Eyes firmly set on history

`Apart from talent, you also need to build up a good understanding with your partner. Doubles being a team game, striking a good understanding is vital.'

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

THE WORLD No. 1 doubles player Virginia Ruano Pascual was a special guest at the Sunfeast Open in Kolkata recently. She received the last wild card of the tournament and came primarily to partner Indian sensation Sania Mirza in the doubles. The two reached the semifinals, but lost a close battle against another pair of famous names — Anastasia Myskina and Elena Likhovtseva.

The affable Pascual represents a group of brilliant players like Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Conchita Martinez who took Spain to the height in women's tennis.

Pascual did not make much of a mark in the singles, though she is among the top-100. But she set her reign as the queen of doubles along with her Argentine partner Paola Suarez.

With Suarez, Pascual won a host of doubles honours including the 2002 and 2003 WTA doubles team of the year and has been winning the ITF women's doubles World Champions title since 2002.

The Sportstar caught up with Pascual, who celebrated her 32nd birthday at Kolkata on September 21, to learn about the champion's views on various aspects of tennis.

The excerpts:

Question: How does it feel being the top doubles player in the world?

Answer: It is amazing. When I started playing the game as a kid, I never believed I could go so far. I am very happy.

Spain appears to be in a crisis in women's tennis with not a single player in the top-20 bracket.

We had a golden period with Aranxta Sanchez and Chonchita Matrtinez ruling. Now there are other players like Anabel Medina Garrigues, Laura (Pous Tio) and Aranxta Parra (Santonja). They may not be in the top-20 but are in the top-100. I think the tennis federation in Spain would have to work more with the young girls who are getting into the sport. We also need more promotion of women's tennis and more tournaments for the beginners. When we used to play as kids there were lots of tournaments and that benefited the young players.

You are playing both doubles and singles at a high level now. How do you balance that?

This year I have not been able to strike a balance. My ranking in the singles is a bit down now. I will have to play more tournaments now. I will have to play big time for my doubles and also devote time to better my singles. For that I need good preparation. Last year I finished late and did not have much time for preparation but I am planning differently for the coming season.

Playing at this age needs a lot of fitness. How do you manage that?

I have to work out the recovery schedule. For that I do a lot of weight training and also a lot of running. To keep myself fit I also do other exercises, but I plan it in such a fashion that it does not become too heavy.

How was it partnering India's tennis sensation Sania Mirza in the Sunfeast Open?

It was amazing. She is famous here and everyone loves her so much. I feel good on my part that I could play with her.

What are your impressions on Sania Mirza?

She is a very composed player. She has a good backhand and forehand. And her service is also strong. But to stay on top in tennis she needs to play more consistently in tournaments. She has the game that can put her in the top-10 (of the WTA rankings).

What extra talent do you need to be a good doubles player?

First you need to have a good partner whose game suits yours. Apart from talent, you also need to build up a good understanding with your partner. Doubles being a team game, striking a good understanding is vital.

How do you combine so well with your long-standing doubles partner, Paola Suarez?

We started playing nine years ago and our faith in each other has helped us reach this level. Our beginning was not so good but we kept on working on our mistakes and that helped us a lot. We enjoy a lot when we play together. Both of us try to give our best on the court and that I think is the secret of our success.

Having reached nine consecutive Grand Slam finals together you and Suarez are closing in on the record of 11 finals appearances by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. How does that feel?

It is quite a wonderful feeling. Paola (Suarez) and I are quite aware of the fact that we are on the verge of creating history. My partner is now recovering from injury and I hope she recovers well and starts playing next year. We have to play all the Grand Slam events to achieve the feat. We played only one together this year and won it (at Rolland Garros). We are in good form and I hope we will be able to maintain that in the coming season.

Any extra preparations ahead of that?

We are always working on the physical aspects and do not need any extra preparations. You really have to prepare yourself psychologically. You have to be very strong in your mind to play at such a level. And both of us are quite good at that.

You and Suarez received an Argentine award, Premio Consagraci�n Clar�n al M�rito Deportivo, in 2003. Do you think your country of origin did not acknowledge your feat?

I have no hard feelings. I had often travelled to Buenos Aires to practise with Paola (Suarez), and received the award during one such visit. The people of both countries love us. In Spain everybody likes Paola while in Argentina I get a lot of attention. This is more important to me.

How do you rate Bhupathi and Paes in the world doubles circuit?

Both Paes and Bhupathi are good players. I had the experience of playing against them sometimes in mixed doubles. It was good to see two Indians reach the top in the men's doubles. By their achievements, they took Indian tennis to new heights.