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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for the week ending on Jan 9, 2000

(Previous week's notes) (Next week's notes) (Daily Notes Index 1997 thru 2000)

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Jan 9 Note-1

The doubles final is starting right now at Chennai .. Check out  http://www.goldflakeopen.com for the final score .. Since it is starting rather later after a long singles final, I will probably miss the final score .. Since I will be away for a couple of days, there will only be small updates here from now till wednesday night in the US.

#4 seed Golmard won the titl in singles, beating Hantschk 63, 67, 63 just now.  Congrats to him.

Jan 8 Note-3

The doubles final at Chennai will be between Srinath-Sourav against Julien Boutter and Christophe Rochus .. JB-CR beat Golmard-Kroslak, 67(5) 63 64 today to reach the final .. The match is scheduled to follow the singles final and should be starting at about 7.30 pm Sunday, plus or minus half hour (6 am PST, USA .. 3 pm London) .. Our chatroom will be open, following the ball-by-ball scores.

IMG and the title sponsors ITC made a snap decision after Friday's semifinals to fly in the parents of Srinath and Sourav for tomorrow's final ..  That is a very nice gesture from them - but they also owe it to the two guys for unexpectedly bringing in the tricolour excitement at the tournament in the absence of LP-MB  (I guess they owe even more to Srinath for not giving him a singles wildcard too) .. So, we will have the SP-SP combination tomorrow, with the whole place rooting for them, including their parents in a special booth  ..

Sourav was reportedly sweating buckets out of nervousness while serving for the match yesterday .. Also, when they saved a match point yesterday, he did not even know it as he thought they had won the game till Srinath told him that they had only just saved a 30-40 and gone to deuce! .. You have to give the young man credit for hanging in there though, rather than fall apart under pressure .. He ran to the telecom booth to call his parents, forgetting that there were enough people who would give him a cell-phone to make the call (and the organizers were after him to get him to come for the formalities like the press conference!) .. Funny .. Srinath was the man yesterday .. Here is S.Kannan in the Hindustan Times marvelling at his show: .. "How well Srinath took on the lead role!  With every minute adding to the pressure, Srinath still looked like a man at peace with himself .. Srinath is the type who apart from practice and workouts at the gym, believes in meditation. He is the spiritual type as well, and all those lessons must have come in handy when he was serving for the match in the tie-break. Was it going to be a good first serve, or a safe serve? - Bang came the ace, sending the crowd into a tizzy" .. By the way, Srinath said that the money they have earned ($17K, about Rs 7 lakhs) would help, especially Sourav who does not have any sponsors, in traveling together this year - yes, they plan to play continue playing doubles together.

Sourav Panja and Srinath Prahlad .. SP.. SP .. Isn't that what the Malayalee chai shop guys call special tea in Chennai ? .. I remember asking for Double-SP when I used to be there in Chennai [single-sada, double-sada, single-sp and double-sp were the sizes and quality of tea you could get -- of course with their elastic properties, which you see when they magically throw tea between cups to cool it] .. Shall we call our pair the "Double SP" ?? .. Let's hope for the chai-bhais to be hot in their tennis and cool in their heads tomorrow, with elastic resilience and some masala-spice in their shots.

After all, it's a lot in the head .. "You gotta believe!" is the key phrase .. Perforamances like this help not just these two, but the Indian tennis fraternity as a whole .. And lest anybody forget, let us give credit to Mahesh and Leander for showing the way to a lot of Indians that they can all do much more than they think they can, if only they would think they can do what they think cannot be done.

Jan 8 Note-2

First of all, Happy Birth Day, Srinath !! .. It has got to be the sweetest birth day he has had, waiting to play in the biggest pro match of his career tomorrow .. Sri turned 26 today.

Yet another upset out there in Chennai, as Marcus Hantschk d. #2 Cedric Pioline, 6-4,  3-6, 7-6(5) .. Pioline wasted two break chances at 4-4 in the 3rd, giot the break at 5-5, and was serving for the match at 6-5, but Hantschk never gave up and broke him to send it to tiebreaker where he finished it at 7-5 .. he faces the 3rd seed in the final, as #3 Jerome Golmard d. Martin Damm, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 .. I am sure the Chennai crowd wanted a #2 vs #3 final, but the 128th ranked Hantschk is showing something out there .. He was not even in the entry list till some players withdrew last week, and now he is in the first final of his career .. What a way to start for the 22 year old! .. He has been rising steadily from 300 to 200 in 1998 and 200 to 125 last year .. Sometimes the rankings are deceptive for some of these rising guys .. We should expect to hear more about Hantschk  in the future .. Doubles semi starts now between Golmard-Kroslak and Boutter-Rochus.

Jan 8 Note-1

Here is an excellent piece by Kunal Pradhan in today's The Pioneer about the big win by Saurav-Srinath:  The clock stopped at the Nungambakkam Stadium on Friday, crazy excitement started to float all around centre court .. There was not a sound to be heard, just defeaning silence as Prahlad Srinath's ace down the centre line saw him and partner Saurav Panja in the doubles final; the moment lasted for what seemed an eternity .... There is nothing more pleasant than a sweet surprise, they say. Well this was as sweet as sweetness can be. It was amazing that with Mahesh Bhupathi injured and Leander Paes upset early, the hordes at the Nungambakkam Stadium were still waving their tricolours. The excitement in the Gold Flake Open's much-hyped 2000 edition was being generated by guys who were least expected to cause fritters .... They, especially Srinath, were just immaculate in the all-important clash. His volleys at the net are still fresh in the memomy of the fortunate few who witnessed the show in the supercharged floodlit stadium. ``We just wanted to go out there and enjoy,'' Srinath said later. A few thousand crazy screechers freaked out with them. For, after a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4) win over Oleg Ogorodov and Tuomas Ketola, even the most stoic will be forced to show emotion. In the final, they say, they are going to do just that once again -- enjoy; God help their opponents .. That paints the picture so nicely about what a nice feeling it is to see an Indian pair in the final once again .. I copied that since the newspaper does not archive their articles for me to give a link.

There was also another article in the Pioneer today with Mahesh's comments on how he and Leander plans to defend the French Open and Wimbledon titles, though MB will be back in full action only by about May just a handful of weeks before the FO - here is the newspaper, The most important statement that Mahesh made, however, was that he and Leander would play together immediately after he was fit again .. About the Davis Cup captain change, "The change is something totally new for me,'' he said, "for Sir Jaideep was the captain ever since I became a member of the squad. But Ramesh is a very capable man, and he has already started hard on his job .. He's constantly been in touch with me through E-Mail and even wants me to come for the Lucknow tie .. Whatever anyone might say, I'm very excited about joining up with the Davis Cup team once again when I'm fit" .. About his plans for a new singles coach, "This injury has spoilt a lot of my plans. I had decided to make a pull for singles, that's why I had hired Bob Carmichael (Leander's coach) as my coach to help me through that. But now, by the time I get back to tennis the year will be almost half over and so Leander and I just cannot share Bob. Leander will be playing Challengers, I will have to play futures since my ranking will be really low" .. Nah, don't worry Mahesh - you won't be playing too many futures .. The article ends thus, Looking eager to return once again to the doubles fold, Mahesh felt Paes and Lareau would gel together rather well, but then, he added with a mischievous grin, 'there is a certain chemistry between us..''  That something we all know about, don't we? ...

There was a very rare interview aticle in yesterday's The Telegraph, by Amitava Das Gupta - with the man who stays out of trouble and hardly says much - the well-respected coach, Bob Carmichael .. Here is an excerpt -  “I dare say Lee’s game will always have the peaks and troughs, the ups and downs. He’ll never be as consistent or steady as a Ramesh Krishnan,” Carmichael told The Telegraph this afternoon ... The grey-haired Aussie veteran went on to explain why he subscribed to such a theory .. “See, people must realise that Lee is not a smooth strokemaking machine. His game takes a lot out of his body. He competes like hell, he gives everything he has, making him injury-prone. The day he is healthy and confident, he can beat anyone. But he will also have his lows.” ... This is so true .. It's not that he is not gifted in many aspects of the game - it's just that his style is such that it requires focus all the time, physical sharpness and muscles .. The key phrase that the coach  said is this - "not a smooth strokemaking machine" .. Leander is one who uses his body a lot for most of his shots, and he has had to, with the brand of tennis he plays .. That is why fitness training has always been important for him - he couldn't take long enough breaks for that due to the doubles schedule and that was the primary reason for his singles slump to start last year .. At least he is not injured right now, but he needs a bit more work to get to the level of body strength he was at just 16 months back [the last time I remember his ground strokes not being a weakness if not a weapon] .. He seems to have got his mind back in singles and seems to have put the losing streak behind, though .. I believe he may need another stint in Florida soon - though he is quite capable of moving back inside the top-100 soon, for further moves, he will need to put in some more strength training and put more muscles back on .. Leander has also said that whenever he had put in enough physical training and practice, it has helped him mentally too .. In my uneducated view, this is the primary issue with his singles game, not age .. There are about 40 or so guys in the top-100 older than him and age is really not a big factor yet, but Leander's style requires strength on which count he has not been 100% .. He is quite fit at 26 and still shows he is quick and has reflexes, but perhaps it's because he doesn't feel he has the muscles to do something once he gets to the ball that he seems to move a bit less than in the past ..  Thought I would comment, as I saw a few newspaper articles yesterday semingly writing him off as "done" .. All I will say is that Leander is the last one anyone should write off, till he tells you to :-) .. I will bet he won't stop till he gets inside the top-50 which he has said is his goal - and he certainly should go for that, though he may find the effort too much to try to stay there for too long .. For now, I am expecting him to have enough to qualify into AO next week and perhaps get a GS win he has not had in over 2 years, as he is hungry for some success now ..

Dec 7 Note-3

Here is our onsite TennisIndia member, Dr. Sanjeevi, reporting from Chennai:

The doubles match between S.Panja/P.Srinath vs T.Ketola/ O.Ogoradov was a great entertrainer. Srinath played extremely well serving several aces. there were flashes of brilliance from S.Panja but he proved weak link for the Indian duo. Everytime the Indians lost there serve it was Saurav's serve. When the Indians were serving 6-5 in the last set, it was Saurav serving and he lost the serve. Even in the tiebreaker it was Srinath who pulled of magnificient shots and excellent serves. Srinath finished the match serving an ace and took the duo for the first time to the finals. Ketola played a singles match that lasted 2 hours and 41 minutes (which he lost 7/5,5/7, 2/6) and looked exhausted in the doubles. He was losing his serve easily and did not play his best in double. This was quite helpful for our boys. The crowd support was vocal and massive for the India duo. Hope they repeat the performance in the finals with a better game from Saurav.
Good show .. See the Chennai page for all the results so far ..

At the AITA ranking tournament in Hyderabad, Vinod Sridhar won the title, beating Vijay Kannan 63 32, as Kannan conceded due to shoulder trouble .. SK Tara pulled off a good win over Sheetal Gautam, 36 75 63 for the title .. The boys' title went R Arun Prakash of TN who beat V Vignesh of AP.

Jan 7 Note-2

Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!  Once again we have a WestBengal-Karnataka pair in the Gold Flake final !! .. Saurav Panja and Srinath Prahlad  defeated Oleg Ogorodov and Tuomas Ketola, 6-3 2-6, 7-6(4) .. One of the most improbable teams to ever reach the final of an ATP event - playing together for the first time, and neither is known as a great doubles player either (one is a 22 year old ranked in the 1200s)! .. I am still scratching my head trying to figure out what has just happend, and how the heck such miracles ever happen! .. I guess when two talented guys believe in themselves and get the support and cheers of everyone around, it could happen .. And these guys showed their grit in winning two 3rd set tiebreakers in a row now to make a dream a reality for themselves.

Things got  very interesting in the end tonight .. Saurav and Srinath went up a a break in the first game of the 3rd set and it was, 6-3, 2-6, 4-2 .. but after returning the break in the 8th game it got tied at 4-4 and 5-5, our guys broke again and served for the match at 6-5, but got broken for it to be tied again at 6-6 .. It went to the tiebreaker where it went neck-and neck at 2-3, 3-3, 4-3, 5-4 etc, and our gritty pair pulled through (Our guys were up 30-0 on the opponents serve in game 9 but they held after deuces .. In game 10 our guys were up 30-0, then faced match points at 30-40, but they too held after a deuce .. Pressure time - Then the other guys faced break point at 30-40 and were broken in game 11, and now it was time for our guys to get broken .. Back - forth it went, but it ended and I am sure the Chennai crowd is celebrating) .. Whoop !!

That is $17K to share and 120 points each for Srinath and Saurav .. Pushes Srinath straight up to the India #3 or #4 spot in doubles right next to Fazal and Saurav jumps from 1200s to near top-350 in a big hurry .. Coupled with his good performance at the KTC invitational singles that he won last week at Chennai, I have to think Saurav has gate-crashed right into contention for a spot in the Davis Cup team.  A good doubles team like Srinath-Saurav would be very useful for LP-Fazal for practice too.

They await the winners of the other semifinal between Golmard-Kroslak and Boutter-Rochus (they play tomorrow) .. Our guys get an off-day tomorrow to enjoy some nice Masala Dosa in Chennai and relax before going out for the final on Sunday.

Jan 7 Note-1

Dr. Sanjeevi reports from Chennai that Leander is getting out of there and should be flying to Australia by later tonight .. That is good, as he will get a few days to put in some practice on the Australian Open courts for the qualies which starts next Thursday .. LP told Sanjeevi that he played alright yesterday but not as well as he was playing last month in the challengers .. His entry ranking next week will be at around #137 and he won't be among the top-16 seeds in the qualies - he should be in the top-32 and should avoid a seeded player in the first couple of rounds I believe.

Pioline had a scare today from the Italian warrior, Davide Sanguinetti, but pulled through just now - 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(2)

How about Saurav Panja and Srinath Prahlad ?? .. The wildcard dudes are in the semifinals after wins over Andy Ram and Fazal and then Ivanov-Smolenski and Stanoytchev (who had upset the 3rd seeds Behr-Ran earlier)  .. Today they get to play in front of the center court crowd against unseeded Ogorodov-Ketola who upset the second seeds Damm-Kafelnikov .. This will be a tough match, but who knows if Srinath and Saurav have their confidence flowing! .. They have picked up 75 entry points for reaching the semifinals, which will move up Srinath at or inside the top-300 in doubles rankings, and will improve Saurav from #1243 with 8 points to somewhere near #475 - man, what a big jump after two matches! .. And they make some $10K to share too .. That old saying about crashing the door open when you see a crack you can use .. Go guys!

Here is what ChennaiOnline said after the Saurav-Srinath's first round win - Very skilful and effective, Saurav is a young tennis champion with a mean service. Never meandering for a moment he tried to find ways of mollifying Srinath .. Check out that site for all kinds of pictures and notes .. They say that Leander did not get as much crowd support yesterday as he normally gets ("who could blame the crowd, after he yelled at them the previous day", they wrote) .. I love this "bad boy Leander" image LP is building up on court .. No, he is not fould-mouthed or anything, but seems to get quite a bit agitated when he hears sounds when he is trying to concentrate .. Much more so than he used to in the past .. I have to believe that he is trying his best to focus on the job at hand (and he definitely feels lot more pressure now in doing well than in the days when he was  bit younger), and I hope people would cut him some slack - after all he is still the friendly, nice guy off the court to all the fans who look for autographs and want to chat with him.  Apparently some fans had to tell him, "cool it, Leander", as he got upset at the crowd when things weren't going all that well in that second round doubles match .. By the way, S.Kannan had an article yesterday in the Hindustan Times where he was questioning how wise it is for LP to play the AD court now, after getting used to the deuce court for over four years .. To some extent I agree that he shouldn't have to make changes for the sake of getting a good partner - but then again, he may be one who is more ready to accept the challenge than these other guys .. It's alright, as long as he doesn't run into trouble returning to deuce court once MB is back - they may not get all that much time before USO and Olympics ..

Srinath has decided not to go to the Australian Open qualies next week (too much of travel and expenditure for just one event, he said) .. Thus he has made himself available for the futures events next week .. Since the entries are closed, he needs a wildcard to join the field, which AITA has given .. This bumped out Rohan Bopanna from the wildcards list .. It happens sometimes .. By the way, Fazal, who also would have made the direct entry has also needed a wildcard to play, as reported earlier .. Not sure what the deal was with Fazal and how he didn't enter earlier .. The other two wildcards go to Mustafa and Saurav.

At the Hyderabad AITA ranking tournament, Vinod Sridhar beat SK Shivshankar and Vijay Kannan beat Vasudev Reddy to reach the final yesterday .. Sheetal and SK Tara are in the women's final.

Jan 6 Note-5

Hold on .. May be Indians are not done yet, at Chennai -- Just heard that Srinath and Saurav won the doubles QF and has reached the semis beatin Ivanov-Smolenski and Stanoytchev, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(3)  [This match got done very late at night -- the tournament web site doesn't show the result and it was past the press deadlines for all online newspaper sites too] .. Since Damm-Kafelnikov lost in the QF, the semifinal for Srinath-Panja will be against Ogorodov and Ketola ..  Excellent!! .. Anyway, I will await confirmation on the news though.

Jan 6 Note-4

Our onsite fanclub member, Dr. Sanjeevi, reports that Andreas Vinciguerra was actually leading 6-2 5-4 and serving for the match when inexplicably he seemed to lose his rhythm and then went on to lose his match .. The curse of Chennai on the seeds, I guess .. No such curses on Pioline today though .. Sanjeevi says Paes' game still looked a bit rusty .. The Panja-Prahlad doubles QF match has started at Chnnai when we heard last - they are the only Indians remaining.

Well, OK, I will report some good news from the US - Harsh Mankad is continuing the good run that he started last week in the US college circuit .. He has gone on a 10 match win streak now .. He is at the relatively prestigious Milwaukee Classic intercollegiate tournament .. It is a big 7-round 128-draw tournament where he has won four rounds and reached the final eight .. Harsh is unseeded as he is just strating out, though he should soon be hitting the college rankings if he keeps it up .. He upset the 13th seed John Long of Michigan in the 3rd round and then had his biggest scalp yesterday - the 3rd seed Adam Carey of Tennessee, a top-50 player, 6-1, 6-4 .. This tournament was won the last two years by Tom Blake of Harvard and earlier by others like Chris Woodruff, Paul Annacone, etc .. Harsh is 14-4 in college so far which is quite impressive for any freshman .. By the way, the other Indian who has been doing very well is Jahnavi Parekh who has now joined the top-20 after her finalist finish in the regional tournament (there are 8 regions in the US) .. She is in her second year .. Ajay Ramaswamy in his second year has also been doing pretty well, though not enough to hit the top-100 rankings yet .. It's unfortunate that Vikrant Chadha has really gone down in his college career.  He looked quite promising in his second year when he made the top-100 rankings, but has since dropped off considerably.  Injuries have also troubled him.

Some other news -- If you haven't noticed, Thailand has upset Australia and then Slovakia and has a good chance to reach the Hopman's cup final .. Against Australia, the doubles match proved the winner after Philippoussis beat Paradorn Srichpahan and Dokic lost to Tammi Tanasugarn (Dokic apparantly did some trash talking before the match and Tammi made her pay!) .. The big upset win was by Paradorn today, as he beat world #17 Karol Kucera to win the tie against Slovakia .. Wow! .. Thailand was a qualifying team this year because they introduced a spot for Asia and made Japan and Thailand play a qualifying tie to make the final 8 teams [I believe no ountry from Asia would otherwise make it in based on rankings .. The entries are based on the combined rankings of the top male and female players from each country, I believe] .. South Africa has reached the final already.

Jan 6 Note-3

One more seed fell today (8th seed Vinciguerra) and the crowd favorite Leander is also gone .. Pioline d. Paes 6-3, 6-4 .. #4 Golmard d. Jonsson 62 63,  Sanguinetti d. #8 Vinciguerra 26 75 63 and (Q)Delgado d. Stanoytchev 46 62 63 .. See the Chennai Open page for all the scores.

The LP match took and hour and 20 minutes, and based on the online ball-by-ball I followed, it didn't look like as bad a match as many LP played during that 8 match losing streak last year .. Leander went up a break in game 3 but got broken back immediately in game 4 .. After that Pioline seemed to have no problem holding serve .. LP was in trouble in the 8th game at 0-40, fought back to deuce and then dropped the game .. The first set was then over .. In the second set, again Pioline seemed to hold serve easily .. LP got broken in the 5th game and was in some trouble facing two match points in the 9th game at 3-5 .. He held to go 4-5 but couldn't do anything in the final game as Pioline served it out at love .. I just saw a PTI report that said Leander was having trouble with back hand returns which has been his nemesis for such a long time - he was trying to "push and defend on backhand returns" says PTI .. They also said he had a few "exciting returns", which must be on the forehand where he can sometimes go for a kill .. They mention that he rushed some volleys - which is also not unusual for LP who is too quick to the net sometimes for his own good! ..  CP had 53% in first serves and LP had a first serve percentage of 66, which means he was doing alright on that count .. LP had 6 aces and 3 double faults to one ace and one double fault from Pioline, but LP won 61 and 41% of point on first and second serves, as opposed to a very strong 81% and 71% for Pioline - thus LP won only 12 points off CP's serve while CP took 30 off LP's serve (and those are the key stats - that means LP was on the run basically on most points played during Pioline's serves - that's exactly Pioline's game - not exactly overpowering in service with aces, but he has a very good second serve and he is in control when he serves if you cannot return his second serve well) .. Leander is not fully back to his old form yet in singles, but considering that this was against world #13, perhaps it's not such a disappointing loss and he hopefully can get going again next week at the Australian Open qualies.

Second seeds Damm-Kafelnikov lost just now to Ketola-Ogorodov, 57 61 36 -- so no seeds left for the doubles Semis .. Only two seeds are alive for QFs in singles.

Jan 6 Note-2

Leander plays Cedric Pioline (FRA,13) in the second round at the Chennai Open today - on the center court at 5 pm.

How has 30 year old Frenchman Cedric Pioline been doing ? .. Well, pretty well last year .. After staying inside the top-20 for all off 1998, he started 1999 at #28, fell as far down as #59 briefly, came right back up to #16 after the US Open and ended the year at #13 ..  His biggest wins came at Wimbledon and US Open where he reached QF and SF respectively (after first round defeats to Lleyton Hewitt at the AO and Arnaud Clement at the FO) .. He also won the Nottingham grasscourt tournament title .. After the USO he had a string of six first-match losses, however  - to Federer at Tashkent, to Fromberg at Toulouse, to Larsson at Vienna, to Escude at Lyon, to Novak at Stuttgart, and to Bjorkman at Stockholm .. He had two good wins at Paris indoors over Mevedev and Hewitt and that's all he had to show, till his first round win this week at Chennai .. Leander, if he has got his normal game back and the right springiness in his legs, can give Pioline a run for the money - we have seen that in the past too - that wonderful five-setter match at the US Open 97, where LP lost 6-3, 6-7, 6-1, 3-6, 4-6 .. That was the only time these two played each other .. It's quite impressive that Pioline is staying at such a high ranking even now, at the age of 30 .. Let us hope LP can make it a good match today.

We will have our chat room open - come on in, and let us follow the ball-by-ball updates from Chennai.

Jan 6 Note-1

In doubles action yesterday, the second and third seeds also fell along with the top seeds Paes-Black, and the one Indian team that remains in the quarterfinal is perhaps the more unexpected one - wildcards Srinath and Saurav Panja, who upset direct entries Fazal and Andy Ram, 64 64 .. They play unseeded Kyrill Ivanov-Smolenski and Orlin Stanoytchev, quite possibly the team with one of the longest names in ATP doubles history (:-)) .. Ghouse/Uppal, who were the last direct entry in the draw, went down to Ketola/Ogorodov .. Getting 40 entry points for reaching the QF would raise Saurav's and Srinath's doubles rankings considerably .. Another interestng thing is that all three wildcard teams have reached the QF - quite a rarity in ATP doubles .. Though many felt that Kafelnikov "tanked" his first round singles match, at least he has not taken off from the place in his Citation 10 jet yet .. YK and Damm won the first round doubles match and are the only seed remaining in the doubles QF .. The three remaining doubles QF matches are all scheduled for today (Thursday).

The newspaper reports are all rather unanimus that LP and Byron Black just weren't a great team together in yesterday's loss .. Leander was having some trouble playing the AD court but did quite well still in service and at the net though not that well in returns from the left side .. Byron just simply couldn't so a thing right all day, according to all reports - I guess he had "one of those days" .. Akshay Sawai of Mid-Day, Mumbai said in his article (temporary link - will become inactive later), that "when Leander and Mahesh play, it is magic - today it was just tennis" .. Also check out Akshay's article yesterday ("against all odds") about Ronald Agenor .. Interesting stuff about how Ronald felt discriminated against in France, after 17 years of being there, once he stopped playing earlier and started a tennis academy, and how it caused him to get back into tennis and move to Los Angeles where he feels he is appreciated for what he was .. Ronald is even writing a book about everything he had to go through to get back to tennis.

Ramesh Krishnan was interviewed by newspaper folks and had some nice and frank comments about where India stands in tennis .. See S.Kannan's article in the Hindustan Times .. Ramesh has been in email contact with Mahesh and will be seeing him this weekend (unlike I reported yesterday, MB is not yet in Chennai - he is in Bangalore and will be at the Gold Flake Open by the weekend) .. Here are some excerpts from the article:

He sees his role not just limited to Davis Cup, but will also make suggestions to the parent body on how to organise the circuit for players from the junior level. "We need to have a proper system for a child to go through." .. At a time when there has been considerable debate in the media whether a coach for the Davis Cup team was important or not, Ramesh had some interesting observations to make. "Why should we talk about just a coach for one week, or a few weeks, whenever we play Cup ties. In my view, there should be a coach for Indians when they play Satellites, Futures and Challengers at home, and even the Gold Flake Open .... "He should be a man who will have his pulse closely on the players. It should be somebody who has all the data on players so that in a situation like now, when we need to select the fourth member of the team, he will have all information available," said Ramesh , who thinks there should be a structured system.
Amen! Hallelujah! .. Go Ramesh Go .. I have written on the need for such close work by a "national coach" quite a few times in these notes and had also said that perhaps the Davis Cup captain/coach would be the right ones to do it - though there can be a junior development officer reporting to him, etc, etc .. Good to see RK thinking on the same lines .. He said he would suggest some of his ideas to AITA .. Ramesh is every bot correct that a coach for a week during Davis Cup is not such a big deal (he joked that "a masseur is more important"), but if it's a bigger role over the year, it could help tremendously .. Not sure who fits the bill for this, but Ramesh Krishnan himself, Bhupathi Sr, etc, would not be bad candidates if they could do it!

The AITA has given wildcards to Syed Fazaluddin, Rohan Bopanna, Mustafa Ghouse and Saurav Panja for the ITF Futures tennis starting at Secunderabad from January 10 .. Manoj Mahadevan is the first alternate .. I am actually glad not to see Sunil Kumar's name in that list -- Not sure if he would be playing there (if so he may need to qualify).

There is an AITA ranking tournament ongoing at Hyderabad this week - Vinod Sridhar, SK Shivshankar, Vijay Kannan and Vasudev reddy have reached the semifinals there .. Sheetal Gautam, SK Tara and Geeta Manohar are in the women's SFs.

Jan 05 Notes

After the big carnage yesterday when the 1, 5, 6 seeds were upset and the 3rd seed withdrew, the form continues today at the Chennai Open, as the 7th seed Agenor lost in the second round, and now the top seeds in doubles have also lost .. Byron Black and Leander Paes lost 3-6 4-6 to wildcards Christophe Rochus and Julien Boutter (a pair who had looked good in the first round in their shellacking of the Kirtanes, but I am sure not one that LP would have trouble with, had he had his field general Hesh with him..) -- That ends Leander's 13 match doubles win streak in Chennai -- actually Leander has not lost a doubles match in India in some 5 years, including the challengers, Davis Cup and other events - a streak of over 25 matches or so .. Here is our onsite TennisIndia "correspondent", Dr. Sanjeevi from Chennai:

It was a big disappointment for the crowd that had turned up to watch the match. It was Byron Black who was the cause for this defeat. The talents of Hesh were sorely missed ... In the first set Byron lost his serve in the 8th game at 0-40 and they could not comeback and break their opponents serve. In the second match again Byron lost his serve in the third game and BB/LP tried to break JB/CR's serve in game 4 but could not do it. Leander looked quite disappointed with Byron's game and was seen encouraging BB many times. Interestingly Boutter had considerable support from young members of the audience and he was enjoying the popularity he had created for himself ... After the match was over, Leander and Vijay Amrithraj were felicitated by RADO, one of the official sponsor of the tournament. It would have been fitting had LP won this doubles match .... The only India hope in the doubles in M.Ghouse/V.Uppal's match against T.Ketola and Ogorodov which is going to take place in 30 minutes time! ... Other results of todays game are: Martin Damm beat Ronald Agenor 4/6, 6/2, 6/1 .. Lorenzo Manta beat Michael Tabara 6/4, 6/3 .. Tuomas Ketola beat Jiri Vanek 4/6, 6/4,6/4 .. Will be back with more later.
Oh boy .. Come on Mahesh - get well fast .. Leander and we all need you back out there!

By the way, Mahesh is at Chennai and said yesterday that he expects to be back by about May .. He said US Open would be a realistic goal before Olympics .. I believe he will be playing on the tour by about the Rome masters (Super9), but it's not clear if he would be in good enough shape for anything serious at French Open and Wimbledon which follow soon after .. He said that he will sit with Leander later and decide on defending the FO title and all that, depending on how the reahab progresses .. He will be hitting the ball from about March or so but serious service and all that would have to wait till April.  He would not need to play smaller events for the sake of getting back to doubles, but in singles he will virtually have no points left and thus may need to play some smaller events.  We will wish him best and see how it goes, and let's hope Lareau will fill the void to some extent for Leander till then.

At Chennai, today is basically the doubles day with 7 doubles matches scheduled with only the four "less interesting" second round singles matches on tap.  Agenor is the only seed to play today and he has lost too .. Damm/Kafelnikov, the second seeds in doubles and Behr/Ran the 3rd seeds in doubles also play later today .. Tomorrow we will have 2nd seed Pioline, 3rd seed Golmard, 8th seed Vinci and LP of course in a good day of singles matches.

Jan 4 Note-4

Holy Muligatawny! .. Upset city .. Top seed and world #2 Kafelnikov went down 4-6 2-6 to 123rd ranked Michal Tabara just now .. There were all those newspaper reports yesterday about Yevgeny talking about how he was a complete player now, and wanted to take every match seriously, blah, blah, blah .. There was a reason why I did not even mention those reports here .. Why ?  because this has been Yevgeny all his career - and there has been nothing new in his record to suggest that he has changed .. Sad to see yet another top player out .. Down to 3rd seed Golmard and second seed Pioline as the only top-80 players left now .. Chennai Chain Saw massacre .. What a day so far there!

Jan 4 Note-3

Leander won today's first round match at Chennai .. Paes d. Julien Boutter (FRA,133) 6-4, 7-6(6) .. He was down a break at 3-5 in the second set but broke right back and then took it to a tiebreaker to win it .. We will await Sanjeevi's report from the courts [note on Jan 5th: Y2K trouble with email software ? .. Still waiting for this report to arrive :-) .. Sanjeevi had sent one from the media room .. LP basically had a not-so-great game .. Made many mistakes, 6 double faults, but Boutter played well at least in the second set with big serves, but he too made a lot of mistakes - 10 double faults .. LP was great at the net, but still not great from the backcourt -- he will need to be much more solid to get past Pioline in the second round]

Bad news -- Carlos Moya is the latest to pull out there .. Oh my .. Things have been really in a funk, eh ? .. Once again the Chennai folks will miss seeing Moya in good action (he withdrew due to injury after a round last year) .. Official announcement right after the LP match today, according to PTI just now, was that it was due to a "hairline fracture" .. In addition, as we had expected, Uhlirach also pulled out, putting the lucky loser Jiri Vanek in the main draw, who then went on to beat Yaoki Ishii who was also a qualifier, today .. Moya's spot goes to the second lucky loser Tuomas Ketola who faces Ogorodov .. There was also another casuality at the top, as qualifier Jamie Delgado beat 5th seed Byron Black today [Delgado is slated to get into the UK Davis Cup tie as Rusedski is out due to injury, and this is a good start for Jamie, who you would remember playing well in the Indian challengers last month, though he lost to Leander in a final] .. Now, all who remain at Chennai from the top-80 are Kafelnikov, Pioline and Golmard, the 1st, 2nd and 4th seeds .. By the way, the qualifiers are tougher to play in the first tournament, as they have had nice match practice, and Andy Ram looked very good upsetting the top seed Vanek in the qualies .. Don't be surprised if he gives Pioline a big run for his money later tonight too! .. See our Chennai Open page.

Also, here is a nice site, the ChennaiOnline, and their GoldFlakeOpen Special page .. Check it out .. They seem to have got only a handful of hits on that page, when I chanced upon it today .. Why don't you all check them out ? .. They have some nice reports and pictures (there is one picture of Sunil Kumar in action against Agenor) .. Now, I need to ask them to pay me for free publicity :-)

The Chennai Open official site also has become fully oprational (every year they seem do that only after everything gets under way) .. But they continue their tradition of giving excellent live coverage .. They were among the first couple of world series event sites to start ball-by-ball scores a couple of years back .. Once again they have started something new, which is complete stats from all the matches by the end of the day .. I am not sure if this is something ATP has asked tournament sites to do this year, but the Chennai official website folks deserve a lot of credit for being pioneers, so to say!

Jan 4 Note-2

Here is another article on Sunil Kumar's impressive match yesterday .. by Amitava Das Gupta in The Telegraph .. He mentions that Sunil was "brandishing an impressive first serve (he often clocked 185 kmph)" .. That is 115 mph for those in the US .. Pretty darn good for a 16 yr old.

Here is yet another article on Sunil's match with a lot of details and comments from the boy, by Akshay Saway in Mid-Day, Mumbai ..  Akshay had an interview article with Leander too, which is interesting .. Since those Mid-day links will become inactive in a couple of days, here is an interesting excerpt:  In response to a question on what he expects in 2000 in singles, LP said, I want to get my mind, body and game into gear again. The whole of 1999, I let go my singles to such an extent that my singles ranking reached 204 ...  Qn: What will be different in playing with partners other than Mahesh (Byron Black and Sebastien Lareau) ?  You also plan to play the left half of the court instead of the usual right ... Ans: I cannot really compare Mahesh and these guys. Besides, I have never played with Byron before. On the other hand I have played with Sebastien and we reached the US Open semi-final in 1993 .. On playing the advantage court, I still have to discuss it with Byron but most probably that’s what is going to happen. It will need a lot of adjustment. I played the ad court before with Ramesh Krishnan in Davis Cup and we did not lose a match. With Lareau I played the ad court again. But the last four years it has been the deuce court. I am used to looking at it from one angle.  Changing sides means a whole new angle, touch and mindset. But if things do not go well, I might revert to the deuce court. Both Byron and Lareau have got great returns which is good.  ... I like that "incomparable Hesh" line  :-)

Jan 4 Note-1

Leander plays at 5 pm today at Chennai against Julien Boutter, the first match on the center court.

On yesterday's big debut match by Sunil Kumar .. The consensus from newspaper reports is that he came out of it without any harm and with everyone including himself leaving with a positive feeling .. It was certainly a risk, giving a 16 yr old a wildcard and throwing him "to the wolves" which is what I complained about a few times here  .. The question was not whether he deserved it more than say a Srinath; he does deserve everything he is getting - the question was whether it was wise to press him into a big match this early .. Reportedly no harm done and that's a relief - and I am certainly glad that Sunil made me look bad in complaining .. Ever since he started getting the wildcards into the satellites and then the challengers, Sunil's results seemed to be getting somewhat worse and worse everytime [some of it probably because he is more of a marked man for his opponents now!] and there was some reason for concern that the losses may have been affecting him .. He even had a first round loss to Vijendra Laad (who is talented, but is somebody Sunil had beaten at the Delhi nationals) last week at Chennai to add to the concern .. I guess we shouldn't worry though .. He came out today and went stroke for stroke against somebody like Ronald Agenor, once ranked as high as #22 and now back in the top-100 ..

The reports on Sunil's match -- here is Nirmal Sekhar in The Hinduhere is Anand Philar in the Indian Expresshere is Sutram Suresh in the Times of India, ..

The way Sunil played today, it is clear that he has the right attitude and is taking things the right way .. Most impressive is that he has not been nervous and it doesn't look like he is feeling any pressure, and that is the mark of a champion ..  We may have a gem in our hands, but let us not celebrate just yet - Sunil has work to do, and given time he will do it .. I for one only want to see him getting into a junior grand slam, playing the very best junior players and may be even winning a junior GS title like Ramanathan, Ramesh, Leander, etc before him .. Serious pro circuit play can wait for a couple more years at least .. Today's match would be a nice and positive one where he can stop his early dabbling into the pro circuit .. He has to have got enough of a taste of what it is like and I am sure he has learned the kind of things he needs to work on .. Let us hope he won't be sent to waste time in any futures matches with more wildcards later this month and miss the chance to pick up ITF junior points .. I doubt he can easily be beaten in the subcontinental junior circuit by anybody and though it may be a drag for him and everyone else to watch him beat up juniors now, the 150 odd points he picks up would be needed before he can get well-seeded into the higher grade circuit in the far east later and then the junior grand slams .. He may have to miss a junior event if he is picked up for Davis Cup, which may not be all that bad as it gives some time for those like Leander to advise him more (he is surely not be asked to play) ..

Perhaps I should write about playing the juniors .. Here is the junior ITF Asian Circuit:

Jan 17  Grade-4  Colombo      Sri Lanka
Jan 24  Grade-4  Delhi        India
Jan 31  Grade 4  Chandigarh   India
Feb 07  Grade 5  Calcutta     India
Feb 14  Grade 4  Rajshahi     Bangladesh
Feb 21  Grade-3  Dhaka        Bangladesh
Even winning titles at all those events would give a player only under 250 points .. The junior circuit continues in the Far East ..
Feb 28  Grade-4  Bandar       Brunei
Mar 06  Grade-3  Jakarta      Indonesia
Mar 13  Grade-3  Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Mar 21  Grade-2  Singapore    Singapore
Mar 27  Grade-2  Bangkok      Thailand
Apr 04  Grade-2  Manila       Philippines
Apr 11  Grade-1  Nagoya       Japan
That far east circuit gets tougher competition, and offers over  400 points or so if one wins all the titles .. Sunil Kumar would do well to play at least 3 events in the subcontinent (he will have no points and ITF ranking as of Feb 7th, otherwise!) and then play some higher competition in the east .. One needs around 250 points or more to get a grand slam entry, though I believe there are other ways for those who are ranked tops nationally (but Sunil's ranking is not at the top in any of the AITA age categories as he has played 16s, 18s and seniors this year!) .. The best scenario would be for him to not have to play the lower ranked ITF events after this and only play the higher ranked players, ie, top-20 caliber ITF junior players with over 500 points, whom you get to play only in the Grand Slams and higher grade events .. Going through a lot of good matches at that level would help him build those instincts of a top quality winner, especially in playing the big points and in closing out tough matches .. If he is made of the kind of material that we all think he is made of, we may see him come up like a Vinciguerra (or even a Lleyton Hewitt!), ready to play the big boys in the pros as early as even next year .. Boy, I am such a great dreamer sometimes! .. At least in Sunil's case, money and sponsorship for travel is now not a problem .. Why not do it right, and take the right steps to get to the top? .. No need to hurry, and we don't need Sunil right now to play for India anyway.

While we are on this topic - here is something that despite everything AITA has said in the past, they have not done well at all .. That is creating a solid plan to send a team of our top players to these two junior circuits in the subcontinent and the far east, with a coach .. Sunil and AV Rao are certainly good candidates .. AITA promised this at the end of 1998 (you will see me writing a similar piece last year too) and we didn't see anything substantial in 1998 .. It is high-time this is done .. The key ingredient is the right man as the traveling coach ..

Also, the lower grade subcontinental circuit and the highest grade events (grand slams) are not all there is to the junior circuit .. The former hardly gives any competition and the latter is just too tough .. Indians almost never play any Grade-A type event (one step below grand slams) like the Orange Bowl or any Grade-1 Grade-2 events .. By the way, when was the last time we saw an Indian doing well at the orange bowl junior tournament in Miami, held in december every year ? .. I cannot remember .. Perhaps I should write some of my thoughts after I have recently heard some comments that the junior circuit is a waste of time for a player ..  I wondered why I find almost every one of the newcomers lately and the grand slams winners of the past years to have played and reached the top levels of juniors .. Take a look at the finalists in the last 12 years at the Orange Bowl -- 1998 Federer d. Coria, 1997 Massu d. Rake, 1996 A.Martin d. Di Pasquale, 1995 Zabaleta d. Haas, 1994 Lapenti d. Kuerten, 1993 A. Costa d. Carratero, 1992 Spadea d. Eltis, 1991 Charpentier d. Alami, 1990 Medvedev d  Fernandez, 1989 Meligeni d. Lopez, 1988 Rosset d. Pescosolido, 1987 Courier d. Cherkasov .. Massu and federer are two of the best few newcomers last year in the tour and Haas, Lapentti, Kuerten, etc are well known .. Others who have played at the orange bowl finals -- Borg, McEnroe, Lendl, Becker, Leconte, Wilander, Edberg, Corretja, Boetsch, Santoro, Safin, etc, etc, etc .. Many seem to think that some of those guys just popped out of nowhere having not played at the top levels of junior tennis .. Not true - they have all taken the junior circuit seriously before or at the same time they were learning the ropes on the pro circuit .. I would love to see an Indian do well in a top event like the Orange Bowl .. or at the Copa Ericsson, or even Japan Open or Copper Bowl or Coffee Bowl or  Mali Milk Cup .. It gives you some confidence that the player has "paid the dues", so to say, and polished their skills .. We need to realize that playing the subcontinental ITF circuit at age 18 and then going a  round or two and out in a grand slam is not the way to do it - the junior circuit is of use only if one plays the best junior players at the bigger events ..  Once again, I repeat, champions are not made that easily .. It takes careful planning and work .. I am sorry to say that Indian kids have fallen way behind in getting the correct advice on planning things.  There are of course those in India who know what to do, but their advices need to be sought!

I didn't set out to type all this about the junior circuit, but at the beginning of a new year, with promising players to look forward to, what better time to get into it, huh ? ..

Dec 3 Note-2

Leander Paes and Byron Black made the crowd happy at Chennai with a first round win against Sander Groen and Laurence Tieleman .. Hedre is our onsite fanclub reporter, Sanjeevi again:

BB-LP won their first round double match against LT-SG 6/3, 7/6(8) .. In the first set BB-LP were in command. They broke the LT serve in game 3 and held on to their serve to win the set 6/3. In the second set BB-LP broke LT-SG in game 4 but in game 9 LP lost his serve and the set went to tiebreak. In the tie-break BB lost both his serve and they were down 2-5. With great effort from LP and BB they levelled it at 5-5 and went to in the tie-break 8-6. This was a nice match and the crowd was screaming for LP. Poor LT and SG there were no one to cheer them .... Sunil kumar played doubles qualifying with AV Rao immediately after his singles match against J-Layne and A.Parmar and lost the match 2/6, 0/6. I did not watch the match but saw the score ... Tomorrow the first match in the center court is between Leander and Boutter followed by Ogordov vs Carlos Moya followed by Kefelnikov vs Tabara follwed by A.Ram vs Cedric Pioline ... In the final round of qualies Ram beat Vanek 6/4, 6/4 (Q1); Delgado beat Eyal Ran 2/6, 6/2, 6/1 (Q2); Ishi beat Ketola 6/3, 6/1 (Q3) and Spottl beat Cowan 6/3, 6/4 (Q4) .... Anand, Vijay, and Ashok Amrithraj were there. The winners of the singles matches in center court were interviewed for the TV by Anand ..Mohammed Azaruhhidin was a special guest in today's match.
That's the news .. More later.

Jan 3 Note-1

At the Gold Flake Open today, Sunil Kumar played a very good match today and shouldn't be ashamed of the loss he had against the 7th seed Ronald Agenor, it seems ..  Just got the report from the onsite fanclub member, Dr. Sanjeevi .. Ron Agenor d. Sunil Kumar, 6-4, 6-4 .. Here is Sanjeevi reporting:

Sunil Kumar's match with Agenor concluded just now. Sunil played well and showed that he deserved the wild card he received for the Goldflake Open .. In spite of his young age and lack of big match experience he played much much better than any of the Indian players who played in the qualifying rounds. He lost to Agenor 6/4, 6/4. In the first set he broke Agenor's serve in game 3 but lost his serve in game 4. Finally in the game 10 his lack of  experience showed and he lost his serve after 5 dueces. The same thing happened in the second set though no serveice games were broken. Again in the 10th game of the second set he lost his serve to the much experienced 35 years old Agenor. Agenor was the oldest player in this tournament and Sunil was the youngest player. The crowd support was maximum for Sunil and all the Indian players were there to support him off court. This was the best match of the day 1 ... I think Sunil should now concentrate on junior tournaments and win them to get the much needed experience in professional tennis ... I'll come back to send you the report of Leander's doubles match which has started in the center court ... In tomorrow's schedule (4th January, 2000) Leander is playing the first singles match against Boutter in the center court ..
Thanks for the report .. Go Sunil !! .. Nobody expected him to win his very first big event match, but he can make use of the experience from a loss like this where he was able to play a top-100 player that closely.

What's up with the tournament website, which was so good the last couple of years with live scores ? .. No live scores so far  .. The results page link and the scoreboard link are not active (but they have updated the draw page with some scores).. Good to have Sanjeevi out there to help us with occasional updates by email.

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the week ending on Jan 3rd ..

I am getting some enquiries from US college coaches who are interested in Indian junior players .. I would like to be able to contact Indian players (some of the coaches are enquiring about specific names) .. If any of the junior players are reading this, please contact me .. Or if any of the other readers know the contact emails/address for any junior player, let me know .. I would like to have a mailing list where I can post general announcements and enquiries from the coaches too .. Please email me - R.Jayakrishnan.