ITF men's tennis tournament: Niki Poonacha caps dream run with trophy

Niki Poonacha, who had won the National championship in 2019, beat fourth seed Oliver Crawford of the US 6-3, 7-6 (5) at the DLTA Complex in New Delhi on Sunday.

Niki Poonacha

Champion Niki Poonacha in the ITF men's tennis tournament in Delhi on Sunday.   -  Kamesh Srinivasan

Where there's a will there is a way. Former national champion Niki Poonacha had a fairy tale finish to his dream run in the $15,000 ITF men’s tennis tournament as he beat fourth seed Oliver Crawford of the US 6-3, 7-6(5) at the DLTA Complex in New Delhi on Sunday.

"I am very happy with this trophy. I had no expectations coming into the tournament. I had retired in the last tournament in Pune with a wrist injury. My hope was to stay pain free," said the 25-year-old Niki, after his second victory in the professional tour.

Niki had won his first title as a qualifier in Indonesia in 2018. He won the National championship in 2019. During the pandemic, he had tried to stay fit, training at the Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy in Bengaluru.

"I haven’t had good results in the last six weeks. Once I started winning here, I kept my focus to one match at a time, playing without any expectations," said Niki.

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He was treated by physio Anand Dubey right through the tournament. Even though the pain had gone away, there was heavy taping on his forearm as a precautionary measure.

Even though Niki served big and stroked with purpose, there was no doubt that Crawford who had won the title last week in Pune, was woefully off colour, quite uncharacteristically, on the important points.

For three weeks in Egypt, followed by the three events in the country in Lucknow, Indore and Pune, Niki had failed to win a match.

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Once he settled into his groove with the wins over Nishant Dabas, Filip Bergevi of Sweden and Lorenzo Bocchi of Italy, luck smiled, as his semifinal opponent Dalibor Svrcina of the Czech Republic gave a walkover on medical grounds.

In the final, the twist to the tale came in the ninth game of the second set, when facing three set points at 3-5, 0-40, Niki managed to hold serve with one of his six aces in the match. In the tie-break, Crawford led 4-2 and the only point the American won of the next six, was through a double fault by Niki.

Niki converted all the three break points he forced and saved four of five break points that he faced in the match.

After Zane Khan of the US had won the first two tournaments in the current circuit, and Crawford beat Zane in the final in Indore, it was a welcome sight for the home fans to have an Indian champion in singles.

"I will train for three weeks in the academy and then plan my next series of tournaments’’, said Niki.