When Karman Kaur Thandi played at the L&T Mumbai Open last year, the $125K tournament was the first WTA-level event for the wildcard entrant. The then world No 284 had lost to Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, the eventual runner-up, 6-2, 6-4 on the very first day of the event.

A year later, the 20-year-old returns to Mumbai as the world No 215 with a career high of 196, having won her first ITF title – the $25K in Hong Kong, played in International-level tournaments on the WTA circuit and represented India at her first Asian Games. In the last 12 months, she has garnered plenty of experience on the gruelling tour, including a match that lasted four hours and 24 minutes.

The last 12 months have been crucial for Thandi as she has found her feet on the circuit and is making deeper runs on the International Tennis Federation tour, a rung below the Women’s Tennis Association tournaments.

But the luck of the draw at the home tournament has not gone her way as the wildcard is set to play top seed Saisai Zheng of China in the first round on Wednesday. Saisai is ranked 47th in the world and is on the comeback trail after spending six months away from September to March this year. She also has a better head-to-head record having won 6-4, 6-0 in their only meeting in July this year in Nanchang. To add to it, Thandi is coming off a final run in China, having played every day last week en route to a runner-up finish.

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But the 20-year-old says she is well rested and believes her experience last week in Nanning will be crucial as she takes on the challenging first-round opponent. In fact, her game time in China as well her experience of having played Saisai before means momentum is on the Indian’s side.

“I saw the draw before I played the final and knew I was going to play Saisai,” Thandi told Scroll.in during a chat on the first day of the Mumbai Open at the Cricket Club of India courts. “I played her three months back in China, so I am aware of her game style. The things I did then, I am going to try and do them better this time. I have to keep improving, stay calm and focussed on the court. Just go with it, make a plan and execute it.”

It is evident that she is high on confidence ahead of her crunch game. In her own words, she has learned to be “ready for everything.”

“At the end of the day, it is about the tennis, it’s about your game,” she said. “It is not about your ranking, its more about how you can handle it, if you can give your 100% and do the right things on court, execute the plans and understand what is happening and how you can beat her,” she added.

Talking about her run in China, she said that it has helped her fine-tune her on-court responses to situations.

Thandi with her runner-up trophy. Image Credit/Facebook
Thandi with her runner-up trophy. Image Credit/Facebook

“The final [in China against Xinyun Han] was a long match and very close. I saved three match points but it just slipped away. It was a very good match, like all the matches I played at the tournament.

“Every match was very intense so I was very focused, it was really good. The way I handled the situations was the big takeaway from the tournament. Even in the finals, the match could go any way. Losing serve in the first set turned out to be the difference,” she explained.

Karman added that this season has helped her a lot in terms of motivation and gaining confidence. “I have learned something from each match so I am going to try and take the positives and make them better,” she said. “I feel I handled the situations better this year, that’s why I got the title [in Hong Kong].”

Another advantage she has this time in Mumbai is the presence of her coach Aditya Sachdev, which is a big boost as he does not usually travel with her to tournaments.

“This is the first time he is with me this year,” Karman said. “He saw the match I played in China so we are getting the strategy ready for this match. Having a coach helps a lot… the corrections, the small thing which you can’t see, he can from outside. Sometimes you would get frustrated and that is when the coach’s understanding comes in play and you can fix the things right away.”

How much of a difference it makes in terms of results remains to be seen. But win or lose, the experience of playing the Mumbai Open against a much higher-ranked opponent under the guidance of her coach can only be beneficial to the still rising player.