Lesser lights hog the limelight

WINNING a title gives tremendous confidence in one's ability to succeed.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Liza Pereira not only won her maiden singles title, but also claimed the doubles in Isha Lakhani's company. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

WINNING a title gives tremendous confidence in one's ability to succeed. Success at any level is welcome, and is a sure sign of growth. At 19, Liza Pereira was quite happy to succeed in her attempt to win her maiden title in singles, in the second leg of the $5000 ITF women's tennis circuit in Delhi.

It may be the lowest level in the international ladder, but to win an event ahead of Archana Venkataraman, Sheethal Goutham, Isha Lakhani, Shruti Dhawan and Ankita Bhambri was a very satisfying experience for the Mumbai girl.

To play with confidence, to strongly stick to the basics and to stretch for that one additional return in a long rally without losing hope were the main features that helped Liza beat the local favourite Ankita Bhambri in the final.

The challenge in a final is to play to one's ability rather than play better than your opponent. Liza played with intelligence and played her strokes without any signs of nerves, or lack of concentration throughout the contest that spanned for about two and a half hours.

In contrast, Ankita was under considerable pressure, self imposed perhaps, to succeed. She had won the Masters title last year in Pune, and had made another final in Chandigarh. Hence, it was expected that Ankita would walk away with the title, as Liza did not have much to challenge her.

Ankita hit a few sitters out, and lost the race in a three-setter in the final, despite serving and stroking with confidence for the most part. The urge to win was a bit too much, and Ankita was just unable to play her normal game, a game that had seen her get past the likes of Shruti Dhawan, Isha Lakhani, Yamini Thukkaiandi and Asha Nandakumar.

Ankita had lost the Asian junior championship final to Sania Mirza at the same venue last year. There is something that stops her from being her usual self in the finals, especially at home. But, at 16, Ankita does have time on her side, to understand the intricacies and march ahead.

``I have been playing well recently. This title gives me a lot of confidence'', said Liza, quite happy to have at last added a singles title to the many doubles she had won in recent years. In fact, it was a double for Liza, as she had won the doubles title the previous day with Isha Lakhani, beating the talented duo of Iciri Rai and Preeti Rao in the final.

Liza beat the top-seeded Archana in the semifinals, but was tested the best by Kamini Murugaboopathy in the quarterfinals.

It was heartening to find the youngsters playing their hearts out in the dry heat, trying to understand the game and learning their lessons the hard way.

The 14-year-old Madura Ranganathan beat the second-seeded Sheethal Goutham 6-1, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5) in the second round. Sheethal was troubled by a painful back, but Madura played with considerable composure to emerge a deserving winner.

The Coimbatore girl did fail to win a game from Shruti who played with a lot more punch than what she could handle, but Madura had made her statement. In comparison, Shruti realised that it was no fun bulldozing the lesser lights and then losing tamely against an equally forceful opponent.

Shruti, who had lost only three games in all in her first three rounds, lacked the rhythm in her match against Ankita but still tried too many things too early. It was no surprise that she lost her way. It was one aspect that Liza emphasised that one has to play with a combination of power and intelligence. To keep an alert mind, ticking all the time and giving the right instructions for the physical execution, is the right combination for success. Good serves and strokes on their own do not have the strength to win a match for you.

Meanwhile, Varsha Shivshankar showed that she was ready to become a better player in her long match against Jung-Yoon Shin of Korea. The tall Varsha had her chances including a matchpoint, but could not capitalise on them.

Iciri Rai played a good match against Kamini Murugaboopathy, Asha Nandakumar played some breathtaking strokes against Ankita and Yamini Thukkaiandi humbled Rati Kumar in a tough three-setter to emphasise that there was depth in women's tennis in the country.

Iciri Rai and Preeti Rao combined well to win their semifinal against the top-seeded Sheethal Goutham and Shruti Dhawan, the champions of the Indore leg, to tell themselves that they could put together a meaningful game matching their talent.

Overall, it was a week when lesser lights hogged the attention. Liza Pereira led the show all the way to a double crown, making everyone believe that if you play hard and keep at it long enough, success will honour you for sure.

The results:

Singles (final): Liza Pereira bt Ankita Bhambri 6-4, 4-6, 6-2; Semifinals: Liza Pereira bt Archana Venkataraman 6-4, 6-4; Ankita Bhambri bt Shruti Dhawan 6-1, 6-1; Quarterfinals : Archana Venkataraman bt Jung-Yoon Shin (Kor) 6-0, 6-2; Liza Pereira bt Kamini Murugaboopathy 7-6 (7-1), 7-5; Ankita Bhambri bt Isha Lakhani 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Shruti Dhawan bt Madura Ranganathan 6-0, 6-0.

Doubles (final): Isha Lakhani and Liza Pereira bt Iciri Rai and Preeti Rao 6-4, 3-6, 6-1; Semifinals: Iciri Rai and Preeti Rao bt Shruti Dhawan and Sheethal Goutham 6-2, 7-5; Isha Lakhani and Liza Pereira bt Jung-Yoon Shin (Kor) and Archana Venkataraman 6-3, 6-2.