For Indian tennis player Sharmada Balu, hearing the words ‘we’ll get back to you’ was like listening to a broken record because it was coming from those she needed the most: the sponsors.
“I was at the peak of my career, I had to go abroad to play, but to do that, I had to keep spending from my pocket because no one was ready to sponsor me,” says 29-year-old Sharmada, who had to stop playing tennis because of her financial situation.
Sharmada then took a five-year break from the sport towards the end of 2015 and switched to a 9 am-5 pm job with a corporation as a data analyst. “I learnt a lot about life, how the other side lives, the people who aren't athletes. I can't even begin to explain the lessons I’ve learnt being there.”
The tennis professional went through what she terms the toughest period of her life. She says that enduring pressure at such a young age was difficult because all she wanted to do was play tennis. “I had no clue what I did wrong to deserve this,” she said.
“It was the worst thing that could happen to a tennis player. But I'm not one to sit idle, so I had to do something, and that’s when data analytics happened”, says Sharmada, who continues to work even today, perhaps because she knows all too well the realities of being a professional player.
“I would have never made a comeback had it not been for Rohan (Bopanna) and Balu sir (Balachandran Manikathu), who is my coach from the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy.”
Sharmada has spent the last four months playing in the United States, successfully managing to claw her way up the ITF rankings. She achieved her highest ranking of 215 in singles this July.
The player credits Indian tennis star Bopanna for always giving her the right advice and helping her practise every time he is at the academy in Bangalore. Sharmada will hope to come good as she makes her WTA debut at the Chennai Open as a doubles wildcard entrant, playing alongside compatriot Riya Bhatia.
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