Court number five at the RK Khanna tennis complex is watched over by a small group,composed nearly entirely of coaching staff and family members. Eetee Maheta is playing the second round of the $10,000 ITF tournament against Vaniya Dangwal. Eetee has lost the first set,6-4,but is now putting that behind her. Eetee,17,is ranked 755 in the world; Vaniya,20,sits at 1190. Eetee is the youngest seeded player in the tournament.
After each point,Eetee peers through the court fencing at the impassive face of her father Ashesh Maheta,who sits,slippers off,with his feet crossed on the seat in front of him. He remains silent nearly all the time,but if he senses that his daughter is edging close to losing her cool,he simply says relax,slowly,drawing out the two syllables.
Ashesh runs a construction business in the town of Patan in Gujarat. It isn’t a town or even a state known for producing tennis players.
Eetee is in Patan for around five days a week,and goes to Ahmedabad for two days, he says. She trains at Ahmedabad Racquet Association,under Jignesh Rawal. The coaching is good,but competition isn’t great. We are looking to send her to Spain for coaching,but we’ll need to find sponsors for that.
Right now,Eetee’s game shows signs of rawness. Her serve,especially,looks diffident; she seems content to place it in the box rather than drive her body fully through her service action. But she constructs points intelligently,and it’s usually her opponent who seems to be doing most of the chasing.
Eetee’s forehand,her biggest strength,is beginning to work fluently. A wristy crosscourt drop draws a near-exhausted Vaniya to the net,setting up a firm down-the-line winner. It’s 5-1 in the third set,and it will soon be 6-1 and all over.
Eetee will go on to lose her quarterfinal in straight sets to first seed and eventual title-winner Ankita Raina,but Delhi,overall,will leave her with good memories. Last month,in another $10000 ITF event,she had lost to Ankita,but only after reaching her maiden final.
It might take a while before Eetee can fulfill her dream of training in Spain,but for now,the class 12 student is content with how her game is progressing.
There are a few good players who I practice with in Ahmedabad, she says. Vaibhavi Trivedi has played a few ITF tournaments,and Zeel Desai is a good junior player. Apart from that,I play against the boys as well. I need to work on my serve,both my power and accuracy. If I do that,I’m pretty confident I can get my ranking up to around 550-600 by the end of the year.