Varsha's romance with the tables continues

KIRTI PATIL

PLAYING snooker is more than a hobby for Varsha Majumdar. It is not a profession though. Yet, finishing the task in a businesslike fashion has always been her habit.

-PARAS SHAH

Whether it is a green baize table or the synthetic-topped, Varsha's romance with the tables continues. And, in a true sense, Varsha has dominated two different table sports like never before. As Varsha Chulani in 1987, she had won the National table tennis title beating Niyoti Roy in Delhi.

In Ahmedabad, Varsha beat the pre-event favourites with a domineering performance and clinched the 10th women's National snooker title, 15 years after she excelled on the table tennis scene. Making the final a virtual no-contest, Varsha outwitted Karnataka's R. Uma Devi in three straight frames, 55-13, 81-24, 80-21.

For the women players in India, the National championship is the only event in the calendar when they have a chance to display their skills. The Bombay Gymkhana Club and the CCI, Mumbai, organise annual tournaments, but those are invitational events making the entries limited.

So, most players take part in both the forms of the game, but Varsha has her priorities clear. For her style, fast-paced uncomplicated snooker suits well above the austere skills of billiards. Obviously, she makes it a point to enter only in the snooker championship, while other women try their hands at both.

"I was quite determined to win the snooker title ever since I took up this game," says Varsha. "To hold the National title in two different games is great," she said on her unique achievement.

It was Varsha's fifth appearance in the Nationals - making her debut at Indore in 1998, she failed to qualify for the knock-out stage. She made it to the semifinals in Delhi, quarterfinals in Bangalore and the final in the 2001 Chennai edition.

Nothing came in her way in Ahmedabad, though, as she topped her preliminary group with an all-win record. On her route to the final, she defeated Seema Desai of Bengal in the pre-quarterfinals, T. V. Sri Devi of Karnataka, in the quarterfinals, and Meenal Thakur of Maharashtra, in the semifinals.

The defending champion Anuja Thakur of Maharashtra, veteran Kamala C. Babu of Tamil Nadu, promising M. Chitra of Karnataka also made it to the knock-out phase. Having completed a billiard-snooker double in Chennai, much was expected from Anuja. But, as luck would have it, the seasoned Uma Devi blocked her path in both the forms of the game, and at the same stage.

Though Anuja lost in the quarterfinals, her match against Uma was undoubtedly the biggest crowd-puller of the championship. She rallied from two frames to take the match to the decider, but Anuja failed to keep up the tempo and lost 42-52, 39-59, 66-38, 77-50, 32-72. Uma had no respite either. After the tough match against Anuja, she was again stretched to five frames, by Chitra, in the semifinal. Uma, however, kept her date with the second final, within one week.

In the bottom half, interesting prospects were thrown open with five Maharashtra cueists making it to the draw of eight. There were two all-Maharashtra encounters - Meenal-Jagruti and Neeta Sanghvi-Heena Khandelwal. While Meenal and Jagruti fought keenly in three frames, Neeta quelled the challenge of two-time champion, Heena, in straight frames. Meenal then fought off Neeta 3-1 in a best-of-five quarterfinal match.

But for the refreshing style with which Varsha plays, the fare dished out at the women's Nationals was nowhere compared to what even the junior men exhibited. The essence of snooker is making big breaks, but the women have persisted with earning points.

"You have to be positive. That's my game and that's how I play," says Varsha, India's only woman representative at the prestigious Embassy World snooker championship.

Now based in Singapore, Varsha is a freelance table tennis commentator for ESPN-Star Sports and a local channel Sports City.

In the 2001 World Championship, Varsha qualified for the 32-player knock-out stage in London. In the Plate event, played among those who fail to reach the pre-quarters of the main event, Varsha made it to the final. She lost the Plate final to Kathy Parashis of Australia, but not without a good fight.

"I am going to participate this year also and I hope to do it even better than 2001," says Varsha. This year, the women's event is being held in Swinden, England, in April, while the men will play in London - the traditional venue.

The results:

Final: Varsha Majumdar (Mah) bt R. Uma Devi (Kar) 55-13, 81-24, 80-21.

Play-off for third place: M. Chitra (Kar) bt Meenal Thakur (Mah) 57-21, 50-32.

Semifinals: Uma bt Chitra 18-59, 54-53, 72-23, 13-67, 88-20; Varsha bt Meenal 72-26, 65-17, 29-60; 43-8.

Quarterfinals: Uma bt Anuja Thakur (Mah) 52-42, 59-39, 38-66, 50-77, 72-32; Chitra bt Vidya Pillai (TN) 72-39, 68-25, 69-3; Meenal bt Neeta Sanghvi (Mah) 58-39, 62-44, 23-46, 57-44; Varsha bt T. V. Sri Devi (Kar) 56-45, 29-54, 75-24, 83-18.