Shalini Thakur Chawla is one of the best tennis coaches in the National Capital Region. She does her job quietly and with efficiency, guiding young players, along with her brother, former national champion Ashutosh Singh at the Active Ace Tennis Academy in Delhi.
When you see her, you may continue to think of her as a player, even though she stopped playing the international circuit more than 20 years back. She is more than a player. She is a super athlete. Shalini runs a half marathon every week. She has been doing it for the past three years.
Shalini is the new captain of the Billie Jean King Cup team. India will be competing in the Asia-Oceania event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, from April 11 to 15. She was the coach of the team last year, and had served as coach earlier for three years between 2011 and 2015.
“It is an added responsibility, but not much of a difference from being coach to captain”, said Shalini, as she viewed the task on hand.
“We have a good team. Our girls are sharp, strong and competitive. Ankita Raina is having a fine run, including this week in Jakarta. Rutuja Bhosale made the semifinals of the $40,000 event In Bengaluru. Karman Kaur Thandi has been playing on and off. She is training and preparing”, said Shalini as she weighed the readiness of the Indian team.
The team has two new players in Vaidehi Chaudhari and Sahaja Yamalapalli.
“Last year we had only four players, as there was no time to fly Vaidehi when Sania Mirza withdrew owing to injury. Both Sahaja and Vaidehi have been playing very well. They are hungry, competitive and ready to perform”, said Shalini.
The absence of Sania does take the punch away from the team, but Shalini felt that the team had got used to it, as the six-time Grand Slam champion has played only once in the last seven years.
“Sania’s presence makes a world of difference. She is a mentor for the team. It is incredible what she has achieved. For now, the team has to handle the challenge”, observed Shalini.
With Radhika Tulpule Kanitkar as the coach, and Ajeeta Goel as the physio, it will be an all-women team for the first time.
“It is great that the AITA has shown confidence in us, in selecting such a team”, said Shalini.
She does have respect for the fine work of the last captain Vishaal Uppal, especially so as the team qualified for the World Group for the only time, during his stint.
“Vishaal handled the job nicely. As a captain or coach, our priority is keeping the team together. All of them have travelled more than any captain. They are all good girls and very disciplined. They know how to play. The captain’s role is to help them stay injury free by balancing the work load, and get the best out of the players’’, she said.
With two teams qualifying for the World Group and two teams being relegated to Group-2, it is indeed a challenge for India, when it competes in a round-robin league format against China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Uzbekistan.
Even without four of its top singles players, China will still have 40th ranked Lin Zhu and 117th ranked Yue Yuan. Its doubles players are top 30.
“China is pretty strong, but Japan has only one top player, the 125th ranked Moyuka Uchijima. Its second player is 213th ranked Mai Hontama”, said Shalini, as she felt that the Indian team on a given day was capable of beating Japan.
Japan also has top doubles players in Eri Hozumi and Shuko Aoyama.
Korea does not have its top two players Su Jeong Jang and Na-Lae Han ranked 119 and 183 respectively, but would still be very competitive.
Equally, Thailand players may not be ranked high, but Luksika Kumkhum was ranked as high as No.66, and Peangtarn Plipuech was ranked 175 at her best. Uzbekistan may rely heavily on Nigina Abduraimova, ranked 180, but has a very experienced player in Akgul Amanmuradova who was ranked 50 in 2008.
The Indian team will assemble in Tashkent on 6th, while Ankita and Rutuja join the next day.
“The weather will be pleasant. We will have a few days to get acclimatised to the conditions. We hope for the best”, said Shalini.
For an active person like her, it may not be easy, sitting on the captain’s chair for long hours, but Shalini pointed out that one would not feel it because of being engrossed in the matches!
The matches promise to be lively.
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