Niki Kaliyanda Poonacha, the former National Champion capped off the Indian tennis swing on a high note, winning the Men’s singles title at the ITF event in Delhi. This is the 2nd ITF title in his kitty and the first one in nearly three years. He beat the fourth seed and the previous week’s winner Oliver Crawford of the USA 6-3 7-6(5) on the finals here on Sunday.
Speaking to Indian Tennis Daily after his win, he shares his thoughts about the week and his plans for the rest of the year. Excerpts:-
Q) How do you feel after winning the title? Your thoughts on the conditions in Delhi through this week?
Niki Poonacha: I feel great. I think my confidence is back and I’m happy to grind in the court and do my best. I think I did my best. The conditions were good. I think Delhi is lucky for me. I’m performing well always in Delhi- last year Nationals, this year we had Nationals hardcourt even though I had to concede in singles we won the doubles and there’s this. Delhi is a good fortune for me I guess.
Q) Thoughts on the final beating the 4th seed Oliver Crawford. What was running through your mind when you were a break down in the 2nd set?
Niki: Seed is just a number. He’s a very good player. The second set I gave an early break, but I knew that I can break him back. I knew that I can come back anytime. All I need to do was stay patient and play my game. I think that’s what I did. That’s what gave me the break back. At 5*-4, I broke him and it became 5-all. In the tie break, it was very close because he was up all the time except at 6-5. That was the first time I was up and had a match point. I played good on that point- went for a smart serve and got an easy return. Overall, it was a good match.
Q) Challenges of playing through a pandemic?
Niki: There are no challenges, playing through the pandemic, except coming back from a pandemic- that was a challenge for me mentally and the physical part was not so great. But, I’m back now, I’m feeling confident. The only challenge currently is finding the tournaments, because the tournaments are less. There are very few tournaments in Asia, which is making me tough for me to choose. I think I have to travel to Europe or Monastir. That is the only challenge as of now in the pandemic.
Q) How was it playing the string of events in India?
Niki: It was good. It was much needed for me, playing in the home country, a lot of positive vibes, known people. I can hang about, play with my friends, good atmosphere to play. The first three didn’t go as well as I planned, but overall it ended very well for me. I won the title, but I just wish that I could have played better in the first three[tournaments]. But, unfortunately, in Pune, I got injured. I had to concede and even in Indore, I won the first set but I was gassed out in the 2nd and 3rd set. Overall it was a fantastic match. I hope India will conduct more tournaments in the future.
Q) Goals for 2021? What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Niki: The only goal for me is to stay fit, keep my body fit, play as many tournaments as possible. That’s the only plan for me. Injury is one of the main issues for me. I think if I can stay fit and if I can stay healthy, I can definitely do a way better job than I did in the last few years. This is the start of the year, I won the title. It’s proof that I can do better for myself. I’m really going to push it for the rest of the year. I will work hard, keep myself fit and look to win more matches. Those are my goals for 2021.