From being a dominant player in the Qatar Tennis Circuit to being India’s lone Girls participant at the Australian Open, Vipasha Mehra’s journey has spanned across multiple countries already.
In this interview, Vipasha shares detail on the unfortunate experience at her first Grand Slam experience, her Tennis journey that began in Qatar, the wonderful run in Africa and reveals more about her personal side via the rapid fire.
You had to retire from your match at the Australian Open. Can you share detail on what happened?
I reached Melbourne 2 days before the tournament start date – so basically one day before the sign in. The day we arrived, it was raining a lot so I could not practise. So we decided to just explore the area near the courts and the hotel. That night, I had woken up at around midnight with my stomach hurting a lot. I was fine before sleeping so it was really unexpected. I threw up around 6-7 times continuously and felt a lot of uneasiness trying to actually get any sleep that night. By the time the morning came, my dad took me to the emergency section of a local hospital as I was becoming really weak and I hadn’t eaten anything since. Even drinking water was making me throw up so I was so scared to eat anything.
So it turned out that I had gotten food poisoned and caught some sort of bug or something. I was admitted in the hospital for around 5 hours where they put me on drips to help me recover from the weakness. As I left the hospital, the sign up period was going on so we went straight to the venue. Again, I didn’t get the chance to play that whole day too as I just could not keep my head up and still had not eaten much. I decided to go back to the hotel to get proper rest and focus on eating a proper meal in order to be ready to play the next day.
I had requested the tournament director for a later match – giving me more time in the morning to get myself ready.
I woke up the next day with a little less weakness but still found it very difficult to get out of bed. My mom suggested I try a technique of just doing one thing at a time. It started off slowly by brushing my teeth and then somehow I was able to get ready and leave for the courts. My match was the fourth match on so this gave me the time to hit a little on the practise courts. Luckily, I found a court and a player to hit with and played for around half an hour.
Your opponent in the first round – Amy Stevens. Did you know about her game before?
Well, I did not get the chance to look up the draw the previous day, so my dad told me I was playing her. I had met her before in another tournament so knew a little about her but I had not seen her play.
I still don’t know how I managed to get up that day and how I played one set. After every point, I wasn’t able to keep my head up. I really wanted to stop but I pushed myself after every point thinking that this is a Grand Slam and that I should not stop.
At like 3-1 in the first set, the physio came onto the court and advised me that I would end up in the hospital again if I did not forfeit the match. It was also a pretty hot day that day and still struggling to drink water, I was getting more and more dehydrated. I was literally fighting with my body to keep myself strong. It was really hard.
How long did it take you to recover from this?
It took me around two days of complete rest. I was trying to give my body all the nutrients it needs and just focusing on recovery. Luckily, after I recovered, we still had two days left in Melbourne to explore the city. I went to Melbourne park on the last day and watched some matches and tried to enjoy whatever I could from the grand event that is Australian Open. It was a once in a life-time opportunity and so I wanted to make the most of it.
Did you get any opportunity to hit with the Pro players?
I went to Melbourne Park during the 4th round and the Junior main draw hadn’t started yet. So the practice courts were rather empty. I was not in my tennis gear as well and this really something that makes me sad.The one week of my tennis journey where I had the chance to hit with the professional players and enjoy the time on the court – I could not even hold my racquet.
Outside of my match, I got a chance to hit only once – it was with a local Australian Junior Wild Card player – I was actually lucky to hit with someone because there were a lot of matches happening at that time. Luckily, she did not have a match that day and I remember taking a break every 5 minutes. I had apologised that I will not be able to push myself too much. I was worried that if I push myself too much in practice then I would not be able to give my best during the match.
Did you get to watch, meet or interact with any of the Pros?
I watched a few matches on the outside courts. Matches of Ons Jabeur, Alison Riske, and so on. I wanted to watch Federer, Gauff and Zverev on the practice courts but the courts were 1 KM away from the main complex and I missed them by 5 mins when I reached there.
How did your journey into Tennis begin?
I began playing tennis in Doha when I was 8 years old. It was just after we moved there where my dad had gotten me and my brother tickets to watch the finals of the ATP event that year (2008). I still remember, it was Andy Murray vs Andy Roddick and having no clue who they were, we supported Murray since we had just moved from London.
When we got home after the match, my brother and I wanted to start playing too. So the next day, my dad took us to the very same place, Qatar Tennis Federation for lessons. And from then on, I really enjoyed spending time on the court.
Were you born in India?
Yes, I was born in Chennai. We moved to London in 2004 and then moved to Doha in 2008. I lived in Doha for 8 years before moving to Dubai for 2 years and then India for 2 years.
Vipasha with an U16 title win in Dubai in 2017
In India, last year I was in Ahmedabad (March to Jan 2020) and before that I was in Pune.
Where and under whom did you start in Doha?
I started to play at the Qatar Tennis Federation but I was not there for too long.
My very first coach was Svetlana, she was from Russia. I worked with her for about 5 years where she was training both my brother and I. She worked like a private coach. Then she moved to Oman and that’s when I had to find other coaches. She was a very good coach and if I had my way, I would have been still with her.
When did you start taking Tennis seriously?
I started taking tennis seriously around 3 years ago when I made the switch to online schooling so I could train and travel more. Before this, I used to play around 4 times a week – 2 hours a day with irregular fitness. My coach in Dubai, Issam, helped me take tennis more seriously. He showed me what hard work was and helped me a lot getting started into the ITF Junior Circuit.
It wasn’t until I moved to India that things got serious. I started focusing more on my tennis, my diet, mental strength, and so on. Up until that, it was not the top priority.
What were some of the initial tourneys that you won?
There used to be around 4 local tournaments in Doha every year. I had won a lot of them but it wasn’t anything big as it was the same girls I played over and over again.
My first real big tournament win was the Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) event in Doha when I was 13 years old.
How did your transition to Pune happen vis-a-vis Tennis?
For the first 6 months, I was with the Hemant Bendrey Tennis Academy (HBTA) and then the next 6 months were with Aditya Madkekar.
And your move to Altevol Sports Academy
I have been in Ahmedabad since last year and have been with Altevol since then. I had come on a trial in the middle of February, I liked it and so decided to move there. My parents supported this decision as they would do anything for my tennis.
Altevol helped to raise my game to a higher level where we focused on all aspects of my game.
Did your parents have any background in Tennis?
My parents had an interest in tennis but probably due to monetary problems, they did not get the opportunity that I have right now but both my parents love the sport a lot.
My grandfather had played tennis at his club. That is where probably my tennis genes come from.
Your experience at Altevol and what brought about the significant improvement in your performance last year.
Last August, I won my first ITF title. It was in Zimbabwe. I took two titles in a row and those three weeks were my breakthrough. I had reached so many finals in doubles before but I could never get the title. So, I gained a lot of confidence from that event.
Before that, I had taken four months off from tournaments – all the way from April till July. Such a long break from tournaments was not actually planned but something or the other would up come when I was about to travel. However, during those 4 months, we really worked a lot on my game. We focused on every aspect – fitness, tennis, mental, endurance, and so on. It gave me a good opportunity to develop my game and learn new things.
When I showed up to play in August, I was an improved player and competing a lot better.
How would you summarise your game?
I like to play aggressively from the baseline and take opportunities. Being a left- hander has its advantages which I never used much before.
I enjoy playing both singles and doubles.
I need to improve my fitness and endurance. When I have longer rallies in a match, I tend to get tired faster and my decision making process becomes weaker. It’s important to stay focused throughout in these long and tough matches.
Goal for this year.
Right now, I am focusing on getting into a good college. I want to make a mark on the USTA Tennis league as well.
I am going to play more ITF’s and considering all options now with the aim to play the other Grand Slams.
|Hobbies||Watching movies, shopping, eating, listening to music and spending time with my family.|
|Books – Genre||I enjoy reading non-fiction books|
|Favourite city/country that you’ve been to and why||Canada – it is such a beautiful country and the people are so friendly|
|Country that you haven’t been to but would love to visit||Greece and Italy|
|Fav tourney amongst the ones that you played||Zimbabwe|
|An artist whose music has been on the loop for you recently||Khalid|
|Best win of your career||Zongyi Li. She was around 120 rank when I won against her in Zimbabwe. I was around 500 ranked then.|
|Best friend on tour||Bhakti Parwani|
|Languages known||English and Hindi|
|Racquet that you use||Head – Speed MP|