Sonali Mukerjee: Indian women's tennis has catching up to do with rest of world

A member of the Indian women’s tennis team in the 1982 Asian Games, Sonali Mukerjee says the likes of Ankita Raina, Karman Thandi and Prarthana Thombare have catching up to do with the rest of the world.

Sonali Mukerjee with Hudson County recognition.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

She was a member of the Indian women’s tennis team in the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. Sonali Mukerjee, who works as the Grants Manager at the Altman Foundation and teaches tennis in New Jersey to the Hudson County community, has stayed connected to the game.

"The Japanese were dominant then, as they had better fitness and were much more powerful," recalled Sonali about the Asian Games experience.

She started following Indian women’s tennis, after reaching the US, only after Sania Mirza made the breakthrough.

"I have heard about the current crop of players like Ankita Raina, Karman Thandi and Prarthana Thombare, but haven’t seen any of these women play in a major tournament. They still have a lot of catching up to do with the rest of the world, who produce powerful players," she observed.

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Ankita won the Asian Games bronze in Palembang last year, and has been able to get into the qualifying rounds of the Grand Slams.

"When I was growing up and trying to make tennis a career, things were not as easy in India as they are now. There was no sponsorship. No encouragement from the local government, which made it very difficult to move to the next level of training and traveling for tournaments. The government also had strict regulations as to how much foreign currency you can carry. Things were not easy and parents were the only source of financial support. I realised that I had to leave India for tennis and education," she said.

In 1985, Sonali got full-tennis scholarship from the Atlantic Christian College (Barton College) in North Carolina.

"I played No.2 singles and No.1 doubles all four years, steering Barton college to win the all-district and all-conference championships in North Carolina. Upon graduation in 1988, I moved to New York and worked with the UNICEF. I shifted to the philanthropic sector a few years later. While working at Carnegie Corporation, I did my Masters Degree in Public Policy. Then, I joined the Ford Foundation, and worked for eight years before moving to my current job," recalled Sonali, who had started playing tennis when she was 11, and was trained at the South Club in Kolkata, by coaches Akhtar Ali and his brother Afzal Ali.

She has helped Vijay Amritraj Foundation conduct its fundraiser in New Jersey and had also helped the non-profit organisation Debra, to conduct a fund-raiser with former world No.1 Mats Wilander.

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Sonali Mukerjee with former World No.1 Mats Wilander.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Certified by Professional Tennis Registry (PTR), Sonali is happy to be a tennis coach.

"I am passionate about it. It is a priority for me. Aside from coaching, I play with friends a couple of times a week. It gives me immense pleasure, and an outlet from the stressful life in New York. I regularly watch tennis on television, and make it a point to attend the US Open two or three times every year’’, she said.

Like most, Sonali felt that, "Serena Williams is the best women’s tennis player the world has produced. Naomi Osaka, though extremely talented and a great player, is presently dealing with some personal issues. I hope she can handle the pressure during the US Open, as I am rooting for her. Ashleigh Barty is another strong player along with a few European and Chinese players. Young Coco Gauff is a player to watch out for," Sonali reeled off.

For the young Indian players, Sonali is ready with her sane voice.

"Play as many tournaments as possible. Practising several hours is not enough. Match play is everything. Develop the mental strength to play the close matches. Incorporate yoga and meditation in the daily routine. Take time to reflect and develop the killer instinct on court. Keep fighting even when you are down. A match can turn around any time. Seek the best coaches. Expensive does not always mean the best! You need a coach with whom you can connect and who can steer you in the right direction. Be open to learn from others. Most importantly, stay humble and always look to improve," she said.

From her busy life, Sonali takes two weeks off every December, to visit her sister Rajyashree Randhawa in Kolkata.

"I have quality time with family and friends. After a hectic year, managing two jobs, this is the time I allow myself to relax and unwind. Nothing beats the warmth of family and old friends. When it is time to leave, it is a sad feeling. But I am once again motivated to
work hard, to do what I enjoy doing until the next time I am on a plane to Kolkata," she said.

For Sonali, tennis is for life.