From the sidelines

Sania Mirza with Soumya, the youngest of the lot, at the Kids Clinic.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Destined to win

Yaroslava Shvedova became a firm believer in destiny after her Bangalore triumph.

"I never thought I would be playing in this event, let alone winning it," said the wide-eyed Russian teenager, who was a picture of pure joy after her title triumph. She went up and down on the court like a yo-yo, screaming with delight, blowing kisses and later slumped to her knees with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks. Speaking of destiny, Shvedova was perfectly right. She was not in the draw of the event and came in only after Iroda Tulyaganova pulled out at the last minute. The moment she made it to the main draw, she proved unstoppable. Sania Mirza later said: "Her current ranking hardly reflects her talent." This little-known `Maria Sharapova-wannabe' from Moscow is trained by her father, who watched his ward win her maiden WTA title. And it certainly won't be her last.

Gutsy Molik on a comeback trail

In the absence of Serena Williams, the major attraction apart from Sania was Alicia Molik. The sturdy Aussie star, 25, was ranked No. 8 in 2005. Unfortunately, an inner ear infection called vestibular neuronitis affected her vision and balance. Molik, after a near-10 month lay-off, was back in action and battling hard to regain her place among the elite. "I wouldn't want to talk about my ailment and what I am looking at is the present. My whole focus is on how to get back right up there," said Molik, who made it to the last 16 in Bangalore. She is already back in the top 100 (97) and the only way is upwards! Way to go Alicia!

Tara catches the eye

An Indian girl who could soon be worth watching is Tara Iyer. The 18-year old wild-card did make an early exit, but not before exhibiting her talent. She has a strong forehand and showed the ability to hit the ball on the rise with good timing and possessed neat footwork. A student of the Duke University in the U.S., she aims to focus wholly on the game. "I would like to concentrate more on the game now and I plan to return home shortly," said the young hopeful.

That is good news for tennis buffs on the look out for new talent.

Kids' day out

The kids had a great time during the WTA championship not only watching the action, but also interacting with the players. The KSLTA-Sony Ericsson Kids Clinic was a big hit with 40 children getting a chance to play with the stars, who included Sania Mirza, Shikha Uberoi and Jelena Kostanic. Sania graciously helped out Soumya, 6, the youngest among them, who was struggling with an oversize racquet. The players also obliged the youngsters with autographs on almost everything, tennis balls, T-shirt backs, notebooks and even on a mug! Sania had the right advice for them. "Enjoy the game and when playing, have fun!"

Vijay's gesture

Vijay Amritraj has a towering presence at any tennis event. Vijay, who was a commentator at the WTA Bangalore event, showed his big heart when he donated $10,000 to a NGO, Mithra Jyothi, which works for the welfare of the blind. The chairman, Madhu Singhal, who is a visually challenged person, requested Vijay to visit the school and Vijay readily obliged. Vijay, handing over the cheque, became emotional as he said: "They are making the lives of visually challenged children a meaningful one. They wish to construct a building for them. So I made my little contribution."

Business with pleasure

`Market Place' was an innovative concept that was in place during the WTA Championship. The KSLTA allowed several companies including the sponsor, Sony Ericsson, to put up stalls and it attracted quite a number of spectators, who needed some diversion from routine action on the courts. Many stall owners organised `lucky dips' for the visitors and Radio Indigo, which was a radio partner for the event, aired a live request programme from the stadium, taking in choices from spectators and players as well.

Fashion show

The players' party turned out to be quite an eye-catching event with all the girls trying out the sari and doing the ramp walk in it. "It is a wonderful dress, but I wonder how they manage to keep it on all the time," said Yulia Fedak of Russia. Another interesting aspect for the players was an enjoyable Vintage Car motorcade for the draw ceremony at the Vidhana Soudha. The vintage beauties with a bevy of tennis beauties certainly stopped the traffic.

Taking it in its stride

At the end of the event, C. S. Sunder Raju, the Director of the tournament and secretary of the KSLTA, was a much relieved man. He had a testing time; first it was with Serena Williams' pull out in the last minute. Sunder and his team had gone to the Airport on February 10, to receive her but she was not on the flight and her manager later informed them about her withdrawal owing to a `bad case of flu'. If that wasn't enough, the KSLTA had to cancel the first day's play because of the `Karnataka Bandh.' The KSLTA had to explain the extraordinary circumstances, which forced them to take such a stand. Later, Sania's early defeat had an impact on the gate collection. Despite such setbacks Sunder and his team put up a good show. But next time around they should have a hard look at the media facilities, which were not on a par with other centres like Chennai.

Kalyan Ashok