Learning from the best

Tennis great Martina Navratilova with Sania Mirza.-NAGARA GOPAL

Trainees at the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy (SMTA) were in for a treat as tennis legend Martina Navratilova took time out to teach them, as part of the “Master Class for Future Stars” programme, organised by the WTA.

Martina — a winner of 51 Grand Slam titles, including 18 singles — used simple techniques to put across her points and the kids surely benefitted a lot from the interaction.

“Hold the racket as close to the body as possible for better control,” was her most important message. Explaining the importance of tossing the ball while serving, she added: “This is the key to a big serve. The closer, again to the body, the better will be the power and precision.”

Answering a kid’s question about handling pressure during the match, the tennis ace said it was all about figuring out the right way to deal with the ball, and everything else is secondary. “Pressure is a privilege according to Billie Jean King. Whoever deals with it better wins. So, keep asking yourself what to do to win a point — which is just between you and the ball,” she said.

Stressing the importance of wall practice, Martina said: “Training is a full-time job. When I was five years old and started playing the game, I hit against the wall for two years before I got a coach. It will teach you how to play the volleys and the strokes too.

“It is important to pay attention to your body. Take immediate care of the little things after every training session to stay fit. For a long career, there is no other go but to be extremely fit,” she added.

“I was delighted when she walked up to me and gave a few tips on how to hold the racquet,” said an excited Abhinav Reddy, a Standard IV student and son of a SMTA maintenance worker.

The ‘Iron Lady’ of tennis feels that learning makes one a better individual in any aspect of life. “I am still learning. Every time the ball comes to me, it is a different feeling,” she said. “I spent some good time with the players at the Academy and I found them to be very good learners. Hope they will do well and make use of the great facility (at SMTA).”

Clearly, the tennis great, on her maiden visit to the Academy, was impressed.

“It should have been a great experience for the players,” said Imran Mirza, father of Sania Mirza.

Sania too expressed her satisfaction with the progress made by few of the students. “There are a few who are ranked between 250 and 400. Obviously their next target will be to break into the big league,” she said.

V. V. Subrahmanyam