“I feel that I am in a better state of mind than I was ever before”, affirms Riya Bhatia, fresh off from her first ITF $25,000 title in Nigeria.

Riya Bhatia is set to officially become the new Indian No. 2 as she will mark her debut into the top 380 of the WTA rankings next week. Riya has been on a robust form playing in the ITF Pro-circuit in the last few months and her perseverance seems to be paying off in the form of her splendid results. She joined the elite group of  Elina Svitolina, Ivan Dodig, Borna Coric, and our very own Sania Mirza after winning the title in Lagos.

With a difficult year for the rising Karman Kaur Thandi and Pranjala Yadlapalli (last year’s winner) with their injuries, Riya got all the necessary joy on the faces of Indian Tennis fans with her title. She took her time to talk to us about her Nigerian experience, her team responsible for the great show and her future plans for the rest of the year.

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Riya being presented her first $25k title in Lagos
Match video of the final

Nigeria seems to be a place with great success for you. SFs in Nigeria in 2018 and 2019, and then a title to close it out. How surreal was this experience?

It’s a great feeling that this week I could get the winners trophy, as the first time I played semifinals, I lost from being 2 match point up and last week I couldn’t give my best since I got injured. So I am really happy about this week.

Semis match against Conny Perrin (top-150) of Switzerland last year

You saved 4 match points and came back from 2-5 down in the semis against Rutuja Bhosale. Any thoughts that went through your mind?

Well, I didn’t really focus on the score at that time and was just focusing on one point at a time. Also the way our coaches train us so hard in our academy, we never really think about the score, all we focus on is how to play the points.

Thoughts on the final

Nastja is a tough opponent, as she has a lot of variations in her game, which is always tough to play against. Also, she has good angles on her serves and it’s very tough to break her serve games. So I would think definitely the breaks I could get in the first and third set, helped me finish those sets.

You appears to have had a bit of problem with your serve in the last few matches

I think I was serving really good in these two weeks. Even in the semi-finals against Rutuja, there was only 1 serve game broken in the first 2 sets. I just feel later I started missing my timing a little bit, and also my muscle was little sore so I wasn’t comfortable, but that’s probably the only reason, otherwise, I felt really confident with my serves throughout these 2 weeks.

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Riya Bhatia and Rutuja Bhosale with the Indian Diaspora Community in Lagos, Nigeria.

You have been training at the Impact Tennis Academy under Stephen Koon for about a year now. How do you assess your game before and after your coaching stint with Mr. Koon?

I feel I have a better idea of my game and the things I need to work on. So each practice has more intensity and purpose than what I did before. Also, I feel that I am in a better state of mind than I was ever before, since we have been working a lot on this. I mean this win wouldn’t be possible without my academy coaches Steve, Skinny and Carlo. It takes a long time of working hard to get the desired results, and these guys knew when to be hard and when to go easy during the training period.

From winning both the hard and grass nationals till your first $25k title – it took a while. What do you think was the change that top Indian players need to do in order to excel on the ITF circuit?

I think it is the exposure, as for most of the ITF tournaments we have to travel abroad and we do not have enough money for this, so we don’t get to play many tournaments. Since I don’t have any sponsors, I have to manage all the training and tournaments expenses by myself, and that’s why I also have to travel alone. By having your coach, physio and trainer with you in tournaments, your chances of winning get higher and for this you need sponsors.

You seemed to have left the $15k events totally since last year, with a lot of points to defend and transition tour in your sight, and rightfully so, as it has paid dividends. What was the reasoning behind this strategy?

Our main goal is to keep improving and to do that you need to play higher levels. I have previously won 15k tournaments in both singles and doubles and we just felt that it’s time that we start playing higher levels to improve my game.

What is your schedule like for the rest of the year and any goals around the same?

I will be playing the 25k tournaments in India in November and December. For now, the goal is to stay fit, avoid injuries and keep competing. Also from this tournament, I got to know my game more and would like to work on all my errors and be ready for the higher levels of tournaments next year.

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This title with continued support from her coaches could very well be a career-defining moment for Riya – who will be a name to watch out for in the immediate future.

(Picture Credits: Lagos Open)


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