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Updated: April 28, 2010 22:25 IST

Tennis' new star

S. B. VIJAYA MARY
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Tennis prodigy Lalitha Devarakonda. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar
Tennis prodigy Lalitha Devarakonda. Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

Come summer vacation, parents enrol their children in summer camps hoping their son or daughter will be the next Sachin or Saina. But, a few summers ago when Padma, a concerned mother, admitted her three-year-old introvert daughter into a summer camp, hoping the little girl would have an opportunity to interact with other children of her age, little did she realise that she's triggering a passion towards tennis and the little girl would take to the racquet like fish to water.

On the eve of her 11th birthday earlier this month, Lalitha Devarakonda made her parents and the State proud by winning the AITA Talent Series Tournaments at Kolkota and Tirupati — an Under-12 title and Under-16 Runner-up and Most Prominent Player Award. And she wound up the winning spree with her third Under-12 title at Vazirani All India Talent Series and Maharashtra State Ranking Junior Tennis Tournament, at Nerul last Friday. Lalitha's achievement is as worthy a mention as it is of her parents' decision who took her out of the school to help her get professional training when she was in her III std.

While Dr. Bhaktiyar Chowdhury, the renowned sports medicine specialist spotted her exceptional eye-hand coordination, Mark Wilton from the Australian Tennis Academy predicted that she'll do professionally well. Lalitha's enthused parents enrolled her in Nick Bollettieri Academy, Florida (now bought by IMG) where she's been training for the last three years. Recalls Lalitha of her first stint there, “I used to be beaten by everybody 0-6 and I would cry after every match. But now during this year's stint at Florida I beat the same players.”

Perhaps the only child to be trained by fitness trainer Dinaaz, Lalitha is being coached and trained by Kamal Mustafa now. Not going to school did not mean a halt in her education, the school allows her to take exams once in three months.

On being asked if Lalitha misses school and friends, she's quick to reply, “Yes I did initially, but I'm ok with it now.” A little pause later comes the candid confession, “actually I miss all the birthday parties.” What's so great about birthday parties? “The return-gifts, cake…” she says with eyes shining.

Where does she see herself in future? There's no hesitation when she says, “a Grand Slam in 2018 when I turn 19.”

That Lalitha is not complacent in the least is evident when she says, “I'm not light on my feet and I need to improve my speed.” And showing maturity beyond her age, Lalitha adds, “I'd like to play as effortlessly as Roger Federer, as beautifully and athletically as Maria Sharapova and as dominating and aggressively as Serena Williams.”


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