Survival of the fittest


Natela Dzalamidze’s fitness stood her in good stead as she bent back her compatriot Anna Rapoport’s challenge in the final to emerge triumphant. V. V. Subrahmanyam reports.

They are practice partners and the best of friends on the ITF circuit. But when it comes to playing in a match, both the Russian girls, Natela Dzalamidze and Anna Rapoport, fight it out as if they are bitter foes. No wonder their coach Evgenia Kulikovskaya, a former top 100 player, preferred to sit in the stands and watch her wards battle it out in the final of the Lanco-JHIC ITF Futures women’s tennis championship in Hyderabad (January 26 to 30).

Dzalamidze’s ability to overcome the heat and humidity set her apart from the field. The unseeded Russian overpowered her compatriot, Rapoport, seeded No. 7, 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 to clinch the title.

The athletic Dzalamidze, aged 15, overcame a sluggish start — she lost the first set rather tamely in the face of a high-quality display from Rapoport — to script a remarkable turn-around. Once she started getting her big first serve in, Dzalamidze proved to be a completely different player. She attacked frequently at the net to pick up invaluable points. Rapoport’s strategy of playing sliced returns from the deep simply did not work as her much fitter opponent was equal to the task. Dzalamidze won the second set with ease when she came up with three aces.

In the decider, Dzalamidze played some stunning passing shots that caught Rapoport, 16, off guard. A visibly tired and disjointed Rapoport was simply no match to her vastly superior opponent.

In the semifinals, Dzalamidze showed fighting spirit to down an ominous looking Venkatesha Poojashree of India, seeded No. 2, 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) in a marathon three-hour encounter in scorching heat. In the battle of big servers, Poojashree proved too hot for Dzalamidze early in the match before losing momentum in the second and third sets.

In the other semifinal, Rapoport knocked out an erratic Anastasia Malhotra of Japan, the top seed, 6-1, 7-5 in less than 60 minutes.

One of the highlights of the tournament was the run of Tarimela Nilaya, a student of Nalanda Junior College, Hyderabad. The 16-year-old player, who had a wild-card, surprised one and all by entering the quarterfinal before losing to Rapoport 3-6, 2-6. The way she out-slugged third-seeded Parul Goswami in the pre-quarterfinal was proof that this young girl has the grit, tenacity and a solid game to move up the ladder.

The top-seeds, Venkatesha Poojashree and Parija Maloo, outplayed second-seeded Shivika Burman and Sweta Kumari Solanki 6-1, 6-2 to win the doubles title.


Natela Dzalamidze (Russia) bt Anna Rapoport (Russia) 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.


Venkatesha Poojashree & Parija Maloo (India) bt Sweta Kumari Solanki & Shivika Burman (India) 6-1, 6-2.