Todd Clark: ‘Zeel Desai can get better’

Coach Todd Clark was waiting for Zeel Desai to get into her best game before she made a fortuitous entry into the girls quarterfinal of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Zeel will be up against Elena Rybakina of Russia in the quarters, who had beaten the second seed Taylor Johnson of the US with ease.   -  M. Moorthy

Coach Todd Clark was waiting for Zeel Desai to get into her best game before she made a fortuitous entry into the girls quarterfinal of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The 17-year-old Zeel, whose rank had slipped from a career-best 32 to 45 after she lost the grade-2 final to Mahak Jain in New Delhi recently, was trailing 3-5 when the fifth seed Olga Danilovic fell backwards and reportedly hurt her hamstring.

“It was unfortunate as both the girls were playing well and the contest had all the marks of being a great match,” said Clark, when contacted in Melbourne.

In the quarterfinal, Zeel will be up against Elena Rybakina of Russia who had beaten the second seed Taylor Johnson of the US with ease.

“We have a game plan that can be effective if executed well. Rybakina is a big ball striker and plays aggressively. I am confident that Zeel can make life tough for her tomorrow. Wining the right points at the right time will make all the difference. I know Zeel will be up for the challenge,” said Clark, who has been diligently training Zeel in Ahmedabad.

Zeel had settled into her groove when she beat Jule Niemeier of Germany 6-4, 6-2 in the second round after having fought past local girl Kaitlin Staines of Australia 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the first round.

“We are spending more time warming up and cooling down. I feel the key to recovery aspect is the mental one. Zeel is feeling relaxed and fresh. She was fortunate with the schedule as she had a day’s rest between each of her matches,” said coach Clark.

The coach appreciated the manner in which Zeel had tackled the local girl in the first round.

“Zeel had played only at 70 per cent in her first two rounds. The occasion of playing her first match was tough. Getting used to not only the court conditions and opponent, but also the Australian crowds cheering for her opponent,” recalled Clark.

The coach felt that the best quality of Zeel was her being a “tough competitor”, who gives her best from the first point till the last.

“In today’s match, Zeel started striking the ball well. She is now more comfortable with the conditions and is growing in confidence,” the coach observed.

With Siddhant Banthia losing the boys doubles quarterfinals in partnership with Kaya Gore of Turkey, 2-6, 5-7 to Finn Reynolds of New Zealand and Duarte Vale of Portugal, the focus will be solely on Zeel Desai.

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