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Dipping into the world’s top 100, Astra Sharma can dare to dream

Sharma’s hot form in the early days of January’s Open at Melbourne Park – including three gritty qualifying wins before losing in the second round to Greece’s Maria Sakkari – were especially satisfying after the right-hander spent recent years juggling medical studies at college in the United States as well as the myriad demands of a career on the fringes of professional tennis.

In Melbourne, during a charmed fortnight, Sharma also won through to the mixed doubles final with fellow Australian John Patrick-Smith.

John Patrick Smith and Astra Sharma.

John Patrick Smith and Astra Sharma.Credit:Eddie Jim

“It was unreal,” Sharma recalled. “For me, still a bit surreal to have that kind of result in the singles and the mixed doubles.

“It was a bit of a confidence boost, like ‘Yeah, I can compete with the best out here. I belong here.’ That was a really good thing to take away from it.”

After moving from Singapore to Perth with her family aged eight, Sharma dabbled with various sports but settled on tennis in her mid teens. She then made her way to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

After graduating last year with a major in medicine, health and society, Sharma has since been able to focus more on her game. Further study in medicine might be coming down the track. However, the scholastic commitments are on hold.

“I’ve been studying for a long time. I haven’t had a break, really. I really want to give professional tennis a bit of a shot before I go back to school to do anything,” she said.

The extra time on her hands allowed her to do more of the one-percenters.

“There’s a lot more I can do in terms of recovery, in terms of yoga, meditation sessions, visualisation – those sorts of things,” she said.

“[Previously] if you had class, it’s kind of a bit cramped and you’ve always got to study and be somewhere. Right now it’s a bit of breather and I can have a few hours in that day to do other things – solely to develop my tennis, which is really nice.”

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Sharma first picked up a tennis racquet at about two years of age, thanks to her parents’ social commitments. It wasn’t until much later that her focus sharpened.

“Around 14 or 15 I was still playing soccer and tennis and decided that I preferred tennis and I wanted to really pursue that pathway and see how good I could get,” she said.

“Then going to college, that was kind of when it was like ‘OK, I think I can get really good here and maybe give this a crack.'”

Last month’s loss in to Colombia to American teen Amanda Anisimova, coupled with the second-round showing at Melbourne Park, have delivered financial rewards. For Sharma, they were a godsend.

“The expenses on tour are ridiculous, so having that kind of boost early in the year … it frees you up a bit to not worry too much about penny pinching or scrounging here and there,” she said.

Turning to the Roland Garros clay next after a period of good form is nice timing for Sharma.

“I think it holds up pretty well,” Sharma said of her game on the dirt. “I move pretty well so it suits me to slide around a little bit.

“My game is well suited to clay because I play pretty heavy so this is quite ideal.”

Despite the continual improvement in 2019 – Sharma was ranked in the 900s nearly two years ago – she’s not getting beyond herself.

“To be honest, I’ve set goals for the year and I’ve already kind of exceeded them,” Sharma said.

“Everything else is just a bonus. I’m not really looking to put a concrete number on it – just happy that it’s already been this good and has surpassed my expectations by far.

“I’m kind of playing with house money here and seeing how far I can get this year.”

Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age

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