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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for the week ending on Jan 13, 2002
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Jan 13 Note-1

Amanjot Singh and Megha Vakharia went down in the first round of the ITF Grade-1 Australian hardcourts junior championships today .. 43rd ranked Amanjot lost to Gunter Austerhuber (AUT,81) the highest ranked player to come through the qualifying rounds, 16 46 .. Unfortuante to see that Amanjot has not had a quality win in a very long time .. 88th ranked Megha lost to Olga Puchkova (BLR,131), 16 06 .. Sania Mirza has not played yet .. Some more first round matches were yet to be done, and I am not sure if Rohan Gajjar, waiting as the first lucky loser, made it into the draw .. Also not sure of Stephen Amritraj (USA,73) in singles - I believe he lost to Johann-Georg Frankheuser (AUT,46), but I haven't seen the score .. In the doubles draw, Amanjot and Rohan are drawn against Christopher Letcher and Christopher Roman (AUS) in the R1 .. Rishi Behl and Yu-Da Shieh (TPE) play the top seeds Tomas Berdych (CZE) and Brendan Evans (USA) .. 6th seeds Stephen Amritraj (USA) and Josh Cohen (USA) play the Thai pair, Anuwat Dalodom and Sratha Saengsuwarn .. In girls' doubles, Sania Mirza and her partner in last week's grade-2 title run, Linda Smolenakova (SVK), are seeded 6th .. They play Darya Ivanov and Tiffany Welford of AUS .. Sasha Abraham is playing with Amani Khalifa of Egypt - they face a talented US pair, Nicole Pitts and Sunitha Rao .. Sunitha Rao (USA) has advanced to the second round of singles ..

Jan 12 Notes

Mahesh and Jeff Tarango played a close match in the semis, but fell in the end .. #2 Bhupathi/Tarango l. #4 M.Garcia/ C.Suk, 76(5) 46 67(5) ..  Now it's off to Australian Open for MB, for doubles with LP next week starting wednesday.

The Indian Davis Cup team to travel to Lebanon (Feb 8-10) was announced today .. Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Harsh Mankad and Rohan Bopanna, with Vijay Kannan as the alternate .. Fazaluddin, as we reported earlier, has now retired from playing .. So, 21 yr old Rohan Bopanna makes his debut in the team .. Well deserved, based on his results in the Indian satellites, and then his impressive work in Australia, reaching the semifinal of a futures with an upset of the second seed Peter Luczak (AUS,290) who is a very tough and talented player to beat .. Vijay Kannan gets back ito the national plans after he showed that he is not to be forgotten just yet, with his title at the DSCL national championships beating Bopanna in the final (and beating seeded Mustafa, Ajay and Vinod Sridhar along the way) .. Harsh Mankad, now ranked #2 in US college tennis with an incredible fall season, is automatic into the team.

At the prestigious ITF grade-1 Australian hardcourt juniors, 8th seed Sania Mirza plays Daniella Dominikovic (AUS), Megha Vakharia faces Olga Puchkova (BLR), Amanjot Singh plays Gunter Austerhuber (AUT) and Stephen Amritraj (USA) goes against Johan-Georg Fankhauser (AUT) .. No good news from the qualies, though.. 2nd seed Rohan Gajjar won one round against Todd Ley (AUS) 64 64, but went down to the 9th seed Daniel Sebescen 57 46 .. All others lost in the first round .. Jason Mok upset the 13th seed Rishi Behl 57 64 61 .. 15th seed Leon Soonalole beat Sujay V Reddy 62 60 .. Natalie Tanevska upset #8 Sasha Abraham 61 75.

Jan 11 Note-2

Mahesh's SF match Friday evening at Auckland was stopped due to rain at 5-5 in the first set, and is postponed to saturday morning 10.45 am ((3.15 am India, 4.45pm FRI New York) .. If MB-Tarango advance, they will play the final later on Saturday.

The qualifying rounds for the Grade-1 Australian Hardcourts ITF juniors are starting at Glen Waverly, Australia .. Sania, Megha, Amanjot and Stephen Amritraj (USA) are in the main draw, I believe .. Rohan Gajjar is  the second seed and plays Todd Ley (AUS) in the qualies .. 13th seed Rishi Behl plays Jason Mok (AUS) and unseeded Sujay V Reddy plays #15 Leon Soonalole (ASA) .. Sasha Abraham is seeded 8th in the girls qualies and faces Natalie Tanevska (AUS) .. This tournament is the big preparation event before the AO juniors the week after next ..

Jan 11 Note-1

Mahesh and Jeff Tarango have reached the semifinal at the $357K Heineken ATP at Auckland .. They beat Luxa and Novak easily, 60 64 in the QF, and now faces the 4th seeds Martin Garcia (ARG) and Cyril Suk (CZE) in the SF .. They will be playing the semifinal today itself (and you can watch it at the center court webcam at the official site, http://www.atptennis.com/auckland/  - it is just starting, as I type, at 7.30 pm in Auckland .. 12 noon India, 1.30 am New York) .. Top seeds Bjorkman-Woodbridge won the first semifinal today.

Jan 10 Notes

The second seeds Mahesh and Jeff Tarango reached the QF today at the $357K Auckland ATP in New Zealand, beating the wildcards Alistair Hunt, and Daniel Willman of NZL, 64 64 .. They play Peter Luxa and Jiri Novak in the semis on Friday .. Incidentally, I find that Nalbandian, about whom I wrote two days back withdrew from doubles! -- so much for my "analysis" .. One thing about tennis is that you cannot over-analyze anything!

Forgot to mention a couple of days back that AITA revealed plans for a National Tennis Academy to be set up in Gurgaon .. With substantial governmental support, it appears .. It will cost over a crore to set it up .. The AITA president Yashwant Sinha (central finance minister) attended the meeting where they decided this - and that is probably a good sign .. There will also be some other sponsors, a couple of them for a few lakhs each have already been roped in, according to AITA .. The academy is expected to be on par with world class tennis academies, and will admit 72 players, and I believe will also be available for foreign players and others to train at .. Will be run by a foreign coach, for whom the search is on, they say .. OK, so far so good, though I always go back to the problems in similar academies in the past and the results being less than satisfying .. Hopefully we have all learned from past experiences and this attempt will be successful .. We will wait and see.

Also, sorry about the delay in reporting another significant junior news .. Stephen Amritraj (Anand's son, from the USA and now in his final year of junior eligibility) has been terrific in doubles at two prestigious events during the last two weeks .. He won doubles titles with different partners in successive weeks at the Grade-1 Casblanca Cup in Mexico and then the grade-A (same level as a grand slam) Coffee Cup in Costa Rica .. He won the first one with Craig Evans of Britian, and the next one with Rafel Abreau of Venezuela .. That is quite an incredible achievement - that too, to do that with two different partners .. The blitzkrieg up the doubles ladder has raised his ranking all the way to #3 in world junior standings!! .. That is about the highest ever by an Indian - probably at least since Mahesh .. Though he is listed under USA, he is one we can expect to play for India if he proves good enough for that (I have met Stephen - a nice kid, and you can be certain that he has India in his heart) .. On the other hand, the bad news was that he was seeded 9th and 10th in singles at the two events and got upset both times in the first round .. He is ranked #73 in singles and really needs to pick that up considerably .. Congratulations, Stephen!

Jan 09 Notes

I don't know what to say - the Australian open qualifying draw that has come out, and LP didn't make it .. The draw closed at #288 Yong-Il Yoon (or #290 Peter Luczak of Australia, if he is not a wildcard), as far as can see .. LP is at #299 .. Man, can we get a break somewhere? .. The AO qualies have often gone below 300 and even 325, but no such luck this time .. This is just bad karma of some sort, like the Americans would say ..  As I had reported earlier, Nirupama cannot return to tennis for a few more weeks, and so we have nobody at the AO qualies .. This is the pits.

Rain spoiled the day at the Auckland ATP today, and only very few matches were completed .. MB's first round doubles match is now rescheduled for thursday.

OK, some good news to report - Second seeded Sania Mirza and Linda Smolenakova (SVK) won the title at the Grade-2 Victorian juniors, beating Nina Bratchikova and Joulia Vorobieva of  Russia in a comeback, 46 62 64 in the final .. In the semifinal, they had beaten the 8th seeds Katja Blocker (GER) and Hanna Nooni (SWE) 75 62 .. The singles title went to Hanna Nooni and the runner-up was Darya Ivanov who beat Sania in the QFs .. This is the best doubles result in Sania's career, giving her 75 points .. That adds 45 more to her best-6 point total, taking it to 315 .. That will be enough to move her up a few spots to around #35 in the junior world rankings .. Also hopefully Smolenakova could be a good partner for Sania to play with in the upcoming grade-1 Australian hardcourts junior ITF next week and the Australian Open juniors the week after.

Jan 08 Notes

The First round match for Mahesh and Tarango will be the evening featured doubles match on center court at the Auckland ATP on wednesday ..

Sania and Smolenakova won their semifinal today, 75 62, and are in the finals at the grade-2 Victorian juniors ITF tournament!

By the way, if you have not noticed yet, ATP has introduced new entry procedures for doubles .. Basically two spots in a draw of 32 now goes to players who can enter based on their singles rankings .. That means they have one entry cut based on doubles rankings, and another cut based on singles rankings for two spots .. Doubles qualifying has been eliminated .. I believe it is still experimental and will get evaluated in a few weeks .. I think it is a good idea .. Any chance to get more fans to stay on and watch a doubles match is good - and things have got so bad that people are simply not watching doubles matches due to not having any clue about some of the doubles specialists playing it .. ATP has done a terrible job of doing something to bring name-recognition to the doubles players .. It's not that people don't like to watch doubles .. Ask the 40 and over tennis fans who are at tennis tournaments around the world and you would find that if they play tennis, they are playing doubles most of the time .. Doubles requires quite some special skills and can be very entertaining .. On the other hand, however entertaining a match is, it is difficult for the fans to get into it, unless they know at least the name of the players they are watching .. Anyone who has observed the tournaments would know that 90 percent of the fans would rather go out to a side court to watch a singles match between two guys they have at least heard of, say a Malisse playing a Schuettler than a center court doubles match between Cibulec-Luxa and Stepanek-Friedl (no offense to the very capable Czech players, but nobody really knows a damn about these guys!) .. ATP has now put some new rules on tournaments to schedule some evening center court doubles matches - and unless it involves at least some known singles players, it is tough for the tournaments to do it (they have also allowed a super-tiebreaker instead of a 3rd set, to better control on match length and make such scheduling possible) .. The two spots for singles players to play doubles is thus a good idea, as it allows the tournament to find some doubles match to schedule on center court that people would watch ..

There is also another interesting aspect - that people seem to not have noticed - which is that there *may* be some younger singles players who are willing to play some doubles for a while .. These are guys who generally have focused only on singles ranking, and their singles ranks have risen much faster, much higher than their doubles ranking .. Even if they want to play some doubles, they can't .. As an example, David Nalbandian, one of the most talented youngsters coming up, now ranked in the 40s in singles, has a rank near 450 in doubles .. He signed in for doubles at Auckland, playing with Gaston Gaudio .. Obviously the guy wanted to play doubles (quite different than the old doubles wildcard where the tournaments begged the big names to play some doubles to add color to the event - those singles primadonnas normally had no interest but to tank a match) .. Nalbandian may be a top-20 players pretty soon, but he is young and could possibly play doubles for a couple of years if he has a chance to do so - till he realizes like Hewitt that it is not easy to do both ..  But during this process if he plays even 20 extra doubles matches, he may bring 20,000 new fans in the stands for those matches - more than what all but about 10 top doubles teams would bring out in their whole careers  .. I am not kidding; McEnroe is right on this - people are just not watching doubles - I don't agree with Mac's reason that it is because they are all worthless players (compared to when he played,  as the pompous legend thinks) .. Doubles is in such bad shape because ATP and the media have simply killed doubles, by not giving any exposure to it anywhere .. Name recognition is the biggest first reason for anyone to watch somebody in sports - and there has been zero avenues for doubles players to get name recognition - whether it is by score updates, daily previews at tournaments, head-tohead stats, newspaper articles (associated press is the worst enemy of doubles in the world) ..

Back to Nalbandian as an example .. If this guy plays doubles and brings new fans, those are the same folks who will in turn see the doubles specialists and finally, by accident, appreciate the kind of tennis they can play .. Santoro and Grosjean teamed up and made the draw at Sydney this week based on their singles ranks .. I am sure there is a doubles match that some folks will go and see .. Heck, frankly, if there are even 3 doubles matches that are watched by more than 2000 people in an ATP event, that is a big achievement [Chennai is the only tournament in the world where a doubles team keeps the tournament itself going!] .. I think if there is interest from more singles players to play doubles, they should increase the 2 spots to 3 or 4 .. I am sure doubles specialist ranked below 40s and 50s would complain, as their spots are taken away, but they will all get more chance at exposure to fans, if there are some more known (and apparently more respected) singles players playing against them ..

Even more importantly, the good doubles players will get a chance to beat the singles players and show that doubles is really a different game and that their skills should be respected as well .. Because teams like LP-MB will flat out destroy these ES (entry by singles-rank) teams 9 out of 10 times - it doesn't matter who teams up, and however seriously they play .. I will write it down and place a bet on it .. More chance to showcase to the tennis fans that they have really been missing something by not watching doubles .. I say it's about time .. Count me in as one who supports what ATP is doing (though I can go on and on about so many things they are NOT doing to help doubles, I will hold those back for now .. Also, they have not even had a press release yet about any of these changes they have made in doubles .. Top secret stuff, I presume :-))

I am not dissing the doubles teams here - just talking some reality, and expressing my desire to see something done to bring proper respect to doubles .. And of course, none of the above apply to LP-MB, one of the very few teams who DO bring out fans in many places .. I just heard from a fanclub member, that an American friend of his was told by the San Jose tournament that the featured players are those like Agassi and Paes-Bhupathi ! .. There aren't' too many doubles teams who ever become "featured" - Indian Express, Bjorkman-Woodbridge, etc, are the few like that.

Jan 07 Notes

Mahesh and Jeff Tarango are in the doubles draw at the $357K Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand, and they get an easy first round match against wildcards Alistair Hunt and Daniel Willman of New Zealand .. Good doubles field there .. Bjorkman-Woodbridge are the top seeds, and Ferreira-Leach the 3rd seed there .. Wasn't it about 12 years back that 58-yr old Rick Leach said he was retiring from tennis? .. OK, may be four years back .. and I think he is perhaps younger than 58 :-) .. Leach had said last year that he was about to become an assistant coach under his father Dick Leach, the head coach at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where Prakash Amritraj is incidentally in the team .. I guess it's just an annual habit for Rick Leach to talk about quitting pro doubles .. Anyway, why should he? -- he is still among the best out there and can still make a cool $300K a year from that.

I believe Leander will be at the Australian Open qualies, but it worries me that his name is not in the commitment list for the qualies that I saw .. He did not make the original list for qualifying where the cut was at #266 (his ranking is at #299), but his name was also not in the alternate list for qualifying, which shows a handful of names ranked below him .. That means he probably did not enter for it, knowing that he will be able to sign in .. I assume that he will make it in, because the AO qualifying cut normally falls quite a bit below #300 by the time the qualies start .. We will wait for the qualifying draw at AO to come out in a couple of days.

Here are the newspaper articles on yesterday's LP-MB match - by, by Prajwal Hegde (Deccan Herald) and by S. Kannan (Hindustan Times), by Sutram Suresh (Times of India), and by Srinivasa Raghavan (Indian Express) .. Here is the write-up on the singles final, by  Nirmal Shekhar (The Hindu) ..

At the Victorian Juniors ITF grade-2 event in Australia, the top seed, 29th ranked Sania Mirza got upset today in the QF by Darya Ivanov (AUS,109), 61 60 .. In the 3rd round she had beaten the 16th seed Diana Julainto (INA), 26 64 64 in a three-hour match .. Sania (now ranked #42 in doubles) did make the doubles semifinal in the company of the new partner Linda Smolenakova (SVK,54) .. After a first round bye, they beat Nusa Gradisnik (SLO) and Nadja Pavic (CRO) 75 60 and then beat Dubravka Cupac (AUS) and Casey Dellacqua (AUS), the top two Australian u16 players, 26 62 60 in the QF .. They play the 8th seeds Katja Blocker (GER) and Hanna Nooni (SWE) in the SF .. One news report said that Sania looked "tired" in the doubles match; perhaps because of her tough win against Julianto - I wonder if that is what caused her surprisingly poor match against Darya Ivanov in the singles QF .. Sania had beaten Darya in a three-setter last March at the Mali Milk Cup grade-2 in Thailand, actually .. In the doubles second round, Sevvy Gallios (AUS) and Megha Vakharia went down to the 6th seeds Diana Julianto and Pichaya Laosirichon (THA), 06 36.

In other junior news, according to The Hindu, the "most promising junior'' award was presented to Karan Rastogi, in a special ceremony at the 2002 Tata Open, on Saturday.  The award was sponsored by Daikin, the official air-conditioner of the tournament .. Karan got to interact with those like LP, MB, RK and the Amritrajs - it's good for kids to get a encouraged like that .. I believe Karan will be playing the subcontinental ITF circuit next .. The circuit starts with a Grade 4 in Sri Lanka, followed by Delhi (G3), Chandigarh (G4), Kolkata (G4), and then the final two in Bangladesh at Rajshahi (G3) and Dhaka (G3) .. I hope to see those like Tushar Liberhan make a mark in this circuit, also .. See Jan 04 Note-3 for my Indian juniors new-year preview.

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the week ending on Jan 7 ..

I am getting some inquiries 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 inquiring 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 inquiries from the coaches too .. Please email me - R.Jayakrishnan.