Indian girls falter

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

THERE were only a few foreigners, but they were quality players. It was, thus, no surprise that the Indian girls, though showing considerable improvement with singles titles in Nigeria and Thailand in recent weeks, were unable to assert their stature in the $10,000 ITF women's circuit tennis tournament in Delhi.

The top-seeded Suchanan Viratprasert of Thailand justified her top billing.-- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Though hopes were placed on Isha Lakhani and Sonal Phadke, who had won their maiden singles titles quite impressively on foreign turf, flung as far away as in Nakhon Ratchasima and Lagos respectively, it was the talented Megha Vakharia who looked good for the title as the tournament progressed.

The talented 19-year-old left-hander from Mumbai, Megha, had reached the finals of similar tournaments in the US and Nigeria. However, Megha made a mess of her chances as she failed to drive home the advantage while leading 3-0 in the second set after having won the first against Chin Bee Khoo of Malaysia in the semifinals.

Quite content to rally from the backcourt, Megha provided a poor picture of her ability as she held service only twice thereafter. It was no consolation that Megha fought hard for three and a half hours, after having lost to the same opponent rather tamely in the final in Lagos, when she had won a mere three games.

Chin Bee suffered bouts of cramps through the second and third sets. The medical breaks looked to help her cause as she bounced back with energy every time, though she was hardly able to walk towards the end. It was at this stage that Megha threw it all away with a string of unforced errors.

It clearly showed that exposure around the world alone would not be sufficient to make progress. Sound advice in terms of tactics, strategy and training is also required. The biggest difference between the fast-developing Sania Mirza and the rest of the pack is that the others do not hit consistently hard.

In contrast, the national champion Isha Lakhani started nicely, blasting winners against the eventual champion, the top-seeded Suchanan Viratprasert. But she lost her aggression soon and lost her way, in the quarterfinals. Against a smooth-stroking player like Suchanan, who hardly gave an inch away, as she firmly stuck to the basics with her anticipation and mobility, it was important to play a higher level of game. In the end, it was not just Isha, but everyone failed to check the 20-year-old Suchanan from winning her fifth singles title on the international circuit.

The doubles champions, Chin Bee Khoo and Megha Vakharia. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Sonal was woefully off-colour after packing off Ankita Bhambri with an impressive fare in the second round. She had beaten Chin Bee in a long drawn three-setter in the quarterfinals on way to the title in Nigeria, but the petite 21-year-old from Mumbai was unable to put her game together with the same effectiveness in front of the home fans.

The 19-year-old Samrita Sekar made a quiet progress to the semifinals, beating Rushmi Chakravarthi, Sandri Gangotri and Sai Jayalakshmy on the way. However, she found Suchanan too crafty a customer to handle and couldn't eke out more than three games from her. If she works on her mobility and discusses tactics with the knowledgeable, Samrita would be a much better player in the months to come, ready to win a title.

The 25-year-old Rushmi Chakravarthi has been hampered by a painful thumb on the playing hand, and has been struggling in recent weeks. She had done well in doubles with Sai in Colombo, winning the title without conceding a game, but the duo was stopped by the third-seeded Sheethal Goutham and Shruti Dhawan in a dramatic semifinal under the floodlights.

It was a commendable effort of courage from Shruti and Sheethal, especially in the light of the fact that Shruti was serving 0-40, facing three matchpoints in the second set before recovering to script a memorable win.

However, Shruti and Sheethal could not counter Chin Bee and Megha in the final, and allowed them to win their third successive doubles title, following the two in Nigeria.

Sai had saved four matchpoints in beating Sheethal in a third set tie-break in the singles first round, but was not playing with her usual poise and confidence. The Indian Oil officer from Chennai fell to Samrita in the quarterfinals.

Archana Venkataraman has been playing close to her best in making the semifinals, including the one in Colombo, a fortnight earlier, but has been hampered by her poor serves. Had she been taught sound basics, the 24-year-old Archana, a very gutsy customer, would have marched far ahead of the rest.

Meanwhile, the 16-year-old Ankita Bhambri would have realised that there is no greater asset for a tennis player than more matches in international competition. When every other girl is travelling abroad to gain the much-needed exposure, not exactly against quality opposition, Ankita has been stagnating at home, after winning the Masters title for the second time in the $5000 circuit. Of course, she had twisted her ankle weeks before the Delhi event, but there is no doubt that Ankita needs to travel, at least to countries in Asia, if she wants to make the next level.

Overall, it has been an encouraging scenario in Indian women's tennis, as there is a noticeable improvement in approach and attitude. With proper guidance, more girls would soon be winning tournaments both at home and abroad.

The results:

Singles (final): Suchanan Viratprasert (Tha) bt Chin Bee Khoo (Mas) 6-2, 6-4; Semifinals: Suchanan Viratprasert bt Samrita Sekar 6-2, 6-1; Chin Bee Khoo bt Megha Vakharia 4-6, 7-5, 7-5; Quarterfinals: Suchanan Viratprasert bt Isha Lakhani 6-4, 6-1; Samrita Sekar bt Sai Jayalakshmy 7-6 (7-4), 6-4; Megha Vakharia bt Archana Venkataraman 6-1, 6-4; Chin Bee Khoo bt Sonal Phadke 6-3, 6-2.

Doubles (final): Chin Bee Khoo (Mas) and Megha Vakharia bt Shruti Dhawan and Sheethal Goutham 6-1, 6-2; Semifinals: Sheethal Goutham and Shruti Dhawan bt Sai Jayalakshmy and Rushmi Chakravarthi 3-6, 7-5, 7-5; Chin Bee Khoo and Megha Vakharia bt Suchanan Viratprasert (Tha) and Geeta Manohar 6-3, 6-4.