Sathwika Sama (SS) won a Gold medal for India at the 2019 South Asian Games and is among India’s Top 10 women’s players. Earlier this week, she played at the ITF W25 Pune event, where I was supposed to interview her in person. But Omicron virus scare meant we had to switch our meeting to a Zoom call. Here is how my conversation with the bubbly (her own words) Sathwika went – 

Q. Hi Sathwikal! Congratulations on winning the ITF W15 Solapur doubles title with Ramya [Natarajan] earlier this month. How does it feel to be winning titles again?

SS: It feels great. Thank you so much for covering the event and getting pictures out of nowhere. Because there wasn’t much media coverage in Solapur. 

It actually feels very good because it’s my second ITF title. I won the first one with Mahak [Jain] back in 2019. And this one with Ramya. I was not expected to play with her. We decided to play just five days before the event. It was a last-minute call to pair up with each other, and our chemistry and the vibe just worked perfectly because she is a fun person, and she is the only person who has ever made me smile in a super tiebreaker (laughs). Nobody else can do that. It was great playing with her, and I look forward to playing more with her. 

Q. Let’s talk more about your 2021 season. Other than Solapur, what other deep runs or wins made you feel thrilled or overjoyed this year?

SS: We haven’t travelled so much because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was worse during the second wave. I played the World University Games for which I was selected. I went to Europe, where I played 60K and 80K events for the first time. I played a match against Riya [Bhatia] there. I went all the way to Spain and played a fellow Indian, which was fun (laughs). I also played a couple of events in Egypt. It was a great experience playing these events. This season was a growing up phase for me. Since I haven’t played much in the last 1.5 years, for me, it was getting back on the circuit and playing tournaments. Win or lose; it didn’t matter to me. I was getting better with each match. So I was happy and grateful to travel because many Indian players are still unable to travel and play.

Q. I want to talk to you about probably the biggest highlight of your career so far. You represented India at the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal. How was your experience playing at high altitudes and winning a Gold medal for India?

SS: The last time I represented India was in 2016 for the Junior Billie Jean King Cup. Then at South Asian Games, it was great to be back in Indian jersey. Even to this date, I cannot forget the final. It was one of the best matches of my life. Being nine match points down, coming back and winning a Gold medal for the country is something I’ll cherish for life. It was against fellow Indian player Sowjanya Bavisetti who had a great run that week. She did well in the following 25K tournaments as well. I was happy I could share the court with her. The match had everything. It lasted 3 hours 47 minutes match – very long! In the end, when I stood on the podium and the national anthem was played, it was something I can never forget. I had tears rolling my eyes that day (smiles). 

Altitude wise, the first couple of days were a struggle. But then I got used to the climate. 

Q. You are just 21 and, as per WTA Rankings already among India’s Top 10 players. That must be a special feeling. 

SS: It is. Right now, the great players like Ankita [Raina], Rutuja [Bhosale] and Riya [Bhatia] are doing pretty well. Zeel [Desai] and Sowjanya are in the Top 500 of WTA Rankings already. And for us juniors, transitioning to the women’s circuit is not that easy. On top of that, the pandemic hit while we were in transition. People of my age, like Vaidehi [Chaudhari] and Sravya [Chilakalapudi], all are trying to be up there and compete. I have been among India’s Top 10 players without playing nationals – any AITA tournaments. Now, I am trying to step up. My next ranking goal is to be India’s Top 5 by the end of next year. 

Q . That was actually my next question. What are your main goals for the upcoming season?

SS: I’ve already cracked my career-best doubles ranking, which was gained after Solapur points were added. So by the end of 2022, I’m trying to get in the Top 400 in Doubles and Top 500 in Singles. Because of the pandemic, I had a lot of points to defend, but I couldn’t travel so much – that’s something I have to look after. But as my coach says, don’t defend points, attack them! So I am going to try attacking the points (smiles). 

Q. You are a proud NASR School and St. Francis College alumna. Do you miss school or formal education?

SS: I do! I miss my friends a lot. My school has been very supportive. Nobody would believe me if I say that I haven’t gone to school from 6th grade to 10th grade. But I hadn’t attended a single class. I just had to write my exams. They were flexible with my timetable. Same with St. Francis. I had to complete my exams at the end of the semesters and just play for the college for university games, Khelo India games, etc. Apart from that, they were very flexible. They did not ask me for attendance. Few people from college know me by my name and not my face (smiles). But yeah, they have been kind to me. Whatever I have achieved, it’s also because of them. A big shoutout to them!

Q. Professional players have strict routines, but can you tell us how your day off looks like? 

SS: My days off during practices and during tournaments are different. During the tournaments, a day off is active recovery. It’s not a lazy day where I’m sleeping all day. So I go for a run or cycling a bit. We go to the pool and do active recovery movements. My mobility is going to be there regardless of anything. During training, it’s easier. We just do mobility in the morning, and that’s about it. To keep your body active during a tournament, even on a day off, is essential. For me, one day of complete rest doing nothing makes a lot of changes in my body. And then it takes 2-3 days for me to pick up again. So yeah, even on my days off, I’m moving around. 

Q. Okay, let’s talk about off-court things now. I like the medium of interviews because it helps reveal the interviewee’s character. So my question to you is, what is that one thing you wish more people knew about you?

SS: Okay, that is an interesting question. I wish more people knew that I am a very outgoing person. I am not really straightforward, but I like to talk to new people. I like to explore. I will not judge a person just because of what I’ve heard of them. Instead, I like to talk to the person and conclude on my own. So yeah, I’m not judgemental at all. You can be yourself with me. I can be myself with you. It’s all good. I consider myself in the bubbly category. 

Q. A couple of years ago, you did a blog series with us called Sammy Speaks. Is there any episode you want our readers to go back and check out?

SS: Surely, the first one about indoor courts. I moved from Hyderabad to Bangalore to train. But in Bangalore, it rains unexpectedly anytime. So for those days, an indoor court would be helpful. There was an important tournament I had to play, and it rained every day for two months before it. I couldn’t train properly. Indian weathers are extreme. So for Indian players to spend more time on the court, regardless of something they can’t control (weather), building indoor court facilities are important.

Q. We are just hitting 10,000 followers on ITD’s Instagram page. Do you have a message for ITD followers? 

SS: Well, first, I have a message for the people who run ITD. You guys are doing amazing! You guys are not for profit, coming out of your way, spending your own money for the passion and love for the sport – that’s great. It’s amazing how you guys cover – something nobody expects you to cover – be there – and a random video of Ram [Ramanathan] hitting an ace shows up on my timeline. I am sure a lot of tennis players are getting followers and recognition because of ITD. So congratulations guys on almost hitting 10,000 followers! And I hope you guys have a lot more. 

And for the fans – Please keep getting informed by ITD. You showing interest in tennis, following up with players helps us a lot. 

Rapid-fire:

Favourite CityLisbon, Portugal 
Favourite SurfaceHard courts
Favourite Cheat MealPizza
Favourite Grand Slam?Wimbledon
Favourite TV/Series?You 
Favourite non-tennis personality? My friends
Win a Grand Slam title or get to World No. 1?A Grand Slam
Hyderabad or Bangalore?Bangalore
Who is the GOAT?For me, it’s Roger Federer. It’s always been him. It will always be him. 

Help us get to 10,000 followers on Instagram here.

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