India No. 4 Riya Bhatia finished second-best in an exciting matchup against Lithuania’s Justina Mikulskyte in the first round of qualifying at the 2022 Chennai Open. The Rohtak-born went down 6-4, 6-0 in the contest while trying to brave the windy on-court conditions and the Lithuanian challenge.
Bhatia reeled off three straight games from 5-1 down in the first set to stage a startling comeback, before her recent run-in with seasonal sickness started to eclipse her otherwise fiery game style.
Indian Tennis Daily spoke to the 24-year-old about her assessment of the match, the return of WTA tennis to India and her upcoming campaign in doubles in Chennai next week:
Q: Hi Riya! Great fightback in the first set. WTA action has returned to the country after several years. Your initial thoughts on the 2022 Chennai Open.
“It’s amazing having a WTA tournament in India. It’s my first time playing a WTA 250-level event in India. It’s really nice to play in your home country where the crowd is supporting you. I have played in Germany and the Czech Republic, where the home players receive a lot of support from the crowd. So it’s an amazing thing by the Tamil Nadu government and everyone who is responsible for hosting this tournament.”
Q: Can you talk about the conditions today and how they impacted your game?
“It was windy today but luckily we were playing on centre court so the wind was manageable. The weather was very hot but unfortunately yesterday I got a cold and cough. So today I was not at my best. After the first set, I couldn’t move at all. The conditions were very harsh. I’ve been on medicines to try to come out and play.
I was also very frustrated after the match because I’d been working really hard for a tournament like this. It would be really nice if we Indian girls could win matches or the tournament. I was preparing a lot for this, and for the last two weeks, I was training in India to get used to the conditions here.
But unfortunately, it was just not meant to be. I actually told my mom at one point why did I even do so much hard work because, in the end, I couldn’t even give my best.”
Q: Well all the effort will surely translate into better results in the coming future. Were there any significant moments in the match that have stuck with you? What are your key takeaways?
“Yeah, those two points where I had those two break points when she was serving 5-4, those were very important. If I could have made it 5-5 yes, of course, the scoreline would’ve been different. So things would have been better, plus I had the rhythm, winning four games in a row so that would have helped a lot. In the second set, we played two long games. I had game points but unfortunately, I couldn’t convert them. After that, I lost all my energy and I just couldn’t stand on the court with the kind of weather we had.”
Q: You’ve had a pretty encouraging year thus far, what do you look forward to now for the rest of the season?
“Well, I really looking forward to this tournament (laughs) so now I don’t know what to say. But yeah, the year so far has been good, I’ve been playing well. We played the Billie Jean King Cup where I got my first debut win. I also played in Brazil on red clay in conditions that I love the most. Of course, I hope to play more tournaments on red clay because that is my favorite surface. Let’s see what I’m going to be planning but first I want to get healthy and recover because the tournament gave us a wildcard which is a huge opportunity and I would really like to make use of the wildcard.”
Q: Was about to come to that. How is this partnership with Sharmada Balu coming about? How excited are you for your upcoming doubles match?
“We were together on the US trip earlier this year and we’re also great friends. She’s a senior in my career earlier on, so I’ve seen her for a long time. We haven’t played together before, so it’s a new thing for us but we’ve practiced together. I even did my pre-season at Rohan Bopanna’s tennis academy where she was with me and helped me out. So, I think that could help us on the court.”