Rushmi affixes her stamp of supremacy

PUT the right money as a prize purse, and you will have the world competing in your backyard.

KAMESH SRINIVASANKAMESH SRINIVASAN

PUT the right money as a prize purse, and you will have the world competing in your backyard.

Sai Jayalakshmy and Rushmi Chakravarthy being congratulated by Yael Glitzenshtein and Shruti Dhawan after the doubles final. -- Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

That looked a fair observation in the 10,000-dollar ITF women's circuit tennis tournament in Muzaffar Nagar. There were 15 foreigners in a draw of 32, and that was a tremendous attraction for the small town in Uttar Pradesh, not exactly known for its indulgence in sports.

Players from Thailand, Israel, Czech Republic, Korea, Portugal, Russia, Britain, Germany, Austria and the US made the tournament a great success for the locals who worked with enthusiasm to make the players feel comfortable.

The gathering could have been a lot more foreign and formidable, had it not been for the fact that most of the players returned home to join their national teams for the Fed Cup assignments the following week, after spending two weeks in Mumbai in similar tournaments.

The glitter and glamour of the foreign participation apart, it was Rushmi Chakravarthy who affixed the Indian supremacy in a competitive field with her double crown.

Sai Jayalakshmy and Rushmi Chakravarthy being congratulated by Yael Glitzenshtein and Shruti Dhawan after the doubles final. -- Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

It is not easy to be the No.1 seed and assert yourself, but Rushmi played with authority in conquering the field, accounting for five of the 15 foreigners herself, in racing to the singles title without dropping a set.

She had won a few titles before, both in singles and doubles, but the Muzaffar Nagar experience will be etched in the memory of the 25-year-old Rushmi as she proved her point in a very effective fashion with the titles, after being criticised in some quarters on being dropped from the national team for the Fed Cup.

``I am really happy. The title has come at the right time when people had been saying that we were not getting the results'', said Rushmi, quite elated about the triumph.

Having given herself a lot of quality exposure, by competing in tournaments in Australia and elsewhere, Rushmi had matured to handle the matches with equanimity despite the fluctuations in fortune. Quite comfortable on grass that helped add power and punch to her serves and strokes, Rushmi played with confidence through the tournament beating a string of good players, Orawan Lamangthong of Thailand, Ludmila Rozsivalova of the Czech Republic, Diana Costa of Portugal, Julia Vorobieva of Russia and Heli Bargil of Israel.

The fact that she dropped only 28 games in all in five rounds, and not more than four games in a set, should highlight Rushmi's domination in the tournament. She had four singles titles before, but this one was truly authoritative.

Heli Bargil after a good run lost to Rushmi in the final. -- Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

There were spells in the matches when Rushmi was not at her best, but it was remarkable the way the IOC officer from Chennai recovered her composure to tilt the balance in her favour, putting her game together in a better fashion in the crunch games.

The challenger in the final, the 19-year-old Heli Bargil who had won two titles back home in Israel last season, was drained after a marathon lasting three hours and 30 minutes against Archana Venkataraman in the semifinals. Bargil was hardly able to move in the final, and thus could not pose a serious challenge.

Rushmi could have been carried away by the ease with which she was able to dictate terms in the final, but as a seasoned pro, the Chennai girl guarded herself from complacency and stayed focussed throughout in closing out the contest in less than an hour.

The 18-year-old Julia Vorobieva had trained for hours on the practise courts honing her grasscourt skills with her coach, but she did not have the experience to put together a meaningful challenge against Rushmi. Yet, both Bargil and Vorobieva had done very well to have progressed as much as they did on grass.

Julia showed that she was pretty tough as she tamed the thid-seeded Wilawan Choptang 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5 in nearly three hours of energy-sapping exercise. The lithe Russian was back in the evening for training, to assert the importance of a sound work ethic.

The big-built Ludmila Rozsivalova could have stretched Rushmi with her huge serves and strong strokeplay, but was pushed to a defensive situation by the sound play of the Indian.

The second-seeded Sai Jayalakshmy had looked sharp in her victories over Geeta Manohar and Shruti Dhawan, but was totally off-colour in the quarterfinals against Bargil.

The rest of the Indian girls, except for the bravery shown by Archana, did not have much performance to crow about. Of course, the Indian representation was also depleted as Manisha Malhotra who had won the title the earlier week in Mumbai, apart from a few others like Megha Vakharia and Isha Lakhani, not to forget Sheethal Goutham and Radhika Tulpule were not available for the tournament as they were busy either with the Fed Cup preparation or college exams.

The Bhambri sisters, Ankita and Sanaa lost in the first round. The seventh-seeded Ankita fell to Sasha Abraham, who played a lovely serve and volley game, albeit in slow motion. If she works on her mobility, Sasha can be a much better player and get better results.

The 15-year-old Sanaa Bhambri was jet-lagged, having landed in the capital at 2 a.m. from Japan. She had to rush to Muzaffar Nagar, about 150 kilometres away and play her match around 11.30 a.m. She tried hard, but it was difficult for the talented left-hander to adjust from the artificial grass in Japan to the speed and bounce of the natural surface, against the crafty Archana.

Meanwhile, the success story of Rushmi continued in doubles, though she had to really slog it out in three-setters in the first three rounds along with Sai.

The top-seeded pair was not using the angles much, and that was one reason as to why Sai and Rushmi were pushed to the verge, forced to face three matchpoints at 3-6 in the third-set tie-break by the fourth-seeded Diana Costa and Liza Pereira.

Sai and Rushmi rose to the challenge, like a Phoenix from the ashes, to script a memorable triumph in the semifinals. The chastening experience made the duo play quite sharp in the final against Yael Glitzenshtei and Shruti Dhawan who had played delightful tennis on way to the title clash.

Though the final lasted a mere hour, it was good entertainment for the crowd as both the teams showed a thing or two about intelligent doubles play, that resulted in a few spectacular rallies.

Sai and Rushmi had a tough start as they were pitted against the champions of the previous event in Mumbai, Julia Vorobieva and Ludmila Rozsivalova who had beaten the top seeds in the second round then. The Indian pair played a good third set to sail for another title.

It was their 15th title together in the circuit, 14 in the 10,000 dollar level apart from one at the 25,000 dollar level for Sai and Rushmi. Quite an impressive record that should have already pushed the two to the higher league, but for different programmes. It will not be a bad idea for Sai and Rushmi to plan and play together in tournaments abroad, in the higher league.

The doubles success can possibly make them play their singles a lot better too.

The results:

Singles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthy bt Heli Bargil (Isr) 6-0, 6-4; Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthy bt Julia Vorobieva (Rus) 6-4, 6-4; Heli Bargil bt Archana Venkataraman 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-4); Quarterfinals: Rushmi Chakravarthy bt Diana Costa (Por) 6-0, 6-3; Julia Vorobieva bt Yael Glitzenshtein (Isr) 7-5, 6-3; Archana Venkataraman bt Katie Miles (GBR) 6-2, 6-2; Heli Bargil bt Sai Jayalakshmy 6-0, 7-6 (8-6).

Doubles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthy and Sai Jayalakshmy bt Yael Glitzenshtein (Isr) and Shruti Dhawan 6-1, 6-4; Semifinals: Rushmi and Sai bt Diana Costa (Por) and Liza Pereira 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7); Yael Glitzenshtein and Shruti Dhawan bt Carly Homewood and Natalie Neri (GBR) 6-0, 6-3.