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An ace up her sleeve

Pooja Kommireddi, ranked number two in the country in the under 16-age group is a player to look out for, writes ABHIJIT SEN GUPTA.

SMASH HIT: Pooja Kommireddi's strong points are her groundstrokes.

A SMALL band of talented young tennis players have emerged from Andhra Pradesh in recent times. One of them is Pooja Kommireddi who is presently ranked number two in the country in the under 16-age group. She was also a member of the gold medal winning Andhra Pradesh women's team in the tennis championships of the recently concluded 32nd National Games.

In her search for further improvement Pooja (who has been coached by C.G.K. Bhupathi and S.Narendernath) is now playing in the under 18 ITF circuit. She is currently playing in ITF tournaments in Bangladesh and over the next few months she will follow it up with participation in three more tournaments in India and one in Sri Lanka.

Participation in international tournaments calls for heavy expenditure and Pooja is lucky to have the backing of "My Home Cement Industries Ltd," manufacturers of MAHA cement. The organisation headed by Dr. J. Rameswar Rao, a well known industrialist, has come forward to help Pooja in her tennis career.

Born on June 10, 1987, Pooja took to roller-skating at an early age and went on to bag a national title by the time she was six years old. Thereafter she switched to tennis and began playing at the Shantinagar tennis courts under the guidance of Uma Maheshwar Rao.

She played well in the under 14 girls category where she held the number three rank. In the under 16 category she had been ranked number one for a good part of last year.

Her first significant performance at the All India level was when she bagged the runner up spot in the All India AITA ranking tournament in Mumbai in May 2000 and she was runner up again in the AITA tournament held in November of the same year in Kolhapur.

An eleventh standard student of the Hyderabad Public School in the Commerce stream, Pooja is also a good student and by careful planning and hard work, she ensures that her marks at school do not suffer as a result of her tennis career and the hours she has to spend on the courts. In this she has the whole-hearted support of her mother Madhavi and father K. Sai Prakash who used to be a university level tennis player in his youth.

Incidentally Pooja's skills contributed to HPS's triumph in the All India Public Schools tennis championships.

Assessing his daughter's abilities, Sai Prakash says that Pooja's strong points are her groundstrokes. But he also feels that she needs to improve her net game. She needs big match exposure as well and this is where sponsorship plays a big role. Thanks to the financial backing, she can take part in more international tournaments, gain more exposure and take on opponents from all over Asia and thereby gain valuable experience of playing against a wide variety of players with different styles, techniques and abilities.

Some of Pooja's recent achievements include victories in the South zone AITA tournaments in Somvarpet, Mysore, and Hyderabad, all held in 2001 and a victory in the All India ranking tournament in Hyderabad in January 2002 followed by a victory in the Adidas Masters doubles in Delhi in December 2002 and the gold medal as a member of the AP team in the National Games.

With the support of her doting parents and the backing of her sponsor, if Pooja can handle the pressures and demands of international level tennis and continue to improve her game, she can look forward to a great career.

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