Riya Bhatia: 'I'm in a better state of mind'

From a complicated mind, Riya has been able to achieve clarity. She is confident of her game and progress.

Riya Bhatia says winning the title in Lagos was "only a matter of time." Photo: Special Arrangement

The city of Lagos in Nigeria offers a special platform for Indian women’s tennis for a launch to the next level.

In 2004, Sania Mirza, yet to be 18, won back-to-back singles titles in USD 25,000 ITF events and a doubles title from two finals, over a fortnight.

In January, 2005, Sania was playing the third round of the Australian Open, smacking winners against Serena Williams, and by the end of the year she was in the fourth round of the US Open, trying to match Maria Sharapova after beating Marion Bartoli.

READ :
India's Riya Bhatia wins ITF title in Nigeria

Sania has been unique, for her game was based on a strong personality and superb grooming. It is hard for the rest of the Indian women players to follow in her footsteps, even though they all try to follow the path.

Last year, Pranjala Yadlapalli won back-to-back USD 25,000 singles titles in Lagos. She had been doing well in the professional circuit before an injury slowed her progress.

Two-time National champion Riya Bhatia stepped it up to win the title in Lagos last week, after having reached the semifinals the previous week. “I was happy to win the tournament. I was trying to play my best,” said Riya, who went straight back to the training base at the Impact Tennis Academy in Thailand, from Nigeria.

Riya, tall and strongly-built, has a good game, but for long has struggled to render justice to it; she couldn't channelise her strength with a cool mind. She revealed the growing strength of her mind in the semifinals by saving four match points to beat compatriot Rutuja Bhosale.

'One point at a time'

“I didn’t really focus on the score at that time. Was just focussing on one point at a time. The way we are trained at the academy, we never really think about the score. We focus on how to play the points,” said Riya.

Riya was also confident of winning the title as she had been reaching the quarterfinals and semifinals. “It was only a matter of time,” said Riya, who had to play the final on Monday as rain had forced the delay.

Quite grateful to Stephen Koon and his team of coaches, Riya observed that she was gaining a “better idea” of her game and what she needed to work on. “Each practice session has more intensity and purpose. Also, I feel I am at a better state of mind. You should be tough physically and mentally to prepare for the matches. It takes a long time of working hard to get results and these coaches — Steve, Skinny and Carlo — know when to be hard and when to be easy in the training sessions,” she said.

READ : Sania Mirza gearing up for second coming

Clarity of mind

From a complicated mind, Riya has been able to achieve clarity and keep things simple. She knows there will be plenty of chances for her to improve her world ranking — she is currently ranked 520nd — with five USD 25,000 ITF tournaments lined up at home: in Gwalior, Bhopal, Solapur, Pune and Navi Mumbai, in November and December.

“The goal to is stay fit, avoid injuries and keep competing. I have got to know my game better, and would like to work on rectifying all my errors so as to be ready for higher-level tournaments next year,” Riya observed.

It is a hard journey, competing around the world and trying to get better, to climb on the slippery WTA ranking ladder.

Riya, who is employed with Indian Oil, knows the importance of keeping her mind fresh by enjoying things other than her tennis. “I like reading books, watching shows on Netflix and listening to music. When I am back home, I really like spending time with my family. We watch movies together, go to yoga, swimming sessions and such stuff,” she said.

Sania Mirza — a strong personality, and an explosive game. A rare combination. Photo: Sushanta Patronobish

 

The Indian players are better prepared than Sania Mirza, who had to endure a few days of stay in a government house — kept in quarantine on return from Nigeria for not possessing the yellow-fever certificate.

However, nobody has unravelled the code to break into the top-100, reach a career best No. 27 in singles or win a bunch of Grand Slam doubles and mixed-doubles titles the way Sania has done.

For Sania had a strong personality, matched by an explosive game. A rare combination for Indian women’s tennis.

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