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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for week ending on Feb 1, 1999

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Feb 1 Note-1

Mahesh gets qualifier Wesley Whitehouse (RSA,350) in the first round at the $50K+H Indian Oil Servo Calcutta challenger .. 19 year old Wesley is a former Wimbledon junior champion and was among the top-10 most improved teenage players of the year according to ATP as he reached close to #250 late last year (by the way, Paradorn Srichaphan was another player I remember in that list) .. He was also part of one of the most shameful incidents in Indian tennis last year, as he was given a wildcard (along with a German kid Bjorn Phau) to the Chennai ATP Open, by the foreigners who ran that big circus .. Not his fault - I am only mad at the spinelessness of the Indians who stood and watched Srinath and Fazal not being given wildcards, despite both being unable to play even the quals, as they were playing for India at Italy over the weekend .. Man, that affair still makes my blood boil .. Anyway, Wesley is a very talented kid, and Mahesh will have a tough match .. Now I am not sure who plays Fazal - Deccan Herald says Noam Behr, and Hindustan Times says Barry Cowan .. I have requested fax/email of draws and results - hopefully I will get some from South Club .. I am told both LP and MB will play their first rounds only on Tuesday.

This is reportedly the first ATP challenger to be held in Calcutta - amazing as it seems, considering the history of the South Club grasscourts and the respect it commands in the tennis world .. Leander has never played professional matches there, where he grew up learning grasscourt tennis - he has only played Davis Cup there .. S. Kannan (Hindustan Times) makes the observation in connection with the AO show, that Leander's performances have invariably been superb each time he has fought his way back to form after a lay-off .. This is true, as we saw at Chennai last year and then at Newport and NewHaven .. I too had noticed this about Leander, but didn't want to say it and jinx it - I guess Kannan has gone and done it :-) .. Let's hope LP continues the doubles form into singles too .. Kannan's comments on Mahesh - As for Mahesh, he is a strong man with a voracious appetite for hard work. “These guys play so much, rarely are they fully fit,” said Enrico Piperno, coach of Mahesh .. Even as the Bangalore man was firing cannon balls at practice session today, trainer Sanjay Singh was preparing the ice pack to apply it on his sore shoulder. Mahesh does not have the best pair of legs, but his volleying skills have improved so vastly, he can be a good bet here ... What coach Piperno is really banking on is Mahesh getting off to a good start. “He has done so well on Wimbledon grass, and there is no reason why he should not do well here,” said Piperno.. Both MB and LP can use some points .. Leander has 90 points to defend in Feb-March (70 from the Bangkok challenger title) and with only Dubai, Indian Wells and Lipton planned for the 7 weeks after this, and with Leander having singles direct entry only at Lipton, some points from a challenger is always good .. MB has 32 of his 90 points to defend from the 4-week Asian challenger sequence last year too ..

Jan 31 Note-2

Early info on the draw at Calcutta - Leander plays Oscar Burrieza (#259, ESP) in the first round - Not necessarily an easy match .. Burrieza was in the top-150 in early 98, but has fallen off a bit lately .. Mahesh had a win over him at the Bangkok challenger last march .. Not sure how the Spaniard will handle grass, though .. As for Mahesh, he is to play a qualifier in the first round .. Then he faces the winner of Tramacchi vs Srinath .. So, Sri has a tough match in the first round against the Australian, Peter Tramacchi (#230), who has been close to top-100 recently, and was the winner of the Vadodara challenger last April on grass .. No other info yet - we will know more soon, on the qualifiers, the draw, etc.

Jan 31 Note-1

The Colombo trip has proven to be a good one for Sheetal Gautam - she won a grand double, with a singles title yesterday to add to her doubles title Friday .. She beat Valaria Khazova of Khazakstan, 6-2, 6-1 in the final .. In the boys' doubles final, Akshay Vishal Rao and Karan Doctor lost 4-6, 4-6 to Hendrick Chasse (SUI) and Mark Weaver (GBR) [source: Sunday Times, Colombo] .. The Indian boys seem to have not liked their trip down there at all .. All the results I have seen are at the Columbo ITF juniors page.

The International Tennis Federation has just released the latest world junior ranks (dated Jan 26) .. All those with 1980 dates of birth have dopped off the list and the first rank list of the year moves a lot of players up, if my understanding is correct .. that means about 50 off from the top 100 for boys and about 25 off the list for girls .. The Indians' standings now are as follows (with birthdates and ranks) .. Boys: 1) Kedar Tembe (5/81, 119), 2) Akshay Vishal Rao (5/82, 120), 3) Manoj Mahadevan (6/81, 153), 4) Karan Doctor (5/82, 159), 5) Ravi Kiran Bhat (6/81, 164), 6) Dipesh Rao (9/81, 207), 7) Punna Vishal (1/84, 237), 8) Saif Ali (2/81, 238), 9) Nirmit Shetty (9/81, 256), 10) Rohan Saikia (3/81, 258) .. Girls: 1) Sheetal Gautam (6/81, 105), 2) Shruti Dhawan (3/82, 161), 3) Radika Tulpule (2/82, 181), 4) Radhika Mandke (2/81, 303), 5) Vadali Kameswari (1/82, 330), 6) Jahnavi Sundararajan (7/81, 442), 7) Sonal Phadke (6/82, 457), 8) Nona Wagh (??, 535), 9) Geeta Manohar (12/83, 585), 10) T. Sricharanya (3/82, 585) ..

Kedar, Manoj, RK Bhat, Dipesh, Saif, Nirmit and Rohan have their last junior year, as do Sheetal, R.Mandke, and Jahnavi .. The kids with a lot of time left to bring up their rankings and get up there by next year are, AV Rao, Karan Doctor, Kamala Kannan and P.Vishal on the boys' side and Shruti, Radhika Tulpule, Kameshwari, Sonal, etc on the girls' side .. Sheetal is the highest ranked now and should be cracking the top-100 rightaway with the best start of the year so far, with the titles in Sri Lanka .. One thing to keep in mind is that the rankings also depend on how many ITF tournaments they play .. Right now on the boys' side, there are a few other 83 and 84 batch players who are very good but aren't high up because they have played only 1 or 2 events - Sunil Kumar (4/83), Parantap Chaturvedi (3/84), CS Mohanty (10/83), Anant Sitaram, are notable - Others like Benjamin Xavier, Pratim Parekh, Rohan Gajjar, Vikrant Sane etc are high up in the AITA rankings based on the domestic junior circuit .. Similarly, Nandita Chandrashekhar, Isha Lakhani, Priyanka Parekh etc are high on AITA rankings among both under-14s and under-16s .. Also, Manoj Mahadevan was much higher ranked last year, and I am not sure if he will be playing all that many junior events now.

That's an update on the junior situation (also see my Notes on Jan 24, last week) - Let us see how high Sheetal, AV Rao, Karan, Kedar, etc reach - Anyone who picks up 2-3 titles in the subcontinental circuit will have a chance at getting into Frech, Wimbledon, USO junior draws ..

Jan 30 Note 3

The news from Calcutta is not good - Every one of the 6 Indians who played in the first round of the qualifiers today lost, according to The Statesman, Calcutta .. In what has turned out be a very disappointing few weeks for Vijay Kannan (hope he gets out of the funk soon), he lost his 8th match in a row, this time 2-6, 4-6 to Andy Ram of Israel, who has made it a habit of beating Indians, having done that to Fazal twice in the past few months too .. Grass is probably not the surface that suits Kannan, though .. Vinod Sridhar had a close match with former Wimbledon junior champion and 7th seed in the qualies, Wesley Whitehouse, which he lost in two tiebreakers .. Manoj Mahadevan had a 6-7(5), 4-6 loss to 6th seed Andrew Richardson .. Nitin Kirtane, Saurav Panja, and S.Zaman also lost .. See the Calcutta Challenger page.

Finally got some news on the ITF junior tournament in Colombo (source: Indian Express) - Sheetal Gautam won the semifinal over Lei Yi Ying of Taiwan on Friday and is in the final against Valaria Khazova of Khazakstan .. Sheetal has already won the doubles title with Sonia Shellar over Radhika Tulpule and Radhika Mandke .. On the boys's side, only N.Mukundan was in the QF and he lost there, after AV Rao, Karan Doctor, etc got upset in the round of 16 .. Rao and Doctor (who are both ranked in the world top-75 in doubles in the latest ITF ranking) are in the doubles final, though .. No news yet on what happened in today.

Jan 30 Note-2

A correction from my recap earlier - it was LP who served that final game when Bjorkman-Rafter broke the Indian Express to clinch the five-setter .. We were all too excited/exhausted, and missed checking who was serving, as we followed the ball-by-ball updates at the AO site.

According to Nirmal Shekhar in Sunday's The Hindu, Rafter said after the match, ``I was almost as happy as I was when I won my second U.S. Open. Those guys made us play our best. I was really impressed with them out there. It's tough to believe they were playing their first Slam final. We were a little bit lucky in the end,'' .. ``We fought like hell to even the match. It is our first final. Maybe the next one will go our way,'' said Bhupathi ... Paes singled out the quality of Bjorkman's service returns as the key to their opponents' victory. ``Jonas was superb. We got in a little edgy. But this experience has taught us a lot,'' ... More from Nirmal - Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, playing the match of their lives, won some significant territory in the hearts of over 15,000 people on the centre court as they went down in five thrilling sets to Patrick Rafter and Jonas Bjorkman. The Indians' claim to a permanent place in the hearts of Melbourne's tennis fans is indisputable ... Pulling themselves together after a poor start on an alien stage in their first ever Grand Slam final together, Paes and Bhupathi raised visions of a historic triumph as they fended off a matchpoint in the fourth set tiebreak to take the match into the decider ... And, in the fifth set too, the Indian pair stayed very much in the fight for the most part before Rafter and Bjorkman, fuelled by an adrenalin surge triggered by the tremendous support from the crowd, broke Paes' serve in the 10th game for a 6-3, 4- 6, 6- 4, 6-7(10), 6-4 victory in three hours and 16 minutes on a cold, mostly overcast, afternoon ... If the match wasn't quite an epic for sustained quality, then it was as dramatic as anything we've seen here this fortnight. The Channel Seven announcer called it a `real ripper' during the awards ceremony. It certainly was a seat-edge thriller, not the least because it featured that marvellous fourth set tiebreak ...

In the interview after the match, LP and MB said they were of course a bit on the edge at the beginning of the match, playing in front of a crowd of 15,000 for the first time - apparently, there was a even a mexican wave going around the crowd, started by the Aussie and Swedish fans, who clearly outnumbered the Indians ..  LP took an injury time-out in the 4th set, but in the interview he mentioned that it was just to treat the blisters on his feet - the heel injury is fine and is slowly recovering .. He said he will be there for the Davis Cup in Korea in two weeks, unless he reinjures his stomach muscle or something next week at the Calcutta challenger (he had said this to me a couple of days back, when I asked him after seeing a newspaper bit that Paes' participation was foggy - "You know me - I will be there, if my body doesn't fall apart next week .. Don't worry", was what he said).

By the way, money-wise this is not the biggest pot LP-MB have earned .. They got $150.5 K, but in Australian dollars, which is US $95K to share .. The three Super 9 titles they have were in the $130-155K range .. Pointswise, this was big though - 641 points give them their career-highs at 3972 (MB) and 3931 (LP) .. My quick calculations show the new individual doubles rankings as 1) Haarhuis, 2) Bhupathi, 3) Eltingh, 4) Paes, 5) Nestor, 6) Rafter, 7) Bjorkman, 8) Woodbridge, 9) Woodforde, 10) Knowles .. Bhupathi is ahead of Eltingh and MB is just behind Eltingh, by a few points .. The team rankings should be, 1) Bjorkman-Rafter, 2) Bhupathi-Paes, 3) Galbraith-Haarhuis, 4) Ferreira-Leach, 5) Woodbridge-Woodforde .. We will see the exact rankings Monday from ATP ..

In other news today, Paradorn Srichaphan (who else?) won the singles title at the Mumbai futures .. Apparently this is a one-week swing for Paradorn, who is leaving India to play Davis Cup for Thailand next week .. In doubles, Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse, who have looked good all week, with three upsets to get this far, gave it a good ride in the final but lost in three sets .. See the results at the Mumbai futures page ..

The Sri Lankan newspapers seem to have completely stopped covering the ITF junior event once all the Sri Lankan players lost - no news from quarterfinal onwards, for 2 days .. Unprofessional journalism (it could also be just unprofessional web-site work .. In most cases, the web editors completely short-change the print-edition).

Also, more later, if any Calcutta challenger news trickles in ..

Jan 30 Note-1

Well.. what can I say? .. Frankly, I am feeling surprisingly not-so-disappointed, despite it being a 5-setter grand slam final loss for the Indian Express - sort of self-assured that our boys are only taking babysteps upwards .. One more babystep needed - and I am sure in the next 2-3 grand slams, we will get to see that .. The Woodies' words (quoted below) came true - just a bit more experience needed at this level for our guys .. But man, what a fight they put up!

In case you didn't know, it was a marathon 3 hour 20 minutes 5-setter which our dudes lost 3-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(12-10), 4-6 .. the match started with both MB and LP unable to get their serves in right - may be a bit of rare nerves ? .. MB dropped serve in the first game, and LP barely hung on in game 3 .. After the first 4 or 5 games, Bjorkman/Rafter had won some 20 points to 5 or 6 by our pair .. From then on, it was an extremely even match where our pair matched them point-for point .. LP-MB got their first break at the right time, in the 10th game of the seond set to tie it up .. Then LP dropped serve in the first game of the 3rd set - the first time he did that in 9 sets .. they evened it up with a break in the 4th game, but then at an inopportune time, LP again dropped serve in the 9th game, and our pair was in a do or die situation, down a set .. The 4th set was the most closely contested one, and neither side could force a break .. We were in a tiebreaker .. The last time these two teams played a tiebreaker, at Queens, LP-MB had lost 12-14 .. This time they pulled it out 12-10 - Incredible show there by LP-MB to subdue two players of Bjorkman's and Rafter's caliber .. So, after a 61 minute 4th set, we were in the decider - again it was close, and our pair had a chance for a break in the 3rd game that they couldn't capitalize on .. In the 10 game, MB was down 0-30 and then 15-40 .. Saved one match point there, but couldn't do it once more .. The stats show our pair with 10 double faults to 1 by Bjorkman-Rafter (that's very high-quality service by them) .. LP-MB were 2 of 6 in break attempts, the opponents 3 of 9 .. 152 points to 166 .. 197 kph maximum serve speed by MB, and 192 by Rafter .. 61% first serves in play, from LP-MB, and 71% from Bjorkman-Rafter, which was a key stat too. We will await eye-witness reports soon ..

I am told that this match was shown live in Abu Dhabi .. The question is, if they can do that there, shouldn't the Doordarshan people be ashamed of their inability to move their collective behinds ?? .. When will they change ? - The Indians missed a historic match - though it was a loss (only the 4th loss in 16 finals for the Indian Express), I am sure they would have appreciated seeing what a pair of the finest sportsmen the country has ever produced, are made of ..

So, the new rankings will have LP-MB back at #2, behind Bjorkman-Rafter at #1 ..

I must thank all the fans who were in our chatroom today, during the match .. We broke all our records for chatroom attendance - even more people than when LP and MB were in the chatroom! .. I had to set up a second chatroom for the overflow crowd, once the first hit its capacity ..

The Calcutta challenger is set to go, and our pair will get there soon .. They will not play doubles - both will play only singles .. I am told that Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan has been given a wildcard there - not confirmed news, though .. I assume MB, Srinath and Fazal have the other three .. I think this is a very nice gesture to give the kid a wildcard (actually, it is just not easy to say which Indian player deserves to get that 4th one - Vijay, Harsh, Vishal, Nitin, etc all have some claim) .. Perfect timing to show that we can still be friendly to a good talented kid from Pakistan, despite all the criticism India is sadly getting these days for no fault of a lot of her people who believe and feel very differently than the events there would seem to suggest ...

Jan 29 Notes

Are you all primed for the doubles final at AO ?? .. I know I am - and I can't wait!! .. Come on into the chatroom (or chatroom-2 if the other room is filled) and let's have fun during the match with the ball-by-ball updates .. It starts within a couple of hours at about 3.30 pm Australia (10 am Saturday, India .. 8.30 pm PST, Friday, USA) .. Plus or minus half hour based on how long the women's singles final lasts before this match at the center court ..

Here are some comments from the interview the Woodies had after their AO semifinal loss, when asked about the chances for the the Indian Express .. Q. How do you rank the Indian pair, who seem to have toppled you a little bit from your mantle? ..TODD WOODBRIDGE: They haven't toppled us personally, though. So there's a little difference yet .. [laughing .. he was trying a little joke there about physical toppling, I guess - of course, our guys have "toppled them", in the Shanghai finals] Q. How do you rate them? .. TODD WOODBRIDGE: They are very good. I think they played very well. They team well, combine well. It will be an interesting match in the final, I think. I think they have still got - maybe the guys who played today have a bit bigger guns than they have got, more experience and can handle the pressure like in the later stage of the big match like that quite well maybe. [not very clear in what he is saying here, but this is how he said it, from the audio archived at the AO site - may be Todd wants to say that our guys still can improve, but chose to be careful saying it?] ... It will be interesting to see what happens with them. It's a test. At the moment they are still feeling their way in these tournaments. It's new territory for them being in the final ... Q. They are a potential long-term, you know, No. 1 for the doubles game? ... TODD WOODBRIDGE: Yes, nothing is for certain, but they are definitely very good and play well together, and want to aspire to that, so they have got every chance of attaining it, I think .. Well, that's what the legends had to say .. They are still not looking at themselves as going away or anything, so don't expect them to be anymore complimentary in their comments - They are on record to want the Sydney Olympics medal badly, and won't retire till them .. So, it's of course a continuing rivalry.

Here are the comments from Bjorkman/Rafter after their semi win - Q. What do you know about the Indian pair that you are going to meet in the final? ... JONAS BJORKMAN: We actually played them in Queens. I got the question from some Swedish guys, media guys, before, and I said I kind of think we never played them; but we beat them in Queens during that tournament, and that's a team that's, I think, has really been solid for like two years period now. They have really been coming up as a top team in doubles, and they don't do too many bad matches. They are just really consistent out there ... PAT RAFTER: They have got good intensity. They keep the - they are very quick, and they keep a lot of pressure on you. That's probably their biggest strengths ... Of course, it being the Australian Open, only Australians' and their partners' interview comments are kept at the official site - so no interview there with LP or MB .. Let's hope to see an interview tomorrow that goes as, "Q -  you seemed to have the match fully under control and kept the pressure on the Swedish-Australian pair throughout .. What was the secret behind the domination ?" .. :-) .. :-)

At Mumbai, some very good news - the scratch pair, Vishal Uppal and Mustafa "Pete" Ghouse had their 3rd good win in a row, beating Ivan Karlovic and Michael Kogan easily, 6-3, 6-4 .. They both get 12 points each for reaching the final .. The other Indian pair in the semis, Harsh Mankad and Nitin Kirtane could not get past the top seeds, Simon Aspelin and Johan Landsberg of Sweden, but would have to be satisfied with 6 points and Rs 5500 each .. Harsh will move up about 50 spots to around 630 and to the #5 spot among Indians in doubles, behind LP, MB and the Kirtanes .. Vishal will move up about 150 spots to around 730 now, and Mustafa will move 200 spots up to around 820, with both having a chance to move even further with 6 more points if they can pull the big upset in the final over the top seeds .. In singles, Paradorn Srichaphan (THA) continued his winning ways and is in the final (I have been hyping him in these pages as the best Asian teenager for the last couple of years, and he is proving to be so) .. He will play Michel Kratochvil (SUI) in the final .. See the Mumbai futures page ..

MB has been granted a wildcard for the $50K+H Calcutta Challenger, starting on Monday, which is not a surprise .. two other wildcards are expected to go to Srinath and Fazal .. Not sure who gets the 4th wildcard - perhaps Vijay Kannan .. By the way, it looks like Vishal, Mustafa, Harsh and Nitin will miss the qualifiers which start on Saturday, as they were all playing on Friday at Mumbai and could not have reported by Friday night for the qualies .. IN the main draw, Leander is the yop seed and I believe Marcos Ondruska (RSA) is the second seed - Not too many top-150 players expected there, but there should be a ton to 150-250 players .. It will be a very competitive challenger.

Jan 28 Note-2

The doubles final will be starting at about 3.30 to 4 pm on Saturday - it is the second match on center court, after the women's singles final starting at 1.30 pm .. So, it should be about 10 am in India, and 8.30 pm (Friday night), PST, USA .. So far, it doesn't look like anybody would get to see the match on TV, except perhaps in Australia .. Doordarshan, so well-known for ineptitude when it comes to doing anything on short notice will obviously not oblige (plus, it conflicts with the cricket test anyway, I believe) ..

Here are some excerpts from Nirmal Shekhar's article in The Hindu (he does have our pair as the featured ones today - thank you, sir!): .. As a pair of inspired pioneers reached deep and discovered new vistas in their hearts and souls, Indian sport itself stepped forward bravely into a new frontier at the Australian Open tennis championship on Thursday ... Not once during the match did Paes or Bhupathi lose serve. In fact, Bhupathi, serving rocks at the slightest suggestion of pressure, never faced a breakpoint while Paes himself fought off all the four breakpoints against him with true grit ... (They) played a superb first set tiebreak to get their nose ahead. Bhupathi triggered the surge with a spectacular return winner and Paes hit a superb lob as the Indians went up 4- 1. They never looked back from there ... In the second set, Ferreira and Leach, both left handers, found their first breakpoints of the match, on Paes' serve in the fifth game. But the Olympic bronze medallist fought his way out of the corner ... What is more, the Indians broke Ferreira's serve in the next game, Bhupathi hitting a crosscourt return winner that could well rate as the shot of the match to secure the break ... (in the 3rd set tiebreaker) even as the South African- American pair raised visions of a fightback, opening up a 4-1 lead, the Indians found that extra gear to win six of the next seven points to close out the match.

Kafelnikov beat Haas to reach the men's final against Enqvist - that will be a damn good match on Sunday .. Hingis and Kournikova won the women's doubles title .. So after all the brouhaha, Anna finally gets her first grand slam title.

At the Mumbai futures, the last remaining seed, 5th seed Mike Russell went down today in the quarterfinals .. There is a report in the Indian Express about him saying "F*** you, India" during the match, as he was upset about something in the hospitality .. Some cheek to come to India and do that .. Bad karma, dude! .. You lost! -- Of couse he was promptly fined $100 for the nice words too .. What an idiot .. It's not like he was losing to an Indian - he lost to qualifier Simon Aspelin of Sweden .. Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand is in the semis after beating Amir Hadad, who *never* gives up and seems to take everybody to three sets .. Kratochvil and Derepasko are the other semifinalists .. Good news in doubles - there are two Indian teams in the semi !! .. First, Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse had another good win, this time against Mike Russell and Markus Hilpert (remember him tearing it up in India last year - much quieter trip this time - he has an Indian mother and a German father and lives in Germany) in a comeback three-setter .. Vishal was up to what he is good at - volleying and lobbing, and doing it all well, reportedly .. Harsh Mankad and Nitin Kirtane have had a good time so far, getting a walkover in the first round and then getting the QF conceded to them by 3rd seeds Simon Larose and Jocelyn Robichaud due to injury - HM-NK was up 4-0 in the first set then .. All four Indians get 6 points each for reaching the semis .. Good show .. See the results at the Mumbai Futures page ..

I hate inconsistent reporting in newspapers - there is no news in both the Sri Lankan newspapers (Daily News and Island) on Friday about the Colombo ITF junior tourney quarterfinals today .. Will try to see if I can trace down some info ..

By the way, a small item that I wanted to mention - For the first time ever that I can remember, I just saw the name of an Indian sportsperson other than a tennis player appearing on ESPN sportscenter broadcast this week in the US - Jeev Milkha Singh for his terrific second place finish in South Africa .. Ramesh, Leander, Mahesh, Srinath and Fazal (the latter two during Davis Cup in Italy) are the only names that I ever remember seeing on ESPN here .. Congrats, Jeev .. As we could expect - I saw much more on Muttiah Muraleetharan in Indian newspapers than on Jeev ..

Jan 28 Note-1

I feel bad for the Woodies - they went down 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 2-6, 6-8 to 5th seeds Bjorkman-Rafter today in the other semis .. It looked as though that rare #1 vs #2 match was going to happen, before Bjorkman and Rafter (two of my favorite "good guys" on the tour) made a huge comeback and pulled it out closely in 5 sets .. The Woodies are chasing the all-time record of 57 titles shared by Fleming-McEnroe and Bob Hewitt - Frew McMillan .. they are at 51 now .. I am sure the legends will get it, as they say they will play together at least two more years, but after not having won a title in the last six grand slams, they are beginning to perhaps show that they are not what they used to be .. They played well in their previous 4 matches, and in the semis too here, though - considering that one was nursing a bad finger injury from 3 weeks back .. As for Bjorkman and Rafter - they are capable of playing better doubles than anybody (except our duo :-)) and have beaten our pair once last year - at the Queens (London) tournament semifinals, 6-1, 7-6 (16-14) .. Eltingh and Bjorkman beat our duo in the AO semis last year, and Bjorkman and Rafter have one singles win each over Leander too .. Some serious payback is needed ! .. The final will be saturday afternoon in Australia, after the women's singles final (Saturday morning in India; Friday night in the US) .. In other news at the AO, a tired Lapentti was shown the door in three easy sets by Enqvist (the other semi is on Friday), and unseeded Amelie Mauresmo of France had a mega- super- huge upset over top seed Davenport in the women's semis, and will next meet Hingis who won yesterday in the other semi .. Davenport/Zvereva vs Hingis/Kournikova is the upcoming doubles final ..

OK, on to some other tennis news .. At the Mumbai futures, seeds were being felled like trophies in the BCCI office yesterday - 5 of them .. Now there is only the 5th seed, Mike Russel of USA remaining in the quarterfinal .. There are 8 players from eight countries in the QFs (SUI, ISR, SVK, FRA, THA, CAN, RUS, USA) .. Most notable was 19 year old Paradorn Srichaphan's win over the second seed Gregory Carraz .. Based on results, Paradorn is quite unarguably the best teenage player in Asia, ahead of Pakistan's Aisam, and is playing in India for the first time if I am not mistaken .. Good to see him come up big in a three-setter .. Three qualifiers are in the QF too .. In doubles, one Indian pair, Vijay Kannan and Gaurav Natekar had a rather bad loss, 3-6, 0-6, though to the top seeds Aspelin and Landberg .. Another pair, Harsh Mankad and Nitin Kirtane are in the QF after a walkover from Boris Borgula and Martin Hromec .. They join Vishal Uppal and Mustafa "Pete" Ghouse, the only Indians to win a match in the main draw so far, in the QFs .. See all the results in the Mumbai Futures page.

At the ITF junior ranking tournament in Colombo, the news yesterday was all bad for our boys and rather good for our girls .. The boys who I had hoped would do well there, Akshay Vishal Rao, Kedar Tembe, Karan Doctor and CS Mohanty went down in the 3rd round, and only N.Mukundan reached the quarterfinal .. Kedar and Ravikrishna lost to two Thai kids, both named S.Ratiwatana (the results I saw in Daily News, Colombo, doesn't say which is which - I know there are two, named Sonchai and Sanchat) .. Mukundan beat AV Rao .. A.Wahla of Pakistan beat CS Mohanty .. Rishan Karuppu, a Canadian SriLankan looking very good there, beat Karan Doctor .. Kedar was the #1 seed and Karan was #3 .. Not sure what troubled all our guys - may be the clay they are playing on, perhaps ? .. Anyway, on the girls' side, Sheetal Gautam, the highest ranked Indian junior in ITF (she is actually ranked higher than Shruti Dhawan, who I beleive is skipping this circuit to focus on studies) is the top seed and reached the final-8 - she is coached on the claycourts at CGK Bhupathi's Tennis Village .. Unseeded youngster Sonal Phadke had an impressive win over 5th seeded and a older Radhika Mandke .. A couple of other Indians we should watch for, Radhika Tulpule and Liza Pereira, are also in the QFs .. I have put all the results I have at the Colombo ITF juniors page.

If anyone is wondering what Nirupama is up to - she is on vacation .. I think next for her is the Fed Cup in 2-3 weeks .. Not many challengers going on right now at any convenient places, for her to play at ..

Jan 27 Note-3

Hello - Grand Slam Final ! .. First for any Indian pair .. It took about 5 semifinal attempts, but the monkey is now off the back .. And I bet they will not let any Grand slam final monkey jump up and sit on them, either ..

LP-MB took out the 4th seeds, Ellis Ferreira and Rick Leach, 7-6(1), 6-3, 7-6(5), to advance to the final .. The match took 2 hours 15 minutes .. This was a close match all the way, as expected, but LP and MB always seem to step it up at big points and whenever they were in trouble .. there was only one break in the whole game, and that was in the second set in game 5, when Ferreira dropped serve .. There were several games where both pairs were taken to deuces and break points .. Our guys faced break points in four different games but F/L ended up 0 for 4 in break attempts - LP/MB ended up 1 for 5 .. Our pair hit 12 Aces to 3 by the opponents .. The aces seemed to come out especially in games when there was a chance for trouble .. At one point Ferreira hit a serve at 123 mph (197 kph), and Mahesh answered soon with a 122 mph (195 kph) of his own - unusual for serve speeds to get up that high in doubles .. In the second set, LP was serving for the set at 5-3 and faced a break attempt - that was a kep point, and he held for a 6-3 lead .. In the 3rd set, there about 4 different service games where our boys were serving at deuces, but again, they wouldn't let go of any advantage .. Finally the big flourish at the end in the tiebreaker .. LP-MB were down 1-4, but won 6 of the next 7 points to seal the win .. The first serve percentage hovered around 65% throughout the match, which is good (F/L also had 63%) .. They won points off 77% of first serves and 65% of second serves (identical numbers for F/L also) .. 13 unforced errors to 15 .. 4 double faults to 5 (a well-played match by both, it would seem) ..The only difference in the stats was that LP-MB had 18 winners to 8 by the opponenets, the difference coming from about 9 extra aces .. The final points tally was 116 to 105 .. Our pair performed like true champions here.

The win gives our pair the highest single tournament point total of their career - 643 (including 106 bonus pts), and $150K to share .. How about that ? ..

the Woodies are playing Bjorkman/Rafter and leading in the first set now, in the other semi .. Since I am way too excited, I will type other news later.

Jan 27 Note-2

The semifinal for LP-MB at the AO is scheduled to start right now - at 11 am Thursday there (5.30 am India .. 4 pm PST, Wednesday evening, USA) .. Will be back later with news .. BTW, at the Mumbai futures, all seeds except 5th seed Mike Russel failed to reach the quarterfinal .. Details later.

Jan 27 Note-1

The semifinal opponents for the Indian Express at the AO will be the 4th seeds Ellis Ferreira (RSA) and Rick Leach (USA) .. These two teams know each other very well - our duo beat them in the final of the Italian Open Super 9 last year, and then got the favor back from them in the semifinal of the Canadian Open Super 9 later .. Ferreira/Leach had a good 7-5, 6-4, 6-2 win over Galbraith/Haarhuis yesterday .. I believe the doubles semifinals will be tomorrow (Thursday in Australia, Wednesday evening in the US), but the schedule is not out yet ..

There was to be another quarterfinal match today - Kuerten/Lapentti vs 5th seeds Bjorkman/Rafter, but that wasn't played, as Nicolas Lapentti withdrew from doubles, with the official medical reason given as a "sore shin" .. I assume he wants to conserve energy for singles, where he is having an impressive run .. that means we have a block-buster semifinal line-up in doubles (better than I have seen in a long while) - #1 LP-MB vs #4 Ferreira/Leach and #2 Woodies vs #5 Bjorkman/Rafter ..

Tommy Haas (GER) beat Vince Spadea today to reach the semi for men .. Lapentti and Enqvist are the semifinalists in the bottom half .. The Kafelnikov vs Martin match will place the 4th and only seeded player in the semis .. Davenport vs Mauresmo, and Seles vs Hingis are the semis for women .. In mixed doubles, not a singls seeded team was in the quarterfinals, and the way seems clear for Serena Williams and Max Mirnyi ..

One other result to note - Kavitha Krishnamurthy of Canada lost in the final-32 of junior girls comepetition, to the top seed Nadeja Petrova of Russia ..

Jan 26 Note-2

At the Mumbai futures today, the news was all bad, as I had feared it would be .. The toughest was the 6-2, 6-7(5), 2-6 loss of Harsh Mankad to Amir Hadad ranked over 500 spots above him at #376 .. This could have been a great win for Harsh Mankad, but it was not to be, as he let one slip right through his fingers after having completely bottled up the Chandigarh futures champion .. Harsh twice served for the match, in game 9 and game 11 of the second set and had match points where he became tentative (he has done that a few too many time this season - perhaps a mental thing which he needs to get over) .. Then he was up 4-0 in the tiebreaker as well , only to lose 7 of the next 8 points and to come down with a leg cramp too .. That was that .. Have to congratulate him for playing that well, but moral victories don't count .. The other three Indians today went down in straight sets - Fazal's loss to Simon Aspelin ranked just above him being the biggest disappointment, though he had a great start in the first set .. I wonder if Fazal is feeling some pressure after not picking up any points the last two weeks - if so, he shouldn't .. He has shown in the past that he can win and play at the highest level many times - he should just go out and play his game .. Vijay Kannan lost 3-6, 3-6 to currently-hot Boris Borgula, #353 .. That is the 7th forst round loss in a row for Vijay (4 of them against top-375 players, and two more to top-600 players - he never gets the luck of the draw) .. Vinod Sridhar had the toughest opponet, second seed Gregory Carraz (#233), and lost 3-6, 1- 6 .. So, that's the end for all 4 Indians in the draw .. This futures series has not gone according to script at all for us .. Don't be too worried though - they have all learned from playing top-quality opponents and there is no substitute for that .. See all the results at the Mumbai futures page ..

The news reports from Melbourne are all praise for the quarterfinal match that LP-MB played .. heck, even Normal Shekhar (The Hindu) had some praise for them :-) .. He says (exceprts), The Indian Davis Cup pair played almost point-perfect doubles ... If Paes, who has improved the quality of his serves remarkably over the last two matches, came up with a few incredible half- volley winners and acrobatic volleys, Bhupathi himself played marvellous tennis. At the net, Bhupathi's was a towering presence and this correspondent has not seen him volley as consistently well as he did today ... The rustiness of the first two matches is gone and Paes and Bhupathi played like a genuine pair of world beaters ... Today, Paes and Bhupathi were near- invincible ... A significant improvement was to be seen in the way the Indians returned serves. Both Reneberg and Stark are big servers. But Paes and Bhupathi put so many balls back into play that the pressure soon got to the Americans ... In the third, Paes and Bhupathi stepped on the pedal in the eighth game. Bhupathi hit a forehand pass to earn two breakpoints on Reneberg's serve and the American volleyed into the net to signal surrender. Bhupathi completed the formalities, closing out the match with an ace-he really had a few up his sleeve today, and not just on serves, so to say ... "Mahesh is leading from the front in this tournament. I started rusty but I have improved. This tournament has really brought out Mahesh's leadership qualities,'' said Paes, complimenting his friend and doubles partner .. That is some extremely positive report on the match .. The UNI report (in Times of India) has similar words (excerpts) - It was Paes-Bhupathi's aggressive approach at the net that enabled victory to come so smoothly. Paes, of course, was his ebullient self, producing winners with amazing touch and dexterity. His hand speed makes him manufacture shots when all seems lost. But it was Bhupathi who gave a standout display at the net ... Said Paes's coach Bob Carmichal, ``Mahesh volleyed very well.'' That must rank as high praise, for Carmichael is known to be a man of few words ... Bhupathi himself was pleased: ``I don't think I have ever volleyed as today. Both these guys, their strengths are their returns and we were prepared for it.'' .. Keep that up guys .. There is still a long way to go to the title ..

Junior (18 and under) ITF tounrmanet in Sri Lanka - quite a few Indians are in the final-16 .. Here is the report excerpts from Daily News, Colombo - Rishan Kuruppu (Canadian Sri Lankan) registered a smart 6-3, 6-2 win over Indian Rahul Rajkhewar in the second round .. Kedar Tembe beat fellow Indian Shivang Mishra 6-2, 6-1 .. Mark Weaver of Britain beat Amanjot Singh (Ind) 6-1, 6-3, .. S. Ratiyawatana (Tha) beat Indian Mithum Murali, 6-4, 6-4 .. In an all-Indian second round match, Ravi Krishnan beat Sidharth Sudhakar 7-6, 6-2 while Taiwan's Ling Liang Ta crushed Indian Nipun Gupta 6-1, 6-3 .. A Watila (Pakistan), C.S. Mohanty (India), Karen Doctor (India), Wang Yeu Tzuoo (Taiwan), Asutosh Singh (India), A Vishal Rao (India), N. Mukundan, also from India, won their respective round two matches and booked a place in the pre-quarters of the boys singles .. In girls' singles, Liza Pereira beat R. Hirronot 6-3, 6-4 .. Nona Wagh beat S. Fernando 6-1, 6-1, .. Sonal Phadke beat S. Bogollagama 6-0, 6-0 .. Sonia Shellar beat Ishara Seneviratne 6-0, 6-0 .. Quite a few promising youngsters there ! - Let's see how it goes .. Uzma is the defending champion at Columbo - not sure who won the boys' section last year ..

Correction from last note - Ajay Verma told me that the rankings I wrote in the last note are the worst case - LP-MB *can* finish #2 and #3 if they win the title - I will calculate the numbers later - I don't want to count any chicken before they are hatched :-) ..

Jan 26 Note-1

6-4, 7-6(5), 6-3 win for LP-MB over Reneberg-Stark in the quarterfinals ! .. 5th semifinal in the last 6 grand slams .. This match started in a shaky fashion with MB being taken to a couple of deuces in game 1 and then LP having to fight off break attempts in game 3 .. There were some 4 double faults and 8 unforced errors in the first 4-5 games by LP-MB .. then they got their touch, and it was basically a cruise to the end .. They got a break in game 5 of the first set and served that set out .. Both sides seem to serve well and hold in the second set, except for one game when our guys were up 40-0 but couldn't force the break (they were 1 of 6 in break chances at that point) .. In the tiebreaker, our guys went up 3-0 and again coasted to a win .. Actually, Reneberg-Stark were also getting their points .. they were dead even at 90 points each at 3-3 in the 3rd set .. Then the Indian Express pulled out a bunch of points in a hurry - forced a break in the 8th game, and held serve for the win .. R-S had seven aces to LP-MB's three .. LP-MB only made a couple more double faults and about 5 or 6 more unforced errors after the first 5 games of the match .. 2 of 8 in break chances for LP-MB, and 0-3 for the opponents .. That was the match. It took just under 2 hours.

The win basically ensures that our guys will keep their rankings after the Australian Open .. We haven't checked it carefully, but a quick calculation by our resident numbers-man, Ajay Verma, seems to indicate that Haarhuis will be #1 with Eltingh (now retired, but still has points) at #2, and our pair following at 3 and 4, regardless of what happens from now on .. The win gives LP-MB 383 points (including 58 bonus) - so they have defended their 341 points from last year .. The opponenets in the semi will be determined tomorrow when the remaining two QF matches are played .. The Woodies won their QF against the 10th seed Kafelnikov-Vacek today in the other QF.

Jan 25 Note-2

LP-MB play their quarterfinal match against Richey Reneberg and Jonathan Stark on Tuesday .. 4th match on court 2, which should be starting at about 4 pm there (that is 10.30 am Tuesday, India and 9 pm PST, Monday night, USA) ..

The AO doubles draw from the Quarterfinal onwards is as below:

 1-Mahesh Bhupathi    (IND) [  3]/ Leander Paes     (IND) [  4] \
   Richey Reneberg    (USA) [ 37]/ Jonathan Stark   (USA) [ 43] / \
 4-Ellis Ferreira     (RSA) [ 10]/ Rick Leach       (USA) [ 15] \ / \
 6-Patrick Galbraith  (USA) [ 27]/ Paul Haarhuis    (NED) [  2] /    \
 5-Jonas Bjorkman     (SWE) [  8]/ Patrick Rafter   (AUS) [ 17] \    /
   Gustavo Kuerten    (BRA) [ 69]/ Nicolas Lapentti (ECU) [ 48] / \ /
10-Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS) [ 19]/ Daniel Vacek     (CZE) [ 23] \ /
 2-Todd Woodbridge    (AUS) [  6]/ Mark Woodforde   (AUS) [  6] /

Two of the dangerous floaters I listed from the original draw of 64 teams are in the quarterfinals as unseeded teams, and LP-MB face one of them now (Kuerten/Lapentti is the other) .. Reneberg and Stark are very experienced doubles players .. After losing the Hartford finals in 1997 against Leach and Stark, the next time they faced Jonathan Stark was in the semis of the Paris indoor Super 9 (arguably when LP-MB played the best doubles tennis of their career) in Reneberg's company - our duo blew them away then, 6-2, 6-3 .. But this is now, and LP-MB are only just getting the rust off, after all the injury troubles .. Hope they can handle them again ..

The qualifiers were all decided at the $10K Mumbai futures today - the qualifier who will play Fazaluddin in the first round will be Simon Aspelin (SWE) ranked at #572, just above Fazal at #590 (source: Indian Express) .. Other than the eight final qualifying matches, only three first round doubles matches were done today - and there is some very good news. Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse (wildcards) surprised Satoshi Iwabuchi and Kevin Kim, both ranked much higher than them, to reach the quarterfinal ! .. Let's hope for some upsets by the four wildcards in the main draw singles too, tomorrow .. The results are all at the Mumbai Futures page.

The ITF subcontinental junior circuit has started with the Colombo leg, today .. I have only got some patchy info, mentioning Indian players who beat Sri Lankans in the first round today - N. Mukundan, Siddharth Sudhakar, Mithum Murali, Sanian Sukul, Rahul Rajshekhar and Nishank Mishra on the boys' side (not sure of a couple of those names!) and Nona Wagh, Rekha Natrajan and Lakshmi Reddy on the girls' side .. There may be a few others playing there (source: Daily News, Colombo).

.. Previous notes are at Weekly Notes, ending Jan 25..