Rushmi signs off memorable season in style

THE unpredictable behaviour of the clay courts at the National Tennis Academy on the Gurgaon-Pataudi Road, still settling down to play true after a few weeks of international competition, kept Rushmi Chakravarthi on her toes.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

THE unpredictable behaviour of the clay courts at the National Tennis Academy on the Gurgaon-Pataudi Road, still settling down to play true after a few weeks of international competition, kept Rushmi Chakravarthi on her toes. The opposition was young and understandably energetic.

Rushmi Chakravarthi... going great guns. — Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

Yet, there was a resolve in the 27-year-old Rushmi's steps as she strode to her eighth career title, and the fourth of the year, in the $10,000 ITF women's tennis tournament in Gurgaon, to sign off a memorable season.

It has always been an interesting challenge for the young players such as Ankita Bhambri, trying to take the next step in the professional world, following her maiden title at this level in Kolkata the previous week, to beat Rushmi. To her credit, the Indian Oil officer from Chennai has lost only one of her 15 finals to an Indian and that has been only to the undisputed princess of Indian women's tennis at the moment, Sania Mirza.

With strong basics and a lethal forehand, coupled with her willingness to stay on court and fight it out, Rushmi has at least ensured that the young pack would have to really work hard to make the next grade. In an exacting final, that lasted about three hours, Rushmi was down five breakpoints at 2-4 in the second set after having lost the first set in the tie-break, but the manner in which she turned the match around was indeed memorable.

On her part, Ankita was a little less sure of her game, especially her serve, which can be a potent weapon when it works, and paid dearly, as she lost a third final this season to Rushmi. The two previous defeats had been on the grass courts of Lucknow and the hardcourts of Delhi. In fact, it was the fifth defeat in six meetings against Rushmi for Ankita, who could have become a lot better with a little more speed on court and much more international exposure.

Quite appreciably, Rushmi has been travelling around the world in her bid to become better. Whether she manages to make a mark at the next level, the way Sania has done by winning back-to-back $25,000 titles recently, is a different matter but Rushmi has done her bit for Indian tennis. The good thing is that she looks hungry for more.

In beating the fifth-seeded Wilawan Choptang of Thailand, the finalist the previous week, Rushmi emphasised that she had indeed earned her status as a top 350 player.

The 18-year-old Ankita had fought her way to tough victories, first against Parul Goswami in the second round and against the seasoned third-seed, Sai Jayalakshmy, in the semifinals, in three-setters. Both the times, Ankita did reveal the courage of conviction, but her opponents had squandered winning chances and eventually folded meekly in the third set.

The young Parul has been improving quite a lot, both in terms of a fluent game and a confident demeanour on court, but she was unable to drive home the advantage while leading 4-1 in the second set after having won the first. She was two breaks up and just needed to hold her serve. It was easily said than done, and in her anxiety to seal victory Parul gave the match to Ankita with a string of errors.

Equally exasperating was the manner in which Sai let go of the opportunity when she was two points away from sealing the contest. Sai came up with two doublefaults at that stage, which broke her resistance and let Ankita back into the contest.

It has been a commendable effort by coach Aditya Sachdeva to have honed the skills of Ankita in recent times, but a lot more needs to be done to sharpen her game and speed of court coverage.

To that extent, there is no doubt that Sania is streets ahead of the rest, and that shows in the rankings as well, as the Hyderabad lass is pushing hard towards the top 150. The good thing about Indian women's tennis is that players are a lot more convinced at their ability to improve and are quite focused to become the best with whatever financial resources they can muster.

The national champion Sanaa Bhambri was stopped in straight sets by a determined Isha Lakhani in the quarterfinals. The young Sanaa is a smart player but may have to develop weapons to hurt opponents, as consistency in keeping the ball in court may not take her far.

Of course, Isha was hampered by a painful knee, and thus was not able to stay on court for long against Rushmi in the semifinals.

Sheethal Goutham and Archana Venkataraman did their bit to make it interesting in the early rounds, taming players with age and energy on their side with their craft. Indeed, it was perplexing to watch the talented players such as Iciri Rai, not being able to put together a meaningful challenge against quality opponents. To that extent, clarity of mind and conviction in their game is very much the need of the hour for the young brigade.

Players such as Karishma Patel who had upset the top-seeded Rushmi in the first round the previous week, Liza Pereira, Sonal Phadke and Shruti Dhawan were not able to demonstrate much of their prowess, perhaps because they were unsure of their ability on clay.

Even in doubles, Rushmi and Sai's domination continued, as the duo won their umpteenth title, beating the Bhambri sisters in the final. Had the two pushed their game up to the next level about two seasons or so back and played the Challenger circuit more, they could have prospered a lot better. However, one has to hasten to stay that injuries had stopped the progress of Rushmi and Sai, more than quality opponents.

Quite unfortunately, the younger players are not having their basics as well grooved as Rushmi and Sai. That is why the two are able to do so well against opponents who are about 10 years younger to them. That is not a good sign for the future.

It is a professional world. You have to earn your reward as nothing comes easy, not in the least the big dollars!

The results:

Singles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Ankita Bhambri 6-7 (5), 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Isha Lakhani 6-3, 3-0 (retired); Ankita Bhambri bt Sai Jayalakshmy 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Quarterfinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi bt Wilawan Choptang (Tha) 6-3, 5-7, 6-1; Isha Lakhani bt Sanaa Bhambri 6-3, 7-6 (2); Sai Jayalakshmy bt Sheethal Goutham 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2; Ankita Bhambri bt Archana Venkataraman 6-1, 6-0.

Doubles (final): Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy bt Ankita Bhambri and Sanaa Bhambri 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Semifinals: Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy bt Wilawan Choptang (Tha) and Shruti Dhawan 7-6 (5), 6-4; Ankita Bhambri and Sanaa Bhambri bt Iciri Rai and Krushmi Chheda 6-0, 6-2.