It was a gift of a racquet from an aunt that started Natasha Palha’s interest in the game of tennis. In a state where football reigns supreme, taking up the sport was not easy! But then this young lady has had to face many obstacles to excel in her chosen field. She shares with NT KURIOCITY.

Maria Fernandes | NT

Competing was something that Natasha enjoyed from as long as she can remember. Sports in general, she states, was her passion. “As a student of Sharada Mandir High School, Miramar and Our Lady of the Rosary, Dona Paula, ‘Sports Day’ was always the day I marked in my school calendar and looked forward to. However, being ranked number 1 in the National U/14 rankings as well as Asian Rankings in 2008 led me to believe that I had talent in tennis and I was ready to work hard to achieve my potential as a tennis player,” she adds.

Her hard work and talent have paid off and at the age of 20, she won the National Women’s Grasscourt Championship ( a title she holds very close to her heart) and has a career high WTA Singles Ranking of 492. Not only has she been the sole representative for the state of Goa in tennis but has also bagged a silver medal for the country at the South Asian Games in 2016, won 5 ITF Doubles titles and represented India at the Asian Games in Korea in 2014 along with the likes of Sania Mirza. The list of accolades for this young Goan lady goes on.

Starting early at the age of seven, she says her earliest memories of tennis date back to 2001. “My dad had a cement court built at the back of our house and was actually my first coach. My elder sister Vanessa and I would practice together at 3:30 p.m. sharp almost every day. I remember trying to complete my homework on my way back home so I could be all ready for my evening tennis sessions,” she shares.

Recollecting her first tournament at Khar Gymkhana, Mumbai in 2004, she says, “As a 10-year-old I was a little taller than the net and the other girls would use the moonballing tactic on me frequently. The ball would bounce right over my head.” She lost the game in the first round, however not one to give up easily, she returned home with a resolve to win and practiced even harder. “I really worked very hard on my drive volley,” she adds. Needless to say she came back the next year with a stronger serve, sharper focus and a keen desire to win. “I made it to the finals and was awarded by the late Sunil Dutt and I was super thrilled.”

Since then Natasha has had many wins but it has not always been smooth sailing. Sacrifices big and small have been made and the biggest sacrifice she confesses was being away from home. “It was never just for a few days and sometimes it even stretched for many months at end. I have literally lived off my suitcase,” she maintains. Missing her siblings and her mother’s cooking, she says was rather difficult. “With my schedule, one week I would be in Mumbai and two weeks later in Chandigarh or China.

Getting acclimatised to the places and food was not very easy. But then, I always told myself it was worth it as I got to play at different tournaments and even win some,” she adds with a grin.

Being a professional sportsperson, a major part of the day is used for practice and exercise. Natasha too had a crazy schedule which left no time to indulge in activities that other teenagers were busy with. While my friends were busy with their outings and parties, I was either practicing or playing a match some place. Tennis at a professional level can get lonely but then it all depends on what one wants. You need to prioritize and then focus and persevere on the path you have chosen. It is not easy but that is the way it is.”

To succeed in any field, Natasha believes hard work, determination and the right support from the right people are crucial!