The will to fight

In the forefront… Poojashree Venkatesh.-K. GOPINATHAN

The remarkable thing about Poojashree Venkatesh and Rushmi Chakravarthi is their amazing self-belief. Indian women’s tennis depends a lot on these two, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

In the forefront…

They are two of the best women’s tennis players in the Indian circuit today. They are a study in contrast: one is 19 years old and trying to break into the big league, while the other, at 31, is defying the general trend in Indian sports and trying to make it difficult for a clutch of talented youngsters to get past her. However, what is common between the two is their hunger for success and the will to fight.

Poojashree Venkatesh and Rushmi Chakravarthi have their limitations, but what is remarkable about their approach is that they believe they can transcend any barrier. And that is the secret of their success as well.

The young Poojashree made this point clear when she defeated Rushmi 6-3, 7-5 in the final of the $10,000 ITF women’s tournament in Dehradun recently. It was a revenge victory for the top seed who had been beaten by Rushmi in the ITF final in Delhi the previous week.

It was also a tribute to Rushmi, who followed up her title-winning performance in Delhi with an appearance in the final in Dehradun. She gave the towering Poojashree a tough time in the deciding set.

Poojashree has the potential but needs to take technical assistance in order to develop her game. “Poojashree has a perfect body potential. She has to learn to use it. She hits a big forehand, and also has a strong backhand, but is not that quick on her feet. It is all the more reason why she has to develop the big shots. The next two years are crucial in her development. She has many options, to train in Europe, the U.S. etc. She wants to improve and get better, but that is tough to do in our system,” observed Manisha Malhotra, who had won the mixed doubles silver with Mahesh Bhupathi at the Busan Asian Games.

Rushmi Chakravarthi-V. SUDERSHAN

While Manisha had watched Poojashree closely both in Delhi and Dehradun, another former champion, Radhika Tulpule, has been interacting with the player, explaining the need to think of long term improvement rather than be content with short term success.

“Poojashree is consistent and has a strong defence. However, she has to work a lot harder from here. It all depends on how she wants to develop her game style. It is a good thing that she has been winning international titles at home, but the challenge is to establish herself in tournaments abroad,” said Radhika.

There is some clarity in Radhika’s line of thinking as Sania Mirza has set a benchmark for Indian women’s tennis by reaching a career-best ranking of 27. Sania herself had to come through severe tests posed by Rushmi in her formative years, but she judiciously mixed tournaments at home and abroad apart from taking adequate time off from the circuit to train under coach Bob Brett in Italy in order to iron out the technical flaws in her game.

“If Poojashree wants to reach the next level, she has to train abroad at regular intervals. In fact, she needs a different tournament structure to realise her potential. She has the confidence, as she has been winning, and it is the right time to work harder on her game and tune it to match the demands of modern women’s tennis,” said Radhika, a well-qualified coach who has been assisting the ITF junior teams in Europe and also the players at the National camp as part of the Commonwealth Games programme.

Even as she gauged the potential of Poojashree, Radhika was all praise for her friend Rushmi. She firmly believes that the Indian Oil officer from Chennai would continue to strengthen the Indian team at least till the Commonwealth Games next year.

“Rushmi is experienced and plays smartly. She plays to her strengths most of the time. She has to continue to provide a quality check for players like Poojashree,” said Radhika.

Radhika is impressed with Poojashree’s willingness to learn, at the same time applauding her confidence in weighing all the advice and taking only whatever she thinks is relevant to her. “Poojashree has her own ideas; she has a clear mind. It is not as if she will take everything she is told. It is good to know that she has a mind of her own. So, when things don’t work on court, she will always come up with a different approach,” said Radhika.

With the Indian Fed Cup captain Enrico Piperno also contributing for the betterment of players like Poojashree, there is no dearth of ideas in the Indian camp. The onus is on the government, which has been supporting players in preparation for the Commowealth Games, to make sure that there won’t be a democratic distribution of funds for everybody, but that only the best would get the lion’s share for the right programme.

The GVK Group has been supporting Poojashree with air tickets for tournaments around the world, but if somebody can take her to some of the best coaches like Bob Brett, the girl from Mysore will stand to gain immensely. There is no doubt that with the right guidance, Poojashree would be able to break into the top-200 soon.

Rushmi perhaps has no such ambitions. She is happy to win as many tournaments as she can.

With Tara Iyer having vanished from the national scene — she is pursuing higher studies at the Duke University in the U.S. — Ankita Bhambri abruptly ending her professional career, Isha Lakhani, the last Indian player to beat Sania Mirza, struggling to play to her potential and Sanaa Bhambri proving a lot more vulnerable these days, Indian women’s tennis depends a lot on Poojashree and Rushmi.