis being the top priority in her life, Sharmada pursues her studies through the National Open School scheme. From the next season, she wants to play in a few ITF senior events. “There is not much of a gap between the ITF Junior Grade I tournament and the ITF $10,000 event.

“I hope to improve my ITF junior ranking, which is around 160 now, and break into the top 100, which should help get me into the main draw of such tournaments,” said Sharmada.

Her immediate goal, however, is to play in the Australian Open in January 2010. “If I qualify for that, it will be my maiden Slam event and that’s always been a big dream,” said Sharmada.

* * *IOB, Southern Railway reign supreme

Interesting as ever, the Chennai District Volleyball Association Senior Division League, sponsored by the SRM University, ran its course in a near flawless sequence at the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium recently.

Almost every day, up to the final on October 23, the spectator turnout was good, meeting the expectations of the host as well as the sponsor.

Indian Overseas Bank and Southern Railway emerged triumphant, taking the men’s and women’s trophies respectively. While IOB regained the cup after losing it last year to Indian Bank, Southern Railway maintained its decade-long unbroken reign.

In the men’s section, it was clear from the start that there were only four main contenders for the title — IOB, Customs, Southern Railway and SDAT — with ICF and the defending champion, Indian Bank, having an outside chance.

The flourish with which Customs went about its task indicated a sweep by the team. And one of its victories included the defeat of IOB. But as the league reached its climactic stages, IOB showed signs of surging back into contention.

IOB needed only to win a set in its last match of the league against Southern Railway to ensure the title. The team, however, defeated Southern Railway in straight sets (25-16, 25-13, 25-19) riding on brilliant performances by skipper Nadarajan and internationals Naveen Raja and Selvaprabhu along with the seasoned Shelton Moses.

Customs had to be satisfied with the second place with 16 points, two less than IOB. SDAT was third and Southern Railway fourth.

In the women’s section, Southern Railway’s sweep wasn’t surprising. The team had the best of balance in attack and defence, with Gayathri playing the lead role throughout. She was ably supported by skipper Betsy, Preeti Karthi and libero Tina Joseph.

Quite predictably, coach Meena Mahalingam and her assistant, R. Bhunavaneshwari were elated as Southern Railway not only won all its eight matches in the league but also didn’t drop a set. Mr. T. R. Pachamuthu, the SRM University Chancellor, gave away the trophies in the presence of Walter Dawaram, President of the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association.

* * *A great couple

Both are champions and National record holders. And they are husband and wife. Meet Renjith Maheswary, India’s best bet in triple jump, and V. S. Sureka, the current Indian champion in pole-vault. They were a special pair at the National inter-state athletics championship and, coincidentally, the two were in action around the same time on either side of the athletics arena. What more, the two ended up with a meet record each!

The only thing that separated the two Railway employees was that they represented different teams. Sureka, though from Kerala, represented Tamil Nadu, while Renjith competed for Kerala. That Sureka was keen to correct this aspect was evident at the end of her event when she openly talked against the Tamil Nadu Athletics Association (TNAA) for “failing to encourage her in any way”.

Sureka did not mince words when she said, “My request for an NOC to switch over to Kerala was not entertained.” Whether the TNAA will finally accede to her request only time will tell. However, the issue did not come in the way of her performance in her event.

Missing at the venue on the eve of the championship, Renjith and Sureka were ready when the calls went out for the start of their events. And both had come with a common objective — to set National marks in their events. A bumpy runway undid Renjith’s plans while a tummy upset hampered Sureka’s confidence. Still, there were cheers for the couple, for they did not leave the arena empty handed. They had won a gold medal each and with new records to boot.

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