It's celebration time for Rushmi

Published : Oct 06, 2001 00:00 IST


SHE always had the game. Rushmi Chakravarthi has been putting it all together in recent months, to reap rich rewards. The 23-year-old second seed clinched her second international singles title of the season, beating the energetic and talented Shruti Dhawan in three sets in Delhi.

With good serves, neat ground strokes and the confidence borne out of playing numerous matches at home and abroad, Rushmi is a tough opponent to beat at home. In fact only Radhika Tulpule, in the Chennai event quarterfinal, and Manisha Malhotra, in the national grasscourt final, have beaten Rushmi. She won the national hardcourt title on the same courts, and has been steadily consolidating on her game.

Beating two tough players, 14-year-old Sania Mirza and 19-year-old Shruti, was indeed commendable. Rushmi had breezed through the first three rounds for the loss of just 11 games, with the 17-year-old Samrita Sekar taking five games from her.

Rushmi had shared the title with Radhika Tulpule after rain forced abandonment in Bangalore last season. She won the title in Chandigarh earlier this season, with a quality display against Dea Sumantari. That final must have given her a lot of confidence, as was evident from the manner she handled the swings in fortune against Shruti.

It was Rushmi's sheer maturity of approach that helped her humble Shruti and Sania, both of whom were good at strokeplay but lacked that much equilibrium in their attempts to whack the ball.

Shruti had worked hard for long and has been doing well abroad as well. She had made the semifinal of a similar tournament in Manila last year, a feat that cannot be claimed by many Indian girls. But playing a final is different. Shruti will be richer with the experience, and should benefit in future.

In fact, Shruti came through the hard way in a tough top half of the draw. She beat Radhika Tulpule, the champion of the last two $10,000 events in India, in a gripping semifinal, winning in a third set tie-break. Radhika showed why she was able to win 13 matches in a row, as she demonstrated an intelligent and authentic game in which the punch was delivered when it mattered.

The best match was of course the one between Shruti and the Thai, Prariyawan Ratanakrong. The Chandigarh lass was at her fluent best and overpowered the Thai after a bout of delightful hitting from either side, a rare feature in women's tennis in India. The Thai did not have the ranking to intimidate anyone, standing at a modest 954 on the WTA computer, but her game should see her climb the ladder quickly.

Shruti also had to beat another Thai, Pichaya Laosirichon, in the first round. She used the opportunity to get into her groove, tuning her game for the tougher challenges ahead, though she had to go through some anxious moments because of her own rusty play.

The biggest problem with Shruti is that she has not been able to devote full time to professional tennis for one reason or the other. A fine blend of scientific training with the right choice of tournaments abroad should be able to improve her match performance.

Radhika Tulpule is a class apart. The way she handled Sai Jayalakshmy revealed the mental stamina of the 19-year-old Pune girl, who trains with Nandan Bal. Unlike others, Radhika has played fewer tournaments abroad, realised that she was not up to it, and returned for more training. The results are showing in her solid game.

Radhika was drawn to meet the finalist of the Chennai event, Ipek Senoglu of Turkey in the pre-quarterfinals, but the latter withdrew with a strained muscle. All said, Radhika is one player who thinks on her feet, as she keeps a cool profile, irrespective of the flow of the match. Like all others, she also may have to work harder to do well abroad.

The 14-year-old Sania Mirza was the cynosure of the media, especially the television, to the extent that other players were feeling a little odd. Having played a lot of ITF junior tournaments around the world with some success, and the two Grand Slams in Wimbledon and the U.S. Open with a mixed bag, the free-stroking Sania was indeed bound to draw attention.

Taking a wild card into the event, Sania played three good rounds to overpower Radhika Mandke, Geeta Manohar and the tenacious Isha Lakhani. She played a superb tie-break to take the first set against Rushmi, but went for broke far too often and went down in the next two sets.

Experience will teach her the right shot selection, but it is important that she maintains the attacking vein in good shape. For, no other Indian woman has such a blistering forehand that she has. Of course, she has to improve in every department, but Sania is on the right track.

The top-seeded Sai Jayalakshmy played two good rounds, and failed to take her chances against Radhika in the quarterfinal mainly because of her 17 doublefaults. The 24-year-old has been a bit low on confidence, and should have rallied a little more to regain the touch of assurance rather than trying to hit her way to victory, against a shrewd opponent.

Sai, thus, had to be content with her umpteenth doubles title with Rushmi Chakravarthi. That too came only after a fight that lasted two hours and 40 minutes, against Shruti and Radhika.

Isha Lakhani is a bundle of energy. The 16-year-old did not have the answers to the power-play of Sania, but showed the door to the fourth-seeded Sonal Phadke in three sets. Sonal slackened a bit, and that was enough for Isha to find her way through.

Samrita Sekar defeated the semifinalist of the Chennai event, Karishma Patel, 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, after another three-setter against Sai Swapna Ramakrishnan. If she improves her mobility, the 17-year-old girl who trains at the Krishnan Centre will prove a big hurdle in future.

Sheetal Goutham, the champion of the $5000 Masters event at the same venue, lost in the first round to Rebecca Dandeniya of Britain, after saving six matchpoints. The 17-year-old Briton was using her power game to counter the guiles of Sheetal who fought every inch within her limitations.

Ankita Bhambri had a good match against Liza Pereira, but served doublefaults twice on setpoint to deny herself the chances of progress.

Overall, it was a fruitful experience for the Indian players, who gathered WTA points and useful prize money. Rushmi collected $1600 for her singles title and $325 as her share for the doubles title. Shruti collected $1000.

Most of the players have been investing the money back, putting a lot more from their pocket, by playing abroad. But unless they get expert coaching, it is going to be difficult for Indian women to excel abroad.

The results:

Singles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Shruti Dhawan 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

Semifinals: Shruti Dhawan bt Radhika Tulpule 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4); Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Sania Mirza 6-7 (1-7), 6-2, 6-3.

Quarterfinals: Radhika Tulpule bt Sai Jayalakshmy 7-6 (7-1), 4-6, 7-5; Shruti Dhawan bt Prariyawan Ratanakrong (Tha) 6-1, 6-4; Sania Mirza bt Isha Lakhani 7-5, 6-4; Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Samrita Sekar 6-4, 6-1.

Doubles (final): Sai Jayalakshmy & Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Radhika Tulpule & Shruti Dhawan 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-4.

Semifinals: Sai Jayalakshmy & Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Prariyawan Ratanakrong (Tha) & Geeta Manohar 6-4, 6-3; Radhika Tulpule & Shruti Dhawan bt Sheetal Goutham & Liza Pereira 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

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