HYDERABAD: Nirupama Vaidyanathan had the distinction of being the first Indian woman Tennis player to win a first round match in the main draw of a Grand Slam event.
She did it at Australian Open when she beat Italy’s Gloria Pizzichini in 1998, long before Sania Mirza became the most popular player in the country.
In the same year – Coimbatore-born, now settled at Tampa, Florida – she won the mixed doubles bronze medal with Mahesh Bhupathi in Asian Games at Bangkok. She still cherishes the first round win at Australian and the bronze medal at the Bangkok Asian Games. “I enjoyed playing on the court. I loved the pressure. I cherish playing for the country,’’ she said.
In the city, where she bagged her first National title at the age of 14 at Fateh Maidan Club, Nirupama has fond memories.
“I’m happy to back here. It is a vibrant city. It is nice to visit the tennis academies of my friend Narendranath and Mirza,’’ the 38-year-old said.
Talking about Sania, Nirupama said the four-time Grand Slam doubles winner is a phenomenal player. “Of course, Sania Mirza is one of the greatest players of India. She is phenomenal and she has set an example for the younger generation. She not only has an amazing game, she is also mentally tough, both on and off court. Youngsters should learn from her. Nothing comes to you on plate. International tennis is not easy. It is all about hard work and Sania has shown this in a big way.”
Nirupama first met Sania when the latter was 15 years old.
“She was very confident. Her forehand was brilliant even at that age. These two things made me feel she was special. She worked on her talent to become a successful player,” she shared.
Asked whether Sania could set a new trend in the country. “For middle class, tennis is a very rich sport. Following Sania requires commitment, hard work and financial support.”
Nirupama was disappointed with the women’s tennis in the country. ‘Nothing much has changed for tennis in 20 years. Nobody has a vision,’’ she rued.
The topic of women’s singles at international level was another touchy subject for Nirupama. She has put all her faith in Sania. “She is the only player who could have succeeded in singles, had it not been for her wrist injury, which made her change priorities,” she said and added, “We still have a long way to go in singles.”
The way ahead
The former national champion, whose first book Moon Baller in 2013 was a success, said the second book was on the way.
“This time I’m writing a book on tennis parenting. I hope to release it later this year. It is basically how you go about playing tennis. The first book, Moon Baller was about a 17-year-old tennis player living and travelling alone through the Europe. I was able to motivate the people through my book,” she said.
Nirupama currently runs a tennis academy and says she owes everything to tennis. “I met my husband in tennis. I owe to tennis. It is such a beautiful game.”