Double for Rushmi

SHE is getting better with time. There was never any doubt that Rushmi Chakravarthi could play quality tennis, ever since she won the national sub-junior title many years ago.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Rushmi Chakravarthi... consistent as ever. — Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

SHE is getting better with time. There was never any doubt that Rushmi Chakravarthi could play quality tennis, ever since she won the national sub-junior title many years ago. Thanks to the numerous international tournaments at home, and thanks to her innate urge to play as many tournaments as financially possible in Australia and Europe, not to forget the events in rest of Asia, Rushmi has developed into a consistent performer.

She may not have a great ranking to crow about, but with an international ranking of 345 she was seeded No. 1 in the BSNL $10,000 ITF women's tournament in Delhi. The 26-year-old Indian Oil officer from Chennai asserted her class in winning a double crown without dropping a set, either in singles or doubles. Except for a tie-break in the first set against the fifth-seeded Gabriela Velasco-Andreu of Spain, whom she overpowered in the second set at 6-1, Rushmi did not drop more than three games in a set to any opponent, Indian or foreign.

Accuracy

Serving big and stroking with rare accuracy, Rushmi cruised to her eighth singles title at this level, and the third of the season following the back-to-back titles that she had won a couple of months earlier in Lucknow and Delhi, when she had beaten the 17-year-old Delhi lass, Ankita Bhambri, in both the finals.

That is the admirable quality in Rushmi, that she has been able to dictate terms to girls 10 years younger to her, which is quite an achievement in itself in the intensely competitive tennis world, in which the energy levels are as important as the maturity of your game. It was the fifth tournament on the trot for Rushmi, as she had played two tournaments in England, one in Colombo where she reached the semifinals and another $25,000 tournament at the same venue in Delhi the previous week. Rushmi had made it to the quarterfinals of the Challenger and had gone down in three sets to the eventual champion, the second-seeded Chia-Jung Chuang of Chinese Taipei.

There was the $100,000 Asian Championship in Tashkent the following week after the $10,000 event in Delhi. Thus, it was admirable that the Chennai lady was able to ration her energy judiciously in grabbing maximum possible honours, points and prize money.

Rushmi conceded one game to the talented tall girl from Bangalore, Iciri Rai, in the first round, and only three games to the petite Sonal Phadke from Mumbai. Montinee Tangphong retired with a knee injury after winning only one of the eight games against Rushmi in the semifinals, while Sai was unable to keep pace with the aces and winners of her doubles partner in the final.

Self-doubts

Of course, Sai was hampered by her own errors, the double-faults and the over-angled shots that kept missing the lines by a mile. More than that Sai has been hampered by self-doubts. The fellow Indian Oil employee of Rushmi, the 27-year-old Sai had been troubled by a tennis elbow, and thus it was impressive on her part to have reached the final in the first place.

In beating Ankita in a third set tie-break when she had trailed both in the second and third sets, Sai revealed her fighting qualities in the semifinals. She had also showed considerable poise and a smooth technique in beating the second-seeded Aurelie Vedy of France.

In a strong field, that had players from Korea, Thailand, Spain, Chinese Taipei, Australia, Austria, Hong Kong, Japan, Britain and France, it was a commendable exercise by the Indian girls that they occupied three of the four semifinal berths.

Sense of purpose

With Sania Mirza playing the lead role in tournaments at the higher level, like making the final of both the singles and doubles events in the $25,000 tournament the previous week in Delhi, apart from winning the doubles title in the $140,000 WTA event in Hyderabad earlier in the season, there is a sense of purpose in the strides made by the Indian girls.

Ankita is waiting to make a breakthrough. She will be a different player once she tastes success and wins a title at the $10,000 level. Her younger sister, Sanaa Bhambri was quite impressive on her way to the quarterfinals, when she retired on medical grounds after losing the first set in the tie-break to Ankita. Sanaa had led 5-2 in that set, and with a little more intensity of concentration, the talented left-hander should be able to beat many players much better equipped than her own sister.

If Ting Li and Tian Tian Sun of China, who were playing at this level till some time back, can win the Olympic gold in doubles, there is no reason why the Indian girls cannot make a breakthrough at least to the next level in the lower echelons of the game.

With $1600 for the singles winner, there is enough incentive for a week of toil at this level, but at the moment there is no girl who is able to match Rushmi. Once the Indian girls start beating Rushmi, they will be ready to excel at the next level. Rushmi herself is going about her task with a quite resolve. She keeps her game simple, and most importantly her mind is not cluttered by any thoughts of self-doubt. Of course, Rushmi's immediate target would be to win a tournament abroad.

The results:

Singles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Sai Jayalakshmy 6-3, 6-2.

Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Montinee Tangphong (Tha) 6-1, 1-0 (retired); Sai Jayalakshmy bt Ankita Bhambri 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Quarterfinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Gabriela Velasco-Andreu (Esp) 7-6 (7-3), 6-1; Montinee Tangphong bt Wilawan Choptang (Tha) 6-2, 7-6 (11-9); Ankita Bhambri bt Sanaa Bhambri 7-6 (7-1) retired; Sai Jayalakshmy bt Aurelie Vedy (Fra) 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Doubles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy w.o. Montinee Tangphong and Thassha Vitayaviroj (Tha).

Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy bt Tiffany Welford (Aus) and Liza Pereira 6-4, 6-1; Montinee Tangphong and Thassha Vitayaviroj bt Wilawan Choptang (Tha) and Gabriela Velasco-Andreu (Esp) 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.