Luz hates to lose

Barbara Luz of Portugal clawed her way back in almost identical fashion in both the title showdowns.-MOHAMMED YOUSUF

The athletic baseliner, who stays with her grandmother in Lisbon only to pursue tennis, walked away with back-to-back titles in the span of a fortnight, writes A. Joseph Antony.

Barbara Luz had her aces hidden until the chips were really down. Digging deep into her reserves of strength and a fairly rich repertoire of strokes, the athletic baseliner, who stays with her grandmother in Lisbon only to pursue tennis, walked away with back-to-back titles in the span of a fortnight.

After a tussle of over three-hours, playing against a strong breeze blowing almost right through the Sreenidhi-International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) $10,000 women’s singles final, Luz prevailed over Ankita Raina 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3). Exactly a week later, she claimed the $10,000 Jubilee Hills International Centre-ITF crown, again subduing Ankita 2-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Down by a set in both the title showdowns, Luz clawed her way back in almost identical fashion. “It was more my attitude than endurance that turned things my way,” said the first year law student hailing from Coimbra, Portugal. “I wanted this win so much,” said Barbara, 18, of her maiden triumph.

“My father Adriano was a Benfica forward who played along with Luis Figo but didn’t want me to play football, saying it was not a girl’s game,” she recalled.

Her role models are Rafael Nadal for his never-give-up grit and Victoria Azarenka, for her determination. Barbara showed enough of both traits, staging a strong comeback from being a set down.

Barbara retrieved almost everything hammered her way by Ankita, as she often won points off the Indian girl’s flat hits to the corners of the court. The Portuguese lass, trained by Joao Cunha E Silva, resorted to a high lob assault to keep her relatively shorter rival in check.

Asked how she chose to compete in India or Asia, she said many players from this country and continent were active on the international circuit. Did the Hyderabad heat get to her? “Not really. Brazil and Morocco were equally hot,” she said.

Did anything upset her about the partisan crowd? “I did find it strange that they clapped when I made a double fault,” said a bewildered Barbara, who is quite fluent in English.

“I was nervous initially but chose to fight after claiming the second set,” Luz recalled. A nauseous Ankita looked as if she would collapse any moment but recouped after a breather or two and refused to throw in the towel.

Into the third set, the Indian erased a 2-4 deficit but couldn’t quite sustain her resistance thereafter. Luz, whose ambition is to make it to the top-50 of women’s tennis, ascribed that reversal of fortunes to not being determined enough.

How did she hang on when things went against her? “I just concentrated on putting the ball back in and read the game better. And I always believed I could win,” Luz said.

There was no vigorous fist pumping or rush of adrenaline after both victories. Just a squeal of delight and a sober show of happiness were all that was seen from the Portuguese teenager. Such was her equanimity, that despite the fatigue of keenly-fought finals, she quite cheerfully posed for pictures with anyone who wanted to be ‘framed’ with her.

If something stood out in her second triumph at the JHIC event, it was her controlled aggression. This was best exemplified by a backhanded slice, executed low from her left that landed near the net but did not give Ankita a ghost of a chance to intercept.

The second encounter underscored Luz’s authority better. Some down-the-line drives off both hands were devastating. The manner in which she sealed the issue suggested she was on overdrive.

Two aces and a service winner in the concluding game ensured there was no stopping her. Nor did she drop a point as she stamped her dominance in no uncertain terms.

How does tennis fare against football in her native country? “Tennis is nowhere as popular as football,” Luz said of her soccer-crazy nation.

Barely six months before, Luz sitting pretty at 499 in the ITF rankings, crashed to 882, after injuries to her right heel laid her low. It was only a couple of weeks before this mid-March event that she shed the protective brace for her heel.

With a footballer father and a doctor mother, how did she choose law for a career?

“My grandfather was a lawyer,” said Luz, indicating it ran in her genes.

So does she have the glib tongue to make a successful lawyer? “I can be a good liar sometimes,” she quipped.