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Malhotra pushes to USTA Satellite title


After her opponent, top-seeded Rika Fujiwara, hit a forehand volley wide, Manisha Malhotra walked to her chair on the sideline up 5-2 in the third set of the finals of the USTA Women's Satellite Tournament of Baltimore yesterday at Druid Hill Park.

The situation was eerily familiar. Malhorta, the No. 2 seed, led 5-2 in the second set only to blow three match points, drop the next four games and lose in a tiebreaker.

"I was like, 'OK, you just need to go for it, and if you don't get it this time, you have another service game,' " said Malhorta, a native of India who played collegiately at Tennessee.

She only needed one.

Malhotra quickly went up 40-15, and on her fourth match point followed a big first serve to the net, knifing a backhand volley crosscourt to complete a 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (7-4), 6-2 victory.

The 23-year-old Malhotra, ranked 337th in the world, looked up at the overcast sky, clenched her fists and let out a triumphant "Yes!" as 3:05 of intense tennis finally came to a close.

"I wasn't going to mess up that time," Malhotra said.

Emotion flowed throughout the match from both players. Fujiwara, ranked 291st, exhorted herself frequently with thunderous slaps on both thighs and yelled at herself in her native Japanese.

The fiery Malhotra, meanwhile, vocally questioned a number of line calls and confronted the linespeople and chair umpire after several of them.

Despite her frustration with the officiating, Malhotra stayed consistent from the baseline - a welcome improvement for her after she struggled with her control in a semifinal win against Anne Plessinger on Saturday. Also, she was able to put her heavy first serve in with more regularity.

Malhotra went to the net behind virtually every first serve, punishing weak returns from Fujiwara, who often could only get a piece of her racket on the ball.

Even when Fujiwara burned her with passing shots, Malhotra stayed aggressive at the net.

"You've just got to keep pushing," said Malhotra, who won $1,600. "After awhile I could start figuring out, like, her backhand was always down the line. So you start figuring out patterns. She's better than me off the ground, so I had to come to the net."

After coming back to win the first-set tiebreaker, Malhotra looked like she was on her way to a quick victory in the second set.

She broke Fujiwara's serve twice en route to a 5-2 advantage, but wasted three match points in the eighth game as Fujiwara sent three service winners to her forehand side.

Fujiwara ran off the next three games before Malhotra broke her to even the set at 6-6.

Fujiwara dominated the ensuing tiebreaker with some of the hardest-hit shots of the match, but the comeback seemed to take too much out of her by the third set.

"I felt the pressure from her coming to the net," said Fujiwara.

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