Desperate to prop up its women's tennis challenge in the Commonwealth Games, the All India Tennis Association has roped in a 33-year-old who retired six years ago. Nirupama Sanjeevnee Vaidyanathan has a four-year-old daughter and has played in all of two International Tennis Federation event main draws in the last six years. Her name did not figure in the original list of 20 probables released by the federation two years ago. Nirupama, however, is a part of our tennis history as she was the first Indian woman to figure in a Grand Slam singles draw (Australian Open, 1999) in the open era.
Such is the lack of depth in Indian women's tennis that it appears Nirupama will be good enough to make the team. Stroking the ball with flair and control far better than the other active players, Nirupama looked like she truly belonged at the preparatory camp here on Monday. “I am playing better as there is just no pressure anymore. I have always enjoyed competing and this new lease is a bonus,” she told HT.
The man in charge of shaping up India's chances at the Commonwealth Games, Jaidip Mukerjea, got in touch with her after she won a singles round at the $25,000 ITF event in Pune in November last year. “I was not surprised as I saw a lot of matches of the other (Indian) girls and also practiced with many of them. So I was kind of expecting this,” says Nirupama. “I have been practicing since then and have got my game together. I also figured in three qualifying draws. However, it’s doubles where my experience can be tapped for the best.” And fitness? “It’s a different kind of game I play now where it’s not so much about brute power but more about neutralising the opponent using my ability to come up with the goods in a tight situation.”
Another player in the camp is 22-year-old Tara Iyer who last played an ITF event in February 2008. She has been active on the US collegiate circuit but has been nursing an injury for some time. “I was out of touch after a knee surgery. But I am getting back,” she said. Given the way she was hitting the ball, her chances of also figuring in the doubles with Nirupama appear to be bright.
“The main idea behind picking a team is to see where we can win medals. Both these girls were training in the US and their experience could come in handy in doubles,” said Mukerjea. “We have some good juniors. But we are not sure whether they are ready for such a big stage,” he added.
The think tank figures that it would be better to have Sania Mirza figure in the singles and mixed doubles. The final team selection has to be made before September 5 and the AITA’s selection committee will take that call.