When he plays his best tennis, Niki Poonacha does look top class. He can hit the big serves, and whip the forehand where he likes. At his fluent best, he is a delight to watch.
After being crowned the national tennis champion for the second time on Saturday in Delhi, the 26-year-old Niki revealed his resolve to take his form and confidence into the forthcoming international circuit.
“I came for the National championship, looking to win it. I am happy that I was able to pull it off. After I won the ITF title, the second COVID-19 wave took away the momentum and confidence. So, this win is important,” said Niki, who had won the international title at the same venue in April.
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The victory was doubly sweet, as he won the doubles title as well with SD Prajwal Dev. He did have to endure two singles matches that crossed the three-hour mark. He had struggled for six weeks in Tunisia when he did not cross the second round. He won five singles matches in all, including two in the qualifying event.
In doubles, Niki did win one title and reached the semifinals of one, winning seven matches in all in six weeks of the ITF circuit. “It didn’t go that great for me in the ITF events in Tunisia. So, this title is crucial for me. The long matches have given me the mental strength to push more and believe that I can do it,” he said.
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Niki played with many aches and pains through the national championship, visiting physio Anand Dubey to get suitable treatment.
“I was playing with multiple pains and aches during this week, taking pain killers before the matches. Treatment from the physio, stretching, icing helped me a lot. I just have to play with the pain. Mentally block it, and focus on the match. No pain, no gain,” he said.
The tall and strongly built Niki is pretty confident about his game, but feels the need to work on the fitness to capitalise on the forthcoming three ITF tournaments in Indore, Delhi and Gurugram.
“I am well prepared. Playing the nationals was to prepare for the international events. Winning the nationals has given me confidence and motivation. I am focusing on recovery now, and build my fitness,” Niki said.
Niki trains at the Rohan Bopanna Academy at the Sports School in Bengaluru. “I am grateful to the whole team. The support is truly amazing,” said Niki, as he raved about the support from coaches M Balachandran, Sujith Sachidanand, physios Dhruv Balaraman and Chelston Pintoi.
He regularly gets “tips and ideas on how to play and improve’’ from Bopanna.