Proving her worth

QUITE undoubtedly, she was playing the best tennis of her career. To beat players, almost 10 years younger to her, on the hard courts, in hot and humid conditions called for some energy, both physical and mental.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Rushmi Chakravarthi... playing the best tennis of her career. — Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

QUITE undoubtedly, she was playing the best tennis of her career. To beat players, almost 10 years younger to her, on the hard courts, in hot and humid conditions called for some energy, both physical and mental. In doing that consistently match after match, with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency, Rushmi Chakravarthi ended up with back-to-back titles.

If the one on grass the previous week in Lucknow was a normal assertion on her part to excel on that surface, it was an impressive fare as the 26-year-old Rushmi, an officer with Indian Oil in Chennai, bulldozed through the opposition in clinching her seventh title in 12 finals, on the hard courts of Delhi.

Using her height to advantage, Rushmi served and stroked with a lot of punch, leaving her opponents exasperated sooner than later. She was the only one who hit the ball consistently well on both the flanks and used variation to unsettle her opponents.

More than anything, Rushmi had the motivation that put her mind together on the task, as she was keen to prove her worth after having been sidelined during the Asia-Oceania group `I' Fed Cup tournament in the Capital, despite her being the No. 1 in the team.

Ankita Bhambri, the 17-year-old Delhi lass, who is fast grasping the methods to march ahead in the professional circuit, was the one who was expected to use the stage to enhance her status, as she had proved her mettle in winning three of the four singles matches in the Fed Cup.

In the event, Ankita lacked the sting in her strokes, as she went more for the top-spin, and proved a sitting duck for Rushmi in the final. Unlike in Lucknow, when Ankita stretched Rushmi to her wit's end in a three-setter in which she held the first matchpoint, Ankita was unable to make much of an impact on Rushmi with her game on the hard courts, much in contrast to the general belief.

Once she settled after she tended to overhit her initial strokes, perhaps because of her anxiety to keep the ball away from the young opponent, Rushmi settled into such a rhythm that there was no doubt about the result of the contest even midway through the match. It was indeed a clinical execution.

The fact that she had conceded only 20 games in five matches, and not more than four games in any of the 10 sets, proved the supreme confidence of Rushmi. The trainee of Ilyas Hussain at the Triangle Tennis Trust in Chennai, was able to overpower the 813th ranked Yi Chen of Chinese Taipei and the 667th ranked Liza Pereira in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively, conceding a token game to each of the two opponents.

Only Samrita Sekar and Ankita Bhambri were able to fight Rushmi on even terms, as they collected 15 of the 20 games that she conceded. Rushmi had beaten another foreigner, Orawan Lamangthong of Thailand, without conceding a game in the quarterfinals the previous week, and the manner she played in Delhi showed how well she paced herself through the tournament.

In two weeks, there was only one blemish, as Rushmi lost the doubles final in Delhi, in association with her new partner, Ankita Bhambri. Perhaps, there was more fire in the belly of the 16-year-old Sanaa Bhambri who goaded her partner Liza Pereira to her best form in the climax of the final, as the duo clinched a thriller 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 7-6 (7-1) in nearly three hours of toil, when the court had looked dark because of insufficient lighting.

Liza Pereira and Sanaa Bhambri, the doubles winners. — Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

Sanaa, playing only her fifth ITF women's circuit tournament, had a score to settle as she had allowed Ankita to pip her in the quarterfinals of singles after putting herself in an advantageous position at 7-6 (7-4), 2-0. Sanaa won a mere two games thereafter in the next 14 games, as she made a meek surrender.

Ankita was somehow not able to inspire confidence despite having started well with a comfortable win over Nudnida Luagnam of Thailand in the first round. Maybe, coach Aditya Sachdeva, who has meticulously sharpened her serve into a lethal weapon, will work on Ankita's groundstrokes to help her smack more winners, than the handful that she manages to strike these days.

The good thing was that Ankita opted to go for training to the Emilio Sanchez Academy in Spain to sharpen her overall game, while Sanaa left for Europe to compete in tournaments in Germany apart from the more prestigious ones on grass in Roehampton and Wimbledon.

Liza Pereira and Karishma Patel played above their limitations to make it to the semifinals. Liza has the game, but not the confidence, and thus she could not offer much resistance to Rushmi in the semifinal that lasted a mere 45 minutes. The 23-year-old Karishma, returning to the circuit in recent weeks after having been away from it for more than two years, showed great poise in winning her matches against quality players, Iciri Rai and Sonal Phadke. But, she too was unable to match Ankita in the semifinals, and thus had to be content walking away with $500.

With Sania Mirza training in Italy and winning her eighth title in a $10,000 tournament there, and the other strong players such as Isha Lakhani and Megha Vakharia out with injuries, it was left to Rushmi and company to encash on the depleted foreign participation.

Sai Jayalakshmy was stopped by the 15-year-old Sandhya Nagaraj in the third set tie-break after she had enjoyed two matchpoints in the second round. Sai was playing nicely, as she showed by beating the Dutch girl Dorian Driessen in the first round. Had she been a little more patient while handling the matchpoints, Sai could have marched far into the tournament. Anyway, full marks to Sandhya for her gutsy fare, as she showed in the first round itself, downing Varanya Vijuksanaboon 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.

The standard of Indian women's tennis is on the rise, though a few players need to fine-tune a bit to get better results. Some of the players, like Rushmi, will go out to other countries, to further strengthen their game against better opposition and that will push the standards up, a lot further.

The results:

Singles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Ankita Bhambri 6-4, 6-4.

Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Liza Pereira 6-1, 6-0; Ankita Bhambri bt Karishma Patel 6-0, 6-2.

Quarterfinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Yi Chen (Tpe) 6-0, 6-1; Liza Pereira bt Sandhya Nagaraj 6-4, 6-4; Karishma Patel bt Sonal Phadke 2-6, 6-4, 6-2; Ankita Bhambri bt Sanaa Bhambri 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-1.

Doubles (final): Sanaa Bhambri and Liza Pereira bt Rushmi Chakravarthi and Ankita Bhambri 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 7-6 (7-1).

Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi and Ankita Bhambri bt Yi Chen (Tpe) and Iciri Rai 6-3, 7-5; Sanaa Bhambri and Liza Pereira bt Vishika Chhetri and Ragini Vimal 7-5, 6-2.