Updated: March 13, 2021 7:28:36 am
Ukranian tennis player Marianna Zakarlyuk said her first ever tennis tournament in India was riddled with travel difficulties, fear of the pandemic, quarantine and the transition from temperate continental climate of the Eastern European country to the tropical heat of the city.
On Friday, in the quarter-final match of the $25,000 Women’s ITF, the 24-year-old proved to be a strong contender against local favourite Rutuja Bhosale and won the one hour 42 minutes match, 7-5, 6-2. The matches, organised by Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association, were held at the Deccan Gymkhana tennis courts.
“This is my first time playing in India. I had never played with Rutuja Bhosale before but I did know she is one of the best players in India. I was a little nervous as well as I did not know her game. But once we started the match I did not let her take control over the game,” said Zakarlyuk.
Currently coaching under former professional tennis player Oleksandr Dolgopolov Sr, Zakarlyuk said she never planned to come to play the $25000 ITFs in India. She explained that since the pandemic had disturbed the entire tennis calendar, her coach felt it was a good bet to play and garner points for overall rankings.
“It has been great so far in India but it was also a tough time getting here. I first faced travel issues and when I finally landed in Mumbai, I was to quarantine for seven days. However, I could not stay in as the days clashed with the schedule for the tournament. Even after two consecutive negative RT–PCR tests, I was not able to come here. Thankfully, the tournament director and team aided me through it. If not for them, I would not have gotten the chance to play at all,” she said.
The 489 WTA ranked player said she just had a day to practice and adjust to the new country. “There was jet lag and of course the big difference in the climate. I am coming from a place with -3 degrees Celsius to +36 degrees Celsius here. The sun is too strong and sometimes even during matches, if you are on the opposite side, the rays can be blinding and it makes me light-headed. But I am looking forward to play more tournaments here…” she said.
Zakarlyuk added that the quarter finals were more difficult, mentally. “If you win it, you are in the semi-finals and among the top four, the best. It is in semis that you can relax. The quarters for me are like ‘you did good but not good enough’. So mentally there is pressure to perform well, whatever it takes and I am happy that I did it,” she said.
On her win of the $25,000 Women’s ITF match at Mildura in March 2020, Zakarlyuk said that not only was it her first 25k win, it was also the match that showed her that she could make it in tennis. “I began to play when I was seven with my sister Tiasia, who is two years older. While she discontinued, I continued the sport professionally. After my injury, when I was 18 and my father’s demise a few months after, it got difficult for me mentally. My mother and sister helped me. In tennis…usually one bad game after the other and suddenly something changes in your head. Last year, I won my first 25K match at Mildura and it showed me that I can do it. It was also the last match before the pandemic began. I look up to older girls who are in the top 100 and I can only imagine how much they came through. They all have individual stories…and their stories can be inspiring,” she said.
Being candid on her home ground, Zakarlyuk said Ukraine has a lot of good players, especially girls who are young, focused and take the sport very seriously. “I think we have a good culture but we do not have any support from the federation. On the one hand it is better as it makes you more responsible and work hard as nothing comes for free and no one will help you. But the vacuum is felt when there is a tournament you know you can play well in but financially it is expensive,” she said.
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