After two-and-a-half hours, at 8-7 in the second set tiebreak, Suhitha Maruri had her second match point opportunity to book her place in the girls’ singles final of the ITF J4 event at the SDAT Stadium in Egmore, Chennai on Friday.
However, the top seed committed a double fault and a win that looked a mere formality almost slipped out of her hands before she eventually managed to defeat fourth seed Sonal Patil 6-1, 6-7 (9), 7-6 (3) in a marathon match that lasted four hours 18 minutes.
After matches were held on the hard courts at Gandhi Nagar Club and Powerpak Tennis Academy for the past two days, the event was back to clay, the originally designated surface. The semifinal between Suhitha and Sonal started at 7:45 am with the temperature sub-30 degree Celsius. With both players almost equally matched in terms of power and mostly glued to the baseline, the early signs of a proper slugfest were there despite Suhitha taking the opening set quite comfortably, winning 29 points as compared to Sonal’s 18 points.
By the time the second set started around 8:30 am, the conditions had become much hotter and humid. Up by a break at 4-2, Suhitha, the 16-year-old from Karnataka who trains under renowned coach M Balachandran, committed two double faults and allowed Sonal to find her way back and level things at 4-4. From there on, apart from Suhitha being forced to save two break points in the ninth game, the server had the upper hand and the second set was to be decided by the tiebreak.
From 0-2 down, Suhitha reeled off five straight points. Sonal, the 17-year-old from Maharashtra, equalised at 5-5 but Suhitha had the first match point at 6-5 on her serve. However, midway through the rally, she overhit the cross-court forehand and the ball landed well beyond the baseline. She got another chance to seal the victory three points later but failed to take it, hitting both first and second serve into the net and instead, it was her elder opponent who clinched the tiebreak 11-9 to force a third and final set.
At this point, with the sun beating down, Suhitha had to ask for the physio as the teenager was visibly suffering from cramps.
Using the momentum from the previous set, Sonal ran into a 3-0 lead in the decider. Both players were struggling with their serves, allowing easy opportunities for the other to attack. Four consecutive break of serves later, it was the Pune girl’s turn to serve for the match and an improbable win at 5-3 but her failure to land first serves cost her.
In yet another twist, Suhitha won three games in a row. Down 30-40 at 5-6, Sonal not only saved third match point but kept engaging her opponent in long rallies, eventually converting her fifth break point of the game to take the match to the final-set tiebreak.
This time though, Suhitha kept her game solid. Sonal’s lob shot had troubled Suhitha all through the match but at 3-6 down in the final-set tiebreaker, it ended her hopes of reaching the final as the shot was called ‘long’.
While this epic girls’ singles semifinal was going on, the other girls’ singles semifinal, two boys’ singles semifinals and one boys’ doubles semifinal had started and finished.
Suhitha faces second seed Madhurima Sawant in the final after the latter’s 7-5, 6-2 win over unseeded Harshini N Nagaraj in the other semifinal.
In boys’ singles, sixth seed Rethin Pranav was leading 6-1, 3-1 in his semifinal against top seed Aman Dahiya when Dahiya was forced to retire due to an injury. In the summit clash, Rethin faces seventh seed Pranav Karthik, who defeated fifth seed and recently crowned junior national champion Kriish Tyagi 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
Later in the day, Dhananjay Athreya and Deep Munim beat Debasis Sahoo and Gagan Rakesh Vimal 6-4, 5-7, [10-5] to clinch the boys’ doubles title played on hard court at the Gandhi Nagar Club.