Double delight for Rushmi

KALYAN ASHOK

IT was a double delight for the 25-year-old Rushmi Chakravarthi, the reigning National women's hard court champion, in the McDowell's ITF Women's circuit tennis championship held at Mysore. The Chennai girl's third ITF final of the season proved fruitful as she won the singles title beating Sai Jayalakshmy in the final and later she along with Sai won the doubles final as well.

Rushmi Chakravarthi displays her prize after winning the singles title.-K. GOPINATHAN

Rushmi and Sai, who grew up in the game together share a unique relationship. They are friends, doubles partners and often great rivals on the court. They belong to a vanishing tribe of women stars, who come from orthodox background and are committed to the game and try to carve a niche for themselves. But unlike the more successful ones such as Nirupama Vaidyanathan, Rushmi and Sai, who still have a few more years left in their career have, however, not shown the inclination to really strike it big on their own. At their age and level, the two should be playing at a higher level, in the Challengers and qualifying rounds of the WTA events. But they have shown interest and inclination to play more in Futures and National championships. Things could have certainly been different for them if they had taken the big step.

Nevertheless, whenever they play at home, they have proved time and again that they are still a cut above the rest of the younger brigade in the Indian women's tennis. Rushmi and Sai, seeded No. 1 and 2 at the Mysore championship, duly made it to the final. The hopes of the sizeable crowd at the Vontikoppal Tennis Club courts, which had gathered to watch an engrossing final, were dashed by an efficient Rushmi, who clinically dismantled an error-prone Sai under an hour at 6-2, 6-1 to claim the $1600 winner's purse and 12 Circuit points.

Sai had won an ITF event at Algiers this season. But in the final, with a shaky first serve she was not finding her rhythm. The big hitting Rushmi, who used her reach for some strong forehand winners and played rock steady groundstrokes, pinned Sai to the back court. Sai couldn't make much headway. Things might have changed for better if Sai had her way at the net, but Rushmi seldom gave her a chance.

When the two broke each other early in the first set, it looked as though the match was heading for a thrilling three-set finish.

But Rushmi, with her steady game, proved too good. But for some indecisive moments in the seventh game, which she held after being forced to half a dozen deuces, it was smooth sailing for Rushmi. Sai did raise some hope of a fightback after breaking Rushmi in the first game of the second set, but she lost the next six games in-a-row with a spate of unforced errors, especially on her backhand.

Earlier in the semi-finals, Rushmi beat Uzbek qualifier, Akgul Amanmuradova 6-4, 6-3. Amanmuradova can be frustrating at times for her opponents, as she churns out her double-handed backhand returns with power and consistency. But against a quick moving Rushmi, she was a bundle of nerves and kept hitting over the baseline with the Indian keeping her constantly on the run. For Amanmuradova, it was, however, a memorable outing as she made the semi-finals in the very first senior ITF women's event of her career. The 19-year-old from Tashkent, who is ranked No. 3 at home, had earlier won two ITF junior titles in Kazakhstan and Kyrghistan. Her prized scalp at Mysore was the fourth seed Sonal Phadke whom she beat in a hard fought three setter at 6-4, 4-6, 6-0.

Sai stopped the dream run of Geeta Manohar in the other semi-finals at 6-0, 6-1. The 18-year-old Geeta from Hyderabad underlined her growing stature on the circuit with some big wins. Geeta has a potent first serve and was consistent with her returns. The youngster also has the composure to play a sensible game under pressure. After beating Samrita Sekhar in the opening tie, she knocked out the third seeded Radhika Tulpule in the pre-quarter-finals at 6-3, 6-2. Geeta showed that the victory was no flash in the pan, as she accounted for the steady baseliner from Thailand, Wilawan Choptang at 6-4, 6-2 after rallying from a 1-4 deficit in the first set. In the semi-finals against Sai, however, Geeta failed to get going, as she struggled both with her serve and returns.

The quarter-final round had four foreigners and four Indian contenders and at the end, Amanmuradova was the only outsider left in the fray. Rushmi raced to a 6-0, 6-4 win over Diana Julianto of Indonesia while Sai overcame an overdose of eight double faults to beat the Russian qualifier, Anastasia Dvornikova 7-5, 6-3. Sai compensated for the poor serve with some big forehands. Dvornikova simply had no answer to that. The Russian girl also developed stomach cramps midway through the second set which affected her play. Amanmuradova downed the Korean Hee Sun Lyoo Suh 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 while Geeta ousted Choptang.

One expected a better show from Sheetal Goutham and Archana Venkataraman. But the two Bangloreans disappointed. Sheetal, who dominated the Satellite series earlier in the season, made too many unforced errors to stay in the fight against the Korean Hee-Sun Lyoo-Suh and went down at 4-6, 3-6. Archana Venkataraman fell to Thai Choptang at 6-7 (2-7), 3-6. Shruti Dhawan, who is back on the road, after recovering from a back injury, had the misfortune of taking on Rushmi in the first round and quickly made her exit.

The top seeds, Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy, who had won 14 titles together so far, called the shots in the doubles. The pair cruised to a 6-3, 6-3 win over Dvornikova sisters, Alena and Anastasia.

Mysore's bid to host its first international tennis event ran into trouble with the Cauvery stir at Mandya affecting the train and road traffic from Bangalore to Mysore. Many players were stranded on the eve of the championship and KSLTA, in fact, arranged for transport of players and a section of the media to Mysore in a van with police escort. The difficulties faced by the players were more than compensated by the hosts, who offered them a traditional Mysore hospitality.

The results:

Singles final: Rushmi Chakravarthi (Ind) bt Sai Jayalakshmy (Ind) 6-2, 6-1. Semi-finals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Akgul Amanmuradova (Uzb) 6-4, 6-3. Sai Jayalakshmy bt Geeta Manohar (Ind) 6-0, 6-1.

Quarter-finals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Diana Julianto (Ina) 6-0, 6-1; Sai Jayalakshmy bt Anastasia Dvornikova (Rus) 7-5, 6-3; Geeta Manohar bt Wilawan Choptang (Thai) 6-4, 6-2; Akgul Amanmuradova bt Hee Sun Lyoo Suh (Kor) 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Doubles final: Rushmi Chakravarthi & Sai Jayalakshmy bt Alena Dvornikova & Anastasia Dvornikova (Rus) 6-3, 6-3. Semi-finals: Rushmi Chakravarthi & Sai Jayalakshmy bt Sonal Phadke & Radhika Tulpule (Ind) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. Anastasia Dvornikova & Alena Dvornikova (Rus) bt Ridhina Parekh (Ind) & Akgul Amanmuradova 5-7, 6-2, 6-2.