Nirupama Sanjeev, the Coimbatore-born athlete is now retired, but back in her glorious days she pulled off a surprise when she became the first Indian to crack WTA Top-200 rankings, reached a career-high ranking of #134. She is also known as the first Indian woman to win a Grand Slam match.
Nirupama began to play tennis at a tender of five and credits her brother for the inspiration. Her father, K.S. Vaidyanathan, became her first coach at the start of her career. At a time when India didn’t boast of many professional women tennis players, Nirupama challenged the obstacles and played all the top events including Wimbledon as a junior, qualifier and as a main draw player.
Nirupama was the first Indian woman to win a Grand Slam singles match and achieved many other firsts.
At the age of 13, Nirupama won her first National title in under 14 age group, and triumph in the nationals followed. She started playing professional tennis at the age of 18. Nirupama was then coached by David O Meara.
The stellar player is the triple Gold Medalist at the SAF Games in 1995. On the WTA Tour, Nirupama won against top-50 world players like Magdalena Maleeva, Sylvia Plishke, Mirijana, Lucic, Prakusya and Janet Lee. She has also been an Asian Games medalist and an Olympian at the 2000 Sydney Games.
It was the year 1998 when she became the first Indian woman in the modern era to feature and win a singles round at a Grand Slam (1999 Australian Open). The master-stroker brilliantly moved up her level in the game and received the Asian Games bronze medal which she won in the mixed doubles in 1998. One of the many highlights of her career was receiving the finalist award at the ITF $75K Albuquerque event in 1999.
She dominated Indian tennis for over 10 years before retiring from the game in 2003. After giving birth to her daughter, in 2010, former India No 1 made her comeback as a 33-year-old and played for India in the Commonwealth Games 2010 and in the Asian Games in Guangzhou.
“Only if you aim high, you end up doing well,” Nirupama, who represented India in both women’s doubles and mixed doubles categories in the Delhi Games, had said. “Men have a fantastic chance of picking up a number of medals. Nonetheless, we are also quite confident of our chances, but personally speaking, I am not sure how much I will be able to support the girls’ team,” said the 43-year-old, who has been coaching upcoming talents post-retirement.
Now based in the United States of America, she has been a part of the expert commentary team for ESPN-STAR sports. In the Bay Area, California, she also runs a tennis coaching academy.
Marriage and motherhood aside, one of her current achievements is her autobiography, The Moonballer – a portrayal of her journey as an Indian Woman on the tour in the 1990s.
Nirupama is still a role model for a whole generation of Women’s WTA players who embarked on the uncharted territory and her achievements in the past couple of decades will be remembered forever.
Feature Image Credit: FairGaze