It’s all about fighting spirit

Bhuvana Kalva with the trophy after defeating Akari Inoue in the final of the ITF women’s tournament in New Delhi.-

It was remarkable that Bhuvana Kalva, who had not crossed the quarterfinal stage of the singles in the international circuit, played the semi-finals and final against quality opponents with great assurance and calm, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Poor ranking need not be a hurdle towards progress if one has the right attitude and capitalises on the chances that come one’s way. Bhuvana Kalva, who trains under coach C. V. Nagaraj, exemplified this by playing at her best and with an open mind, not worrying about her ranking (1061) or the result.

Many Indian girls have been winning the $10,000 ITF tournaments, which had served as a launching pad for the brilliant career of Sania Mirza, but there was something special about the way Bhuvana marched to the title in Delhi.

The 18-year-old student of St. Francis College in Hyderabad served big and played her strokes, especially the forehand, with authority. Tall and strong, Bhuvana was not very mobile on court, but she was willing to fight. Whether it was beating the third-seeded Keren Shlomo of Israel — the only opponent to whom she dropped a set in the whole tournament — in the first round; or defeating the top-seed Ankita Raina (ranked 330) in the semi-finals for the loss of only five games; or subduing the fleet-footed Akari Inoue of Japan 6-4, 7-5 in an entertaining final, Bhuvana kept it simple and stayed in control.

It was remarkable that a player, who had not crossed the quarterfinal stage of the singles in the international circuit, played the semi-finals and final against quality opponents with such assurance and calm. Having seen a variety of coaches and residential programmes, both in the country and abroad, Bhuvana was happy to settle for a coach who has guided the likes of Vishnu Vardhan and Saketh Myneni. Nagaraj has been able to inculcate strong basics and a sound approach in his trainees.

Another girl to catch the eye with a strong game at the ITF tournament was Mahitha Dadireddy, also from St. Francis College. She trains with former players Vasudeva Reddy and S. Narendranath. However, unlike Bhuvana, Mahitha was not at her best and lost to Matilda Hamlin of Sweden after a brisk start when she led 3-0 in the quarterfinals.

Ankita Raina looked strong when she cruised through the first three rounds, dropping just seven games in all, but her fitness — she was grappling with abdomen and back problems — was exposed as Bhuvana pounced on her second serves and hammered winners.

“I have been playing a lot of tournaments. I need to train better,” said Ankita, who had reached the quarterfinals of two $25,000 tournaments in Belgium, before suffering a rare defeat at the hands of an Indian at home.

The Indian girls have been playing a lot: some of them camped in Egypt for four weeks to play in four tournaments. Sowjanya Bavisetti, another talented left-hander from Andhra Pradesh, won the title in the fourth tournament. Rishika Sunkara, Sharmada Balu, Prerna Bhambri and Shivika Burman have all won titles but have been struggling with injuries and lack of consistency as much as lack of self-belief. These have prevented them from attaining higher world rankings.

Pranjala Yadlapalli, who steered the India under-16 team to the fifth spot in the world in the Junior Fed Cup, played well to qualify and win a round in the ITF tournament in Delhi before being subdued by Inoue in the pre-quarterfinals. Gifted with good temperament and strokes, Pranjala should enjoy more success in the professional circuit with a better serve.

Sri Vaishnavi Peddi Reddy, who was tipped to be a big player by Sania Mirza herself during the run-up to the New Delhi Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, has been playing in many junior events, but does not have the clarity of mind and conviction to do justice to her fierce strokes. Injuries have also affected her game.

Most of these players could do with the kind of grit that the diminutive Shweta Rana has shown. Shweta entered the final of the previous tournament in Delhi where she lost to Katherin Ip of Hong Kong. Supported by Amria Foods, she has worked on her fitness. Shweta also has a strong will to fight to the finish.


Singles final: Bhuvana Kalva beat Akari Inoue (Japan) 6-4, 7-5.

Semi-finals: Bhuvana Kalva beat Ankita Raina 6-3, 6-2; Akari Inoue beat Matilda Hamlin (Sweden) 6-4, 6-0.

Doubles final: Akari Inoue & Hua-Chen Lee (Taipei) beat Matilda Hamlin & Shweta Rana 6-0, 7-6 (3).