In keeping with the trend in this year’s K.S. Narayanan memorial ITF women’s championship, the final was a suitably long-drawn, nervy contest decided on thin margins.
At the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium, Prarthana G. Thombare wriggled her way out of tight positions to overcome a resolute Eetee Maheta 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5) in three hours and 34 minutes. Eetee opened on a high note by breaking the top seed’s serve in the very first game. Prarthana, however, ensured things were on a more even keel in due course. The decisive break for Eetee came in the ninth game. “Change the direction,” Prarthana admonished herself in anguish, knowing that her opponent was directing play. Eetee held serve in the next game to take the set.
The second set ran a similar course to the first until the seventh game.
Once Prarthana went 4-3 up, she didn’t concede another game to the Ahmedabad girl. In the third set, Eetee had another happy initiation as she racked up a 4-1 advantage. The 18-year-old’s drop-shots from the back court were particularly delicious even as Prarthana made quite a few unforced errors. Also upsetting Prarthana’s rhythm was her tendency to double-fault with five of her 10 showing up in the decider. Nevertheless, Eetee’s discomfort in closing out games might have given Prarthana a sliver of hope. The seventh game was a turning point as, after going up 40-0, Eetee fluffed her lines. The break offered a lifeline to the 19-year-Prarthana, who appeared to be grappling with fitness issues.
She had availed of two medical time-outs, and from early in the second set, her left thigh was strapped up. When Prarthana was down 30-40 in the 10th game, Eetee got her first match-point, but she couldn’t capitalise on it.
As the set went into a tie-break, things continued to oscillate. But eventually, Prarthana triumphed and celebrated in a subdued manner, one that was at odds with her pumped-up self.