Old-timer and a first-timer

"I am enjoying my tennis and I went out and gave my best at the centre," Rushmi Chakravarthi said when asked as to how she could last three hours on the court.-PICS: S. PATRONOBISH

For Rushmi Chakravarthi it was the sixth National grass-court crown, while for Saketh Myneni it was a maiden title. Amitabha Das Sharma reports.

The motley crowd that had gathered at the hallowed centre-court of the Calcutta South Club wondered at the brilliant consequences of skill being neutralised by experience. A feisty 16-year-old challenger had been clinically disintegrated in a three-hour long battle by an ageing maestro looking to regain her supremacy. Fortune in the match in question — the women's final of the National grass-court tennis championship — had swung both ways before the 34-year-old Rushmi Chakravarthi regained the crown after a break of four years. Her challenger — the very young Sri Vaishnavi Peddi Reddy of Andhra Pradesh — must have been just born when Rushmi began her venture in professional tennis. The difference in age — which on most occasions in sport is a determinant of result — was brilliantly turned in her favour by the former champion.

Making it her sixth singles title triumph, Rushmi definitely eclipsed a few records — at least on the counts of the age at which she accomplished it and the duration of the encounter. The Chennai-based player also made it a grand double, winning the women's doubles crown partnering another former champion Ankita Raina of Gujarat.

Joining Rushmi on the champion's pedestal was a complete newcomer in the Indian tennis scene — Saketh Myneni. The strapping six-foot-four-inch player from Andhra Pradesh spent hardly any time in the men's final — just 57 minutes — before becoming the new champion, sweeping aside the challenge of the previous year's winner and state-mate A. S. Suresh Krishna in straight sets.

The two champions gave Indian tennis a set of interesting perspectives with their contrasting performances. While Rushmi's victory — where she clawed back from being down a set and 0-4 in the second — spoke about the resilience of the old guard, Saketh's win re-established the growing influence of the American inter-collegiate tennis circuit on Indian tennis.

Saketh, a national junior champion in 2005, had quietly honed his skills playing the highly competitive U. S. inter-collegiate circuit for six years while completing a double Major in finance and economics in Alabama. Now a senior National champion at the age of 24, Saketh says his best efforts were breaking into the top-10 in singles and top-15 in doubles in the U. S. intercollegiate rankings. Doing well in that circuit, which has players coming from all over the world, is more about “attitude” feels Saketh. “You have to focus both in studies and in tennis to do well. There are a lot of Indians who are getting seriously into this,” Saketh said. He confirmed that the trend became popular with the success of his senior Somdev Devvarman.

Though playing his first tournament on grass, Saketh was at ease on the surface. Success came his way almost immediately after he returned to the country in September last year when he won the ITF Futures in Chennai. The Hyderabad-based player said the time he spent in America was now paying off and he hoped to do well right through the season.

“I would like to get into the Davis Cup team and wish some more good results would come my way in the season,” Saketh said visibly inspired by the commanding form he showed in picking up the national crown. Saketh, who earned the top billing in the tournament as he is ranked No. 11 in the country, was in imperious form and did not drop a set.

Saketh Myneni... maiden title.-

With his performance getting better with every round, Saketh found his best touch in the final against Suresh Krishna. The latter had to really struggle to get the better of his unseeded opponents in the quarter- and the pre-quarterfinals. The difference was apparent in the title clash as Saketh served with flourish and returned with panache to blow away his opponent in no time.

The men's final came in direct contrast to Rushmi's epic struggle. “I was playing a bit slow and the timing was not so good initially, but I just looked to hang in there,” Rushmi said after completing her spectacular comeback. But Rushmi's win did not result from a mere waiting for the opponent's errors. She displayed excellent shot selection, forcing Sri Vaishnavi into errors. “I am enjoying my tennis and I went out and gave my best at the centre,” Rushmi said when asked as to how she could last three hours on the court.

“From this match I realised I need to be more consistent with my game,” said a dejected Sri Vaishnavi, who had the opportunity of becoming one of the youngest champions in the tournament's long history.


Women: Singles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi (TN) bt Sri Vaishnavi Peddi Reddy (AP) 6-7 (3-7), 7-6 (7-2), 7-5. Semifinals: Rushmi bt Amrita Mukherjee (Ben) 6-0, 6-4; Sri Vaishnavi bt Ankita Raina (Guj) 6-3, 6-1. Doubles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi (TN) & Ankita Raina (Guj) bt Saadgi Rajni & Eetee Mehta (Guj) 6-1, 6-2.

Men: Singles (final): Saketh Myneni (AP) bt A. S. Suresh Krishna (AP) 6-3, 6-4. Semifinals: Saketh bt Nitten Kirrtane (Mah) 6-2, 6-4; Suresh Krishna bt P. C. Vignesh (AP) 6-2, 1-0 (retd.). Doubles (final): Mohit Mayur Jayaprakash & Mohamed Fariz (TN) bt Rupesh Roy (Ben) & Christopher Marquis (Mah) 6-3, 6-4.