Sonal Phadke bags a double

THE biggest challenge in a Satellite tennis circuit is to conserve your energy and peak in the Masters.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Sonal Phadke's aggression and accuracy helped her take the singles title . — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

THE biggest challenge in a Satellite tennis circuit is to conserve your energy and peak in the Masters.

More often than not, the players are far too tired physically and drained of mental energy to be able to do justice to their ability in the fourth week, which in the women's case offers the WTA points.

Having played in such circuits, right from the days when they were being hosted in India for the first time in 1998, Sonal Phadke knew a thing or two about handling herself well. The 20-year-old Mumbai lass took a calculated rest during the second leg, not just to attend to a minor injury, but be ready for a final assault. The idea worked.

It was important for Sonal to get used to the dry heat of Delhi and get going with the art of winning. Returning to the circuit in the third leg, Sonal played close to her best in overcoming the challenge from a string of good players, on way to a double crown.

Right from the first match, Sonal had tough and talented opponents to tackle, and she played with a refreshing spell of aggression that was richly complemented by remarkable accuracy. Having won titles in such circuits including the Masters, Sonal had the confidence and clarity of mind to execute her plans with great success.

Sonal beat the tall girl from Bangalore, Varsha Shivshankar, who trains with Nandan Bal in Pune, in the first round for the loss of two games. In the pre-quarterfinals, Sonal handled the challenge from the third-seeded Shruti Dhawan with poise in a three-setter. Of course, Shruti was making mistakes but Sonal stayed focussed in marching ahead.

In the quarterfinals, it was Kamini Murugaboopathy who challenged Sonal strongly and was a break up at 4-3 in the decider, before being unnerved by the sight of victory.

"That match against Kamini gave me a lot of confidence. I was happy with the way I fought in the end", Sonal was to say later.

She had to ward off a challenge from the second-seeded Isha Lakhani who had won the first leg. Sonal accomplished the task in straight sets in a rain-interrupted contest, mainly because her opponent was far too erratic. The left-handed Isha had beaten Sonal thrice in a row in their previous meetings, but Sonal showed that such a record did not bother her much.

In the final, Sonal was up against Liza Pereira who had won nine matches in a row, and had beaten her in the quarterfinals of the first leg as well. In the event, Sonal played a fine game in the climax when she recovered from being 0-3 down in the second set to cruise home in straight sets.

"I just wanted to be aggressive. In the last match againt Liza, I was pushing. This gives me a lot of confidence going into the Masters", said Sonal, who won the doubles titles with Ankita Bhambri, beating the champions of the first leg, the second-seeded Sheethal Goutham and Shruti Dhawan 7-6 (7-3), 6-0 in the final.

Her doublefisted shots on both the flanks were a treat to watch, and Sonal hit with punch and precision to affix her stamp of authority on the third leg.

The top-seeded Liza was understandably tired after playing so many matches. She had to ward of a strong challenge from Archana in the semifinals. Liza was upset that she missed three matchpoints at 0-40 on Archana's serve in the tenth game of the decider in that match, but the 24-year-old Archana erred in the end to be greeted with "hard luck" messages, a phrase she has got tired of hearing in recent times after tough matches.

Archana showed her craft against the impatient Ankita Bhambri, conceding just four games to the latter, who had won the Masters in Pune last year. More than anything else, such defeats would help Ankita understand the game a lot better, though her parents may be worried about her tennis education being rather slow.

The national champion Isha Lakhani played a good match against Sheethal Goutham in the quarterfinals, but lacked the same zeal in the next round against Sonal. Being a tough competitor, Isha would be keen to set the record straight in the Masters.

Among others, Kamini showed a great heart to fight, as she warded off four matchpoints in tough windy conditions to beat the challenge from Ragini Vimal in the second round. Overall, Kamini has been playing good tennis in the circuit, troubling the eventual champions with her wares.

A few good players like Iciri Rai, Lata Assudani, Rati Kumar, Priyanka Parekh, Varsha Shivshankar, Deepa Chakrabarty and Asha Nandakumar failed to make the Masters. The experience would help them come back stronger in future tournaments.

As compared to the second leg at the same venue, the third leg was a lot more pleasant as the weather changed for the good, with a few spells of welcome rain. Yet, the first couple of days witnessed dust-storms that made the synthetic surface look like clay. The rain did well to wash away the dust and bring the temperature down, though the humidity went up.

Of course, the players made it a hot affair, with some lively games. For sure, the standards are improving in Indian women's tennis. You can actually sit and applaud a series of good matches these days. That is saying a lot.

The results:

Singles (final): Sonal Phadke bt Liza Pereira 6-4, 6-4; Semifinals : Liza Pereira bt Archana Venkataraman 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 7-5; Sonal Phadke bt Isha Lakhani 6-4, 7-5; Quarterfinals : Liza Pereira bt Yamini Thukkaiandi 6-3, 6-1; Archana Venkataraman bt Ankita Bhambri 6-2, 6-2; Sonal Phadke bt Kamini Murugaboopathy 6-1, 3-6, 6-4; Isha Lakhani bt Sheethal Goutham 6-1, 6-3.

Doubles (final): Sonal Phadke and Ankita Bhambri bt Sheethal Goutham and Shruti Dhawan 7-6 (7-3), 6-0; Semifinals : Sonal Phadke and Ankita Bhambri bt Jung-Yoon Shin (Kor) and Archana Venkataraman 6-2, 6-3; Sheethal Goutham and Shruti Dhawan bt Iciri Rai and Preeti Rao 6-4, 6-4.