‘Mahak has to rise and play more games’

Seventeen-year-old Mahak Jain defended the women’s title in the Fenesta National Tennis Championship this weekend; coach Sajid Lodi says their aspirations are more.

Mahak Jain being congratulated by coach Sajid Lodi on successfully defending the national women's title in New Delhi.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

 

She is small, only 17, but engineered with a strong will. For coach Sajid Lodi, it was no surprise when Mahak Jain defended the women’s title in the Fenesta National Tennis Championship.

In an interaction with Sportstar, Lodi — who has a vision for Mahak — discussed the journey. She had stopped competing in the junior circuit internationally, and given up on the junior Grand Slams. The national tournament helped retain confidence.

“It was important to retain the confidence and to set an example for all youngsters that if you shift from junior circuit to the women’s, keep courage and don’t look back’’, said Lodi, who is quite pleased that Mahak sailed through, except for the semifinal against four-time national champion Prerna Bhambri.

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Mahak has consistently been beating most of the Indian players in the international circuit. She has only lost to Zeel Desai and Rutuja Bhosale, in the finals in Gwalior and Aurangabad respectively. The only other girl she had lost in more than a year was Karman Kaur Thandi.

All of them are better ranked and more experienced than her. Mahak has beaten Sai Samhitha, Sri Vaishnavi Peddi Reddy, Bhuvana Kalva, Pranjala Yadlapalli, Nidhi Chilumula, Ramya Natarajan, double national champion Riya Bhatia, Kanika Vaidya and the Asian junior champion Mihika Yadav.

“I am certainly happy with her performance in the international circuit, as she is the only girl in her age group in the country to do so well internationally. However, our aspirations are far more. I not only expect her to give better results but also evolve her game stronger and become more accomplished,” said the coach.

Siddharth Vishwakarma and Mahak Jain won the men's and the women's title respectively in the National Tennis Championship.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“Even in women’s circuit, we expect her to play tournaments only in the $25,000 level. So far, in $15,000 events, she has made the semifinals or finals. It is about five matches in a tournament. Competition at the next level will be fierce. So, losing before quarterfinals may mean less number of matches, but we can’t compromise on the standard. So, she has to rise and play more matches in the chosen events,” he added.

Mahak does manage to fight it out against tough opponents, but there are physical limitations. “She takes inspiration from Billie Jean King and now Simona Halep. Tennis has changed in every era. We see that a few short athletes have done exceptionally well. It is important to keep growing in certain tactical and technical aspects to gain better results. The key is to believe in yourself and train hard. Keep away from injuries. To know how much is more and how much is less in training. We really want to improve her between the points rituals and conduct,” said Lodi.

Mahak aspires to make her serve more precise and powerful. “To see her playing more net game. To see her in the top-500 of the WTA in the next four months,” said the coach, about the immediate goals.

Ranked 655, Mahak is the sixth best Indian on the WTA computer, which incidentally has only 22 Indian players. Ankita Raina (206), Karman Kaur Thandi (214), Rutuja Bhosale (381), Pranjala Yadlapalli (449) and Zeel Desai (562) are the ones ahead of her.

Speaking on the need for international junior events, he said, “If you aspire to be a professional, you have to take calculated risk. To know how well you can swim, you have to take a dip in the ocean. Playing junior circuit till your last year of 18 can be a right choice for those who want to play university tennis. But, if you want to be a professional, try to skip the junior circuit at the earliest possible stage. You have to really work hard for that because, you don’t just meet players with better game, but the players are also mentally mature to compete,” stressed Lodi.

Mahak is tough. She beat Aldila Sutjiladi of Indonesia, who had beaten her earlier, in a third set tie-break in her backyard in Jakarta. Aldila went on to win the mixed doubles gold with Christopher Rungkat in the Asian Games, beating Rohan Bopanna and Ankita Raina along the way.

Mahak promises to step it up in the near future.