Tennis

Doing a balancing act

COMEBACK SIBLINGS: Archana Venkatraman (right) and her sister Arthi have returned to the national circuit after nearly two years. Photo: Stan Rayan   | Photo Credit: Stan Rayan

When Archana Venkatraman leaves for a match, her mother Shyamala stays back to look after her one-year-old son. A little more than a decade ago, Archana and her elder sister Arthi were among the top players in the country and for a brief while in the mid-nineties, they were the India No. 1 in women's singles.

But now, with Archana doing a fine balancing act between home, tennis practice, a coaching career and precious time with little Prakash, and Arthi busy with a career as a senior consultant with Wipro, their tennis has thrown up a whole new set of challenges.

The two are coming back to the national circuit after nearly two years and are now forced to go through the qualifying grind. But despite playing with girls almost half their age, Archana, 32, and Arthi, 36, were in stunning form at the Geojit BNP Paribas Lotus Trophy AITA National-ranking tournament in Kochi.

Big upsets

Archana jolted the women's top seed Nehel Sahni, the India No. 10, on her way to the semifinals while Arthi packed off third seed Amreen Chaudhary in early singles action.

“I'm back because of my baby,” says the Bangalore-based Archana. “And my hubby has a big hand in it. He told me, ‘see Prakash will play if you play'. And I have a good support system in my dad, mom and husband (tennis coach Suresh).”

Archana was not the fittest of players during her teen years.

“I had never trained all my life. Now, I go to the gym… sometimes it looks a little ridiculous,” she says.

And the results have started coming, a bit sooner than expected.

“I'm playing the right points well in some eight or nine years,” says Archana. “I used to play a lot from my mind earlier, now there's a lot of power too.”

The tennis circuit is a bigger challenge that what it was two years ago.

“The circuit is definitely a lot tougher, the pace of tennis has gone up so much. Kids these days don't go to school, they play for eight to nine hours, they are more focused and motivated. And the juniors play all through the year, so they have a chance to collect points somewhere.”

So, what sort of new goals has she set?

“We're not talking about rankings for my son wakes me up five or six times every night but in terms of good matches, my best is yet to come,” she says. “It's ridiculous to have these goals but I feel I have a chance of doing well in the doubles. Isha (Lakhani) and I won the AITA doubles title (Enerzal Open) in Bangalore last week.”

Archana also won the last National Games doubles trophy with her Karnataka State-mate V. Poojashree in 2007 in Guwahati.

Women's tennis is a lot better than it was a few years ago.

“For almost 10 years, there were virtually no AITA tournaments for women,” says Arthi, who has won the National doubles title a few times with her sister.

So, girls often quit at 16 or 17, a little after finishing school. Even those who hung around, just trained for about two hours a day.

“This year, things are a lot better, we have around six or seven tournaments till February,” says Arthi. “That's another reason for my comeback.”

Big struggle

With Sania Mirza around, women's tennis may look rich and glamorous but for most of the others, it a big struggle.

“Players don't even break even, we lose a lot of money,” says the Wipro employee.

And unlike male players, very few tennis women get sports quota jobs.

However, the future looks very bright.

“The professional depth of coaching has improved. And there are around 300 girls who play competitive tennis in the country and the difference in their standard is not much,” says Arthi.


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Printable version | Oct 23, 2021 4:45:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/tennis/Doing-a-balancing-act/article15537011.ece

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