MUMBAI: Having made a sensational debut in the Mumbai Open WTA 125K Series Tennis Championship by beating the top seed in the first round, India’s Sahaja Yamalapalli is hoping to take the next step by aiming to play in the Grand Slam qualifiers.
Sahaja had never played a WTA $125K event or a player ranked inside the top 100 in the world before Monday. But the 23-year-old displayed power-packed groundstrokes and nerves of steel to pull off an upset win over top seed Kayla Day in the first round of the Mumbai Open.
Speaking about her goals for the season, Sahaja said her target is to play in the qualifying draws for the Grand Slams this year.
“I don't want to say a ranking like a number. Of course, I want to build on this, and keep working on my game. I think there's still a lot more to learn and a lot more things to improve. There are always things to improve. So, I just want to take this match, take the confidence and motivation and keep going. And you know I want to at the end of the year play the qualifying at the Grand Slams. I'm going to keep working hard and keep going towards it,” Sahaja said.
After the big win, Sahaja was thankful to the tournament organisers for the wild card.
“As you all know, I'm a wild card player here in the tournament. To just be around these players, you start believing that you belong here. You see them, you play with them and you get that confidence and then you go on to the match like thinking, OK, you can do this.
"I was telling myself I can do this even though she's the first seed. She's top 100. I've never played a top-100 player before. It's my first match playing a top 100 and I just wanted to give everything out there. In the end, I got a couple of match points, and I was shaking, like, 'Oh my God'. Like I'm winning this. And I'm really glad that I was able to pull it off,” said Sahaja.
“This is a big win for me, especially at this point of my career, it's very motivating. It's really pushing me to do better, push harder and more practice and really go out there and get more wins in, on the big stage. So I'm really happy to get this,” she said.
Despite this being her first match against a top 100 player, Sahaja was not surprised at her level, having gained the confidence to know that she could compete with players at the elite level.
“I mean, not really (surprised) because I know I can produce this type of tennis. It's all mental. I was just preparing myself that I could do this because I was in the same position before against players in the top 200. And then I got this close and did not come on the winning side. At that time, I was a little bit less confident. But this time, all those experiences helped me for this match to go into that thinking I can do this, I can beat anyone here. I was confident and just going for it.”
Having come through the American collegiate circuit and now training with PBI, Yamalapalli believes her fitness and physical strength have been some of the biggest improvements in her game.
“For sure, it's fitness and physical strength. I've built a lot over the years and then my forehand has been the biggest strength in my game and the serve. Lately, I've been working a lot on my serve because I have big groundstrokes. But my serve was very decent. So, I was working on that for the past couple of weeks and today I was able to serve better than my last matches.”