Luksika Kumkhum looked up in anguish and let out a volley of abuses into the Mumbai night sky. It wasn't supposed to be this hard, was it? Barely a year ago, she had blasted past the same opponent with a 6-2, 6-0 margin, but tonight, nothing she tried seemed to work. Even as Kumkhum ambled back to the baseline in frustration, on the other side of the net, Pranjala Yadlapalli was ready to go again.
Yadlapalli started her first-round match at the L&T Mumbai Open strongly and broke Kumkhum in the third game to take the lead. However, unlike compatriot Karman Kaur Thandi, Yadlapalli didn't let her intensity drop even once in the first set. In the first match of the day, Thandi broke top seed Saisai Zheng early in the first set to take a 2-0 lead but couldn't hold on to it and went on to lose the set and subsequently the match.
However, Yadlapalli was aggressive right from the get-go. The 19-year-old Hyderabadi worked the court smartly to attack her Thai opponent’s weakness. Yadlapalli was sharper of the two in the first set and kept on finding the right angles to frustrate Kumkhum. Yadlapalli seemingly had the upper hand in every rally. No shot was out of reach and no angle too tight, the teenager was always a step ahead of her higher ranked opponent.
"In our last match, I wasn't able to get to her shots on time and I was defensive. My own shots weren't powerful and deep enough to trouble her. Today, they were hurting her and she was being troubled," Yadlapalli said after the match. She was indeed troubled and frustrated enough to call for a coaching timeout in a bid to salvage the first set. That was not to be as Yadlapalli broke Kumkhum once again to seal the first set 6-3 with relative ease.
The second set started in a similar vein as Yadlapalli raced to a 3-1 lead. Not only did Yadlapalli have an answer for every shot, but Kumkhum's own errors were adding to her frustrations. Twice she failed to clear the net off easy smashes from two yards out. As her unforced error count began to rise, so did her frustration level. She groaned, she cursed, she gestured furiously in her coach's direction trying to find away to get the better of the young upstart on the other side of the net.
Kumkhum finally got the breakthrough but only after facing a spirited fightback from Yadlapalli. Serving for the match and for the biggest win of her career at 5-3, Yadlapalli came up against a cornered tiger. Fighting not only for a place in the next round but also to save herself from the ignominy of losing in straight sets to an opponent ranked 185 places below her, Kumkhum fought back.
Kumkhum got a double breakpoint opportunity with a powerful forehand winner that landed just inside. However, Yadlapalli responded brilliantly to get it to deuce. Yadlapalli saved another break point with the shot of the match. Kumkhum's return was deep and would have fetched her the point nine times out of ten. However, Yadlapalli sprinted outside the line and hit a searing backhand winner to cheers from the partisan crowd. Kumkhum could only respond with a wry smile. The Thai player finally broke at the seventh time of asking.
That break turned out to be the turning point of the match. Even as Kumkhum dug deep into her reserves, Yadlapalli began tiring. Kumkhum kept the rallies shorter and induced errors off Yadlapalli. In the next three games, the Indian only won two points as Kumkhum won the second set 7-5 to force the match into the final set.
Fatigue crept in as Yadlapalli lost a bit power in her shots. The angles which she was able to create so effortlessly before, evaporated. The Hyderabadi missed shots which she had been smashing just a set ago. Kumkhum went in for the kill and sped through the third set to clinch the match 3-6, 7-5, 6-1.
So what went wrong in the final set for Yadlapalli? "She (Kumkhum) knows how to play in these tough situations having played against top-20 players. Maybe I could have been more aggressive and could have made her move around by targetting the sides. I was missing my shots a bit while everything she tried came off perfectly," Yadlapalli said.
Despite losing after coming within two points of a well-deserved victory, Yadlapalli can take heart from the manner in which she faced a player who has beaten the likes of two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and former top-10 player in Belinda Bencic.
Updated Date: Nov 01, 2018 15:14:19 IST