To pick up a tennis racquet in the football crazy state of Goa takes courage. And this 23 year old did that with aplomb.
With a career high WTA Singles Ranking of 492, Natasha has been the sole representative for the state of Goa in tennis. She was the National Women’s Grasscourt Champion at the age of 20, bagged a Silver Medal for the country at the South Asian Games in 2016, won 5 ITF Doubles titles, represented India at the Asian Games in Korea in 2014 along with the likes of Sania Mirza. The list goes on for this young Goan.
We had a chance to interview her while she was at it in an ITF tournament in Sri Lanka.
Here are the excerpts :
Q) When did you start playing tennis and what got you interested in playing tennis in the first place?
I started playing at the age of 7. It was my Aunty who had gifted my elder sister a racquet. And our parents always wanted to put us into some sort of sports. And then we used to practise at home. Our Dad taught us the basics and we used to play behind our house.
Q) What is the role of your family in your success?
My Dad and Mom have supported me throughout. They didn’t force me to become a doctor or an engineer, unlike most parents. They allowed us to take time out of studies to let us play.
They also made a lot of sacrifices along the way. They spent a lot on me to travel to tournaments in the beginning. A trip to Bombay/Bangalore would cost around 20K-30K for each tournament. So they were really helpful on that front.
Q) Who was your idol/role model growing up?
Justine Henin. She was at her peak when I was around age 13 to 18. I used to watch a lot of her matches and always wanted to her to win. She was short for a tennis player, just like me. I was a huge fan.
Q) What’s your daily practice schedule like?
I train at PYC, Pune. We play in the morning from 7-9.30. We get a break from 9.30-11. Then from 11-1, we do drills and play practice points. Then in the evenings we either hit the gym, or do on court sprints.
Q) What racket do you play with?
Yonex EZONE DR 98 Blue Lite
Q) Do you prepare differently for different surfaces? If so, how?
No, not really. The pre-match routine doesn’t change. But you need to change your game a little bit. On clay, I try not to attack too much as the balls hold up, so I just try to hit deep, consistently. On the other hand, on hard courts, you can finish points and so I try to play aggressive.
Q) Do you follow any ritual before/during the match.
I like to listen to songs before my matches. I pray and also try to meditate for around 15 minutes before matches.
Q) If you had to change any aspects of your approach to Tennis / Physical conditioning during your formative years? What would that be?
I am not very flexible. So I would have liked to improve my flexibility. Because as you grow older, it helps prevent injuries. Touch wood, I have not had any major injuries. But still I would like to be more flexible.
Q) Did you ever consider taking the popular US College Tennis route before turning pro? If yes, what were the pro / cons? If not, why didn’t you consider that path?
No not really. Somehow, I never really had that option in mind.
Q) What are your goals for the end of 2017, and upcoming 2018?
Well, my goal for a long time has been to be in the Top 400. So I would like to achieve that.
Q) As we know, Tennis can get really expensive. Were you lucky to have any sponsors?
I have been supported by the Dempo’s for 7-8 years. From 2009, they’ve always been there. They pay for my travel, accommodation and training. So I am really grateful to them for that.
Q) What would be the advice that you would give to parents of upcoming players on the financial front? How could they manage things better?
I think in most of the tournaments, the name of the hotels mentioned in the Official Factsheet are really expensive ones. So most of them tend to stay in official hotels ,which is not required. With a little bit of research, you could find much cheaper hotels and thereby, save a lot of money.
And I also think that parents put a lot of pressure on children from a very young age. I’ve seen parents sit right behind the courts during their kids matches and be all pumped up and stuff, but things change once the kids grow older. I think parents should let their children play freely from early on in their careers.
Q) Given your experience of how foreign tennis federations are operating, if you had the authority / power, any changes that you would make in our country’s tennis system – be it programs for Juniors / programs for Senior players?
I think most of us end up preparing at different places. Like now, before coming to Sri Lanka, we were preparing at different places. So we don’t really get to hit with each other.
So it would be nice if we could have if the AITA a National Academy for say, the Top 10 players, where they could use the facilities and hit with each other. Some kind of support from the AITA would be really helpful. We all struggle to find good hitting partners, so it would be great if we could have such an academy.
Rapid Fire –
Q) What do you do in your free time?
Sing really loudly and annoy people around me
Q) Dream Mixed Doubles Partner
Q) Favorite Food
Q) Favorite Surface
Q) Favorite Tournament
Juhu Gymkhana Nationals
Q) Cricket or football?
Q) Favorite Footballer
Q) The song that’s been on loop for you recently
Sorry Not Sorry by Demi Lovato
Q) Favorite city you’ve been to and why?
Uzbekistan. I love the food there, they have a lot of Kababs. And the people there are very fond of Indians. They always want to take pictures with us
Q) Celebrity Crush
Q) Biggest win of your career
The Grasscourt Nationals at the South Club in Kolkata. I had lost to Ankita Raina in the final in 2013. And then I saw a really big picture of Ankita in the Sportstar Magazine. And I wanted to see my picture there. And then I won the Nationals next year in 2014.
Q) Best friend on tour
Nidhi Chilumula and Rishika Sunkara