Tata Open champion Ruthvika Shivani Gadde wants nothing more than an injury-free season

The 20-year-old won her first title after returning from a six-month injury layoff in June.

An hour after winning the Tata Open India International Challenge final in Mumbai on Sunday, Ruthvika Shivani Gadde was sitting in the players’ warm-up and stretching area with her right leg hauled up on another chair, and an ice pack on her thigh.

She revealed that she has been carrying a thigh strain through the tournament, which she picked up after playing in the senior national championship last month. The 20-year-old had reached the semi-finals before losing in three games in an exciting match to Olympic silver medallist PV Sindhu.

Unfortunately for Gadde, this has been the story of her career. Whenever she has put on a great performance and raised expectations, injury or illness have always dragged her down. After winning the senior Nationals in 2015, she was diagnosed with hepatitis that kept her out for three months.

Not many would remember that Gadde had beaten Sindhu the previous time the two had met, in the final of the South Asian Games in February 2016. Three months later, she helped India reach the semi-finals of the Uber Cup. She also won the Russian Open Grand Prix in October last year and broke into the world’s top 50.

Then, like clockwork, just when it seemed she was going places again, she injured her knee, which kept her out of the entire first half of 2017. The 20-year-old has been wearing a knee brace on her left leg ever since she started playing again in June.

Because of her six-month hiatus, Gadde’s rank has plummeted from the forties to world No 119. As a result, she has had to play Challenge and Grand Prix-level tournaments since her return. She got a qualifying entry at the Australian Open Superseries in June and went through to the main draw, but lost in the first round.

She also needed to play this year’s Nationals from round one, unlike Sindhu and the other Indians in the world’s top 50, who got a direct entry into the pre-quarterfinals. She played in the inter-state mixed-team championships prior to the Nationals last month. In total, she played 11 matches in a week, which resulted in the thigh strain.

Gadde had to take a week’s rest after the Nationals because of the thigh strain, which meant she could not train for the Scottish Open Grand Prix last month and was forced to pull out. “To be frank, I got to train only for a week before coming to Mumbai,” she said, almost with a resigned tone. “I came to Mumbai just 60%-70% fit so with whatever I had in me I think I played well,” she added.

And play well she did. Not once throughout the Nationals or the Tata Open did Gadde ever look in discomfort on court. Not in the match against Sindhu, and neither in the two three-gamers she played at the Tata Open. Even if she was in any discomfort, she did well to hide it.

Sunday’s final was relatively straightforward – a 21-12, 23-21 win over 19-year-old Riya Mukherjee. But Gadde doesn’t think too much of it. “I am really happy with this win but I am never satisfied,” she said. “I always want to play much, much better. You should be happy but not get satisfied.”

On a comeback trail, Gadde has no targets in mind for the coming months apart from staying injury-free. “I just don’t want any more breaks,” she said, with a smile.

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