Indian origin born in Great Britain, living in Australia, a perfect example of a young champion belonging to a multi-ethnic background. From playing a Tennis Talent Hunt Championship back in the UK, to making the cut for the Australian Open 2020 singles qualifying, Naiktha has soared up through the rankings and is knocking on the doors of the Main Draw in a Grand Slam.
Indian Tennis Daily caught up with her last week at the ITF $25K World Tennis Tour at the Deccan Gymkhana Courts in Pune
Q. You made two finals in two weeks – ITF $25K Solapur & Pune. How would you rate your visit to India?
It’s been a good two weeks for me, I won a few good matches throughout the week on the back of a good few weeks prior. I made the quarters of an ITF 60K in Adelaide, semi-finals at the ITF 25K in Thailand and quarters of the WTA 125k in Taipei. It was nice to make a final again, having not made one since probably the start of the year, so it felt pretty good.
Q. You reached a career best WTA singles ranking of 222 early this year, how has your journey been to achieving this milestone?
The journey has been slow and steady for me but I have been moving in the right direction. Throughout my professional career I have set new career highs for myself. It was nice to reach 222 because it allowed me get into the qualifying of the Slams. I dropped to around 290 towards the end of the year but have now managed to bring my ranking back up close to my career best.
Q. You have made the cut for the Australian Open singles qualifying in 2020, you also played the singles qualifying at 3 Grand Slams this year, what are your thoughts on that?
The goal is to play all the Grand Slams. I was happy to make 3 this year but was disappointed that I couldn’t make the French Open cut, that cut being a little higher than the others. I will hopefully make the cut next year. Last year I had received a wild card for the Australian Open, but to make it this year with my ranking was definitely a goal that I managed to achieve.
Q) You lost to Ankita Raina in the finals in Solapur, what are your thoughts on the finals?
Ankita had a great week and I think she is very comfortable playing in India. I think it was a tough match for me to play her here, she played the conditions better than me on the day. I didn’t play my best but credit to her for playing a great match.
Q) What do you make of the steady growth of Indian Women’s Tennis on the International Level?
It is so good to see more Indian players at the tournaments. It has been really good to see so many Indians in these last 2 weeks training and playing. There is so much talent, and if there can be more Indian players playing the sport the better, it is going to be good for sport in the country.
Q) How difficult is the transition from playing ITF’s to Grand Slams?
At the ITF level everyone is looking to do the same, so as you transition you sometimes end up playing the same players at the higher level anyway. The level at main draw Grand Slams and further up in the rankings is definitely higher, but at the same time this level is still very competitive.
Q. Could you share with us some insights with regards to your coaching team which has been with you for so many years?
I started at a Club called Lifetime Tennis, I still train there, and it’s in Brisbane. The coaches are Gary Stickler and Matt Limpus and they helped develop me into the player I am. My dad has always been there and coaches me, he has learnt from them. Gary, Matt and my dad are always on the same page so the same message is being delivered to me regardless of who it comes from. When we are at home, we are all working together and when I am travelling it’s my dad. I’m lucky to have them and they are like family to me.
Q) From being a semi-professional footballer to turning tennis coach, how much of a support has your father been and the rest of your family?
You can’t do anything without family support. My dad is always there, he travels with me everywhere. I wish my mom could travel with us and she is thinking of joining us from next year onwards, so that will be really nice for me. My brother is always supporting me and my mother is my biggest fan. The support from my family is second to none.
Q) Tell us something about your diverse background.
I was born in England and we moved to Australia when I was 8 which was a family decision my parents made literally for the lifestyle. I’ve spent the rest of my life in Australia so far. My dad was born in India and moved to England when he was 2. My grandparents are Indian and they live with us now in Australia.
I’d say I am a British at heart but also Indian given my background. I just don’t have the same connection with Australia like I have with Britain or India. We just live in Australia because it is a nice place to live and the lifestyle is great.
Q) Going into 2020, what are the goals you are seeking to achieve?
One of the goals was to be in the Australian Open off my own ranking and the remaining goal is to play the rest of the Grand Slams. I would love to push in to the main draw of the slams as soon as I can and am looking to make the cut for the French Open next year unlike this year. I would love to continue to be at the level where I can play the Slams and WTA events and then to build from there.
Q) When did you decide to take up tennis as your career path and what made you take this decision?
I started playing when I was 6 and it was accidental. I was in school, at Leeds, we had this leisure club called David Lloyd. My parents were members and they would go to the gym while me and my brother would stay back home with my grandparents. My mother went behind my Dad and put us into tennis lessons for us to do something rather than sitting at home all day. I started playing Mini Tennis with the sponge balls and then the coaches moved me up from there. I played the Ariel Tennis Ace Talent Search in the UK which I won. I wanted to continue playing tennis to the best of my ability.
Q) Tennis being a costly sport, how do you manage you funds for the travel and tournaments?
I was fortunate enough to receive sponsorship from my junior career, from Adidas and Dunlop. I’ve been using that money and any extra I have earned wisely keeping it only for my tennis expenses.
Q) What has been your most cherished moment so far in your tennis career?
It is going to have to start with winning the Ariel Tennis Ace Talent Search. It was unexpected to have won it at such a young age. There have been a few moments but this stands out the most as it was my first major achievement. I won Junior Nationals U12, U14, U16, I won the U16 when I was 13, and these moments were all special to me growing up.