Once a tennis wunderkind, Tara Iyer shines as an economist

An up and coming tennis star, Tara Iyer's exploits with the sport were curtailed by a series of setbacks. But the 29-year-old has trumped all odds to shine through.

As a 15-year-old, Tara Iyer gave a lot of hope for Indian women’s tennis when she played the ITF Grade-1 junior tennis final against the 17-year-old Sania Mirza, in Manila, in 2003.   -  V. Sudershan

As a 15-year-old, Tara Iyer gave a lot of hope for Indian women’s tennis when she played the ITF Grade-1 junior tennis final against the 17-year-old Sania Mirza, in Manila, in 2003.

Two Indian girls competing in the final on foreign soil in a tournament that was next only to the Grand Slams was something rare and provided some substance to the optimism that some of us sported in those days.

Beating all odds

Tara had the dream to be the best in the world and win the Wimbledon some day. However, a recurrent knee injury, an abdominal tear, a brain surgery and a series of elbow surgeries following a fall down a flight of stairs, kept intercepting her life, her tennis career in particular.

Undaunted by the turn of events and a shattered dream, Tara realigned her focus on academics. She went back to the Duke University in North Carolina to complete her graduation, and worked at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, before starting a PhD in Economics.

‘’After five years of incredible hard work, and setbacks’’, she completed her doctorate in Economics from Oxford. Recently, Tara has joined the Council of Economic Advisers to the US President, at the White House.

‘’I am now a professional economist and enjoying my new career. Tennis will always be a part of my life. I just recovered this summer after two tumultuous years of rehabilitation following a fall down a flight of stairs, and have started training again’’, said Tara when contacted by Sportstar.

Enjoying her second innings

At 29, Tara has seen a lot in life. Her bravery, in facing a series of obstacles, is second to none, even though there are no specific awards for shaping one’s career in such brilliant fashion, in a completely different field, from a primary goal.

‘’I feel that people can play professional sports and also achieve success in another field. It is crucial that as we continue to encourage young sportspersons that we instil in them the desire to push themselves in other fields as well’’, she said.

Supported wholeheartedly by her parents Indira and Parameswaran Iyer who had a brilliant career, Tara felt that she got much more attention than her brother Venkat - also a professional tennis player.

‘’My family was extraordinarily supportive. They coached and travelled with me despite their jobs. My parents are truly remarkable people, funny, optimistic and intelligent. Tennis with them was a journey with plenty of ups and downs, absolutely amazing and full of colour’’, she recalled.

Tennis key to success

‘’Sports gave me tremendous confidence, especially as a young woman. Without tennis, I certainly would not be where I am today. I would not have the same level of dedication and focus. Tennis has shaped me. As India continues to modernise, I hope that sports will continue to be a bigger part of society, especially for young women’’, Tara said.

A member of the Indian team, that had Sania Mirza and Nirupama Sanjeev among others, in the Asian Games in Guangzhou in 2010, Tara had won four ITF women’s tennis titles in singles and one in doubles. She was ranked a career-best 350 among the women in 2007, after being No.45 among the juniors in 2003.

Numbers do not speak for her courage and determination. Destiny managed to keep Tara away from her tennis racquet for long, but she has done a phenomenal job of shaping her career and be an inspiration to girls with dreams.

‘’My fields of specialisation are in monetary policy, macroeconomics and international finance. During my PhD at Oxford, I was granted Research Fellowships at several institutions including the Federal Reserve Board, the International Monetary Fund, the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and Harvard University’’, Tara explained.

To return to the beginning, Yung-Jan Chan of Chinese Taipei whom Tara beat 0-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals of the ITF Grade-1 event, before meeting Sania in the final, is the No.1 doubles player in the world today, after a fine spell this season in partnership with Martina Hingis.

Tara says that ‘’tennis played no small role in teaching me’’, to have the grit, drive, and to ‘’never give up."

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