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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for the week ending on Feb 18, 2002
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Feb 18 Note-1

LP-MB are at the $725K Kroger St-Jude tournament in Memphis, Tennessee! .. That is the first time they are playing at that tournament in the Elvis Presley land - the Indian Express rolls into graceland, I guess .. So we will let Leander off the hook for not playing qualies (:-)) - he wouldn't have made the qualifying cut there because of a smaller 16 player draw - and I think this time both LP and MB had reached there early enough .. They have a tough first round match against J.Bjorkman and J.Gimelstob, though .. I have not seen the draw yet, but LP-MB play this evening at about 6 pm (7 pm NY .. 12 midnight London .. 5.30 am Tue, India), +/- 1hour .. There will be live score updates in our chatroom .. Come on in!

The main draw matches started at the $10K women's satellites in Mumbai today .. I didn't like the draw, as it pitted Radhika Tulpule against Rushmi Chakravarti and Sania against Sunitha Rao (USA), etc .. Anyway, Rushmi beat Radhika easily 62 62 .. Shruti Dhawan, who like many of the Indian women out there may be low on match practice, not having had many tournaments lately, went down to 6th seed Suchanan Viratprasert of Thailand in straight sets .. The second seed manisha and others like Sania, Sheetal, etc have not played yet .. Still not sure if Sai is back to her old form, as she had another struggle in winning the first round - against Archana Venkatraman, who is capable of making people struggle with her brand of tennis though .. The one I said we should keep an eye on, Shuai Peng of China started with an upset of the 7th seed Annabel Blow of Britain .. Qualifier SK Tara stretched the top seed Shelley Stephen (NZL,280) to three sets before losing .. See Monday's results on the Mumbai satellite page.

Karan Rastogi, among our top hopes in the junior levels, who had been out for the last 4 months with a back trouble, got back to competitive tennis last week, winning an AITA zonal event in Mumbai, beating Aditya Madkekar in the final 06 64 62 .. He may still be a bit rusty, but will be going to the Eastern circuit next month to get back into the swing of things .. Good to see him out there.

Feb 17 Notes

Nothing much going on .. Not sure if LP-MB are playing somewhere this week .. MB had originally planned to play singles at the Hull challenger in UK, but the hip problem forced him to change those plans .. I no longer expect LP to play qualies anywhere (:-)), and so far no sign of LP playing singles anywhere this week either ..

The qualies for the $10K Mumbai ITF women's satellite starts today and the main draw starts tomorrow .. The main draw wildcards were announced as Manisha Malhotra (who had not entered earlier - and should be a seed now), Shruti Dhawan and Sania Mirza .. The final acceptance list from a couple of days back had the eight seeds as 1. Shelley Stephens (NZL,277), 2. Yuliana Fedak (UKR,351), 3. Camilla Kremer (LUX,366), 4. Dominika Luzarova (CZE,370), 5. Annabel Blow (GBR,417), 6. Suchanan Viratprasert (THA,426), 7. Sunitha Rao (USA,454) .. 8. Rushmi Chakravarti (IND,459) .. Manisha will probably be the second seed now, and Rushmi may be unseeded in the end .. The other Indians in the main draw are, Radhika Tulpule, Sai Jayalakshmi, Sheetal Gautam, Sonal Phadke, and Archana Venkatraman .. #736 Shruti Dhawan was the first in the qualifying list - if she made the direct entry before the qulies started, then a wildcard may have got released .. 15 yr old Shuai Peng of China, ranked #516 will be one I will keep an eye on ..

Sunitha Rao (USA) and Rushmi Chakravarti are the first two in the qualifying list for next week's $25K ITF Delhi challenger, after a couple of withdrawals from the main draw .. I think both will make the main draw by next week .. Manisha is in the main draw, and the three wildcards are yet to be announced by AITA (probably from among Radhika, Shruti, Sheetal, Sonal, Sai, Sania) ..

Feb 15 Notes

Had another quick work-related trip and was away for a day .. Sorry for the late update ..  Isha Lakhani won the singles title at the grade-3 Rajshahi event, making it her 5th title in the last 7 tournaments .. She beat the top seed Pichaya Laosirichon (THA), 63 26 64 .. It is a double crown for Isha, as she won the doubles title also - in the company of Maya Rosa of Indonesia, beating Hanna Park and Woo Ro Seok Korea 62 62 in the final .. The boys' doubles title went to the Taipei pair, Tai-Wei Lie and Chao-Ken .. Rishi Behl and Saurabh Kohli lost to them in a tough fight - 67 76 46 .. Isha's singles ITF world rank will move up from #72 to just outside top-50 .. Only Niru and Sania have ever been ranked higher in the ITF junior (girls) ranks from India, if I am not mistaken .. She is pretty much assured of a direct entry now to the French Open juniors - I don't know if she would plan to go, or if she will get travel help for that, though .. It has been some hot-streak from Isha in the last 4 months in the juniors. Wow!

Feb 14 Notes

At the Rajshahi Grade-3 ITF yesterday, Isha Lahani reached yet another final with a 64 60 win over Wen Hsin Hsu, but Jaco Mathew went down in three sets to Alex Miotto of UK in the semi, 75 36 61 .. Isha Lakhani faces the top seed Pichaya Laosirichon (THA,92) who beat Ting-Wen Wang (TPE), 63 63, in the other semi .. This gives Isha 45 points more, for a total of 265 points from her best six events .. This is only her 7th event in the last year and it is her 5th final .. Isha has a 4-0 record in ITF international finals so far .. Go Isha, pick another one up .. Isha went up from #96 to #72 this week, and will go up to about #57 next week with this .. If she has won today's final, then add 15 more points and another 4 or 5 spots more in the world rankings .. She is almost sure to make the entry for all the three upcoming grand slam juniors with that .. Phenomenally fast rise in the ITF ranking for Isha .. She was ranked near 500 with 35 points in two Sep-2000 events when she started 5 months back with the Chennai grade-4 .. She won the title there (40 pts) .. Title at Mumbai the following week (40 pts) ..QF at the Asian juniors grade-B1 in Delhi in December (40 pts) .. Title at Delhi grade-3 last month (60 pts) .. QF at Chandigarh g4 (10 pts) .. Title at Kolkata last week g4 (40 pts) .. And now another final at the Rajshahi g3 (45 pts so far) .. She is the top seed with Pichaya second in next week's Dhaka grade-3, based on this week's rankings .. This girl is truly on a roll  -- and I am happy to do a bit of bragging with an "I told you so" .. I mentioned a few times last year about Isha being very good, for basically not much reason but a hunch and some good domestic record! .. like I had anything to do with all the work she is putting in! :-) :-)

Feb 13 Note-2

Not much news to talk about, so I am going to talk about our favorite topic - on player-support (below) .. But first to cheer everybody up, here are some pictures .. Sania Mirza during and after her first round win in the 2001 Wimbledon junior draw against Julia Smith of UK .. She is congratulated by her Indian fans, one right behind her is actually covered with the Indian flag too! .. The third one is her picture taken at the Trafalgar square.

 ..  .. .. .

Thanks go to her dad Imran Mirza who emailed them .. OK, time to talk some serious stuff -- Mahesh Bhupathi, the man who doesn't talk much but is getting a reputation for creating short lines of substance, said this - "All the time the press keeps asking, ‘after Paes and Bhupathi who?’. There have been a couple of players like Harsh and Rohan who have done really well in the last 12 months. Now we need to stop asking questions and start backing them" .. Ataboy, Hesh .. Well-said .. Time is about right to get these two to move into the limelight in all seriousness .. Read this article from Prajwal Hegde in the Sportscene section of Deccan herald today .. Prajwal makes a strong case for doing something - RIGHT NOW! .. As far as I know, Harsh Mankad is in some serious money crunch in moving on, and despite reaching the very top of college rankings, and winning the only foreign futures title by an Indian in perhaps a decade last year in Canada, he cannot find a way to move into the pro tour .. It seems to be about the right time for AITA to step in and find a way to get him going .. I don't think Harsh will gain a whole lot more by staying in US college tennis other than getting good match practice for a few more months to stay in shape .. The college season ends in early May and right now, as far as I know, he is terribly concerned about what to do .. No money to get going - even a few thousand dollars would let him come out and play pro events, and I have a hunch that if we all do something and back him, we can even convince him to skip the college season and turn pro *right now* (I hope the Univ of Minnesota coach Dave Goetz doesn't see that - he would want to kill me :-)) .. Can anybody do anything? .. As for Bopanna, he too needs help, but Prajwal says that Paes en Sport is trying to find sponsors for him .. 21 yr old Harsh and 22 yr old Bopanna are the most ready two young players right now from India for pro tennis and look to be the ones to give a rest to Leander in Davis Cup for at least the next 3-4 years till the 15-18 yr olds grow up .. If they are to not waste their prime years and not go through what Fazal and Srinath went through, getting experienced and ready-enough only by the time they were past 26, they need to hit the road right now ..

If you read the forum at this site, you will see that the fans are always bit*ing and moaning about AITA not doing enough to develop young talent, etc, etc, but I personally has always held that national tennis federations are really not the best catalysts for taking the players to the very top level - you may remember me mentioning the example of LTA in London and their inability, despite all the money in the world, to bring players to the very top .. I believe that the national federations can normally only provide some coaching support, bring tournaments, and help others spot talent in such events - and that they aren't that effective anywhere in the world in sponsoring players directly and taking them to the next level .. That is in the nature of the official (and often bureaucratic) organizations they are bound to be .. Ask the top 100 players and see if any of them mention their national association as the reason why they moved up from top-400 to top-100 - and you probably will not find even one player who says they are .. The federations can give an initial push, but the rest should come from individual sponsoring-groups, academies, coaches, parents, and the players themselves who have their own "selfish" interests to excel .. I personally think that a lack of self-belief, careful planning, and drive from all those quarters is our primary problem - and that is coupled with a lack of incentives and returns from nurturing excellence as well - sort of an American "republican" view on it, though I am normally with democrats :-)) .. That is, there aren't too many sponsoring groups, academies and coaches in India whose careers depend on having brought out top players like in the west - right down to the bottom dollars these groups make from their tennis activities .. This has always been my (not-so-humble :-)) opinion, and that's why I don't complain that AITA is the reason for why we have no depth at the top levels of tennis ..

Having said that, in the case of Harsh and Rohan, however, AITA may really need to act .. As I said, there aren't all that many institutions with direct stake in bringing such players to the next level - patriotism and goodwill can only go so far .. We may find some good-samaritan industrial-house in India or NRI supporters for some help, but the culture of long-term commitment to player development is not there from private quarters in India - those like Paes en Sport being exceptions, and they have to do so much work to bring out sponsorship rupees .. That is why even a player with a very positive track record like Harsh Mankad is finding it impossible to get somebody to finance and manage his foray into pro tennis .. But, as a country we have no time to waste .. If something were to happen in the short term, there may be nobody else but AITA to make that happen .. Hey, after all, our central finance minister is the AITA president - how difficult can it be to find some money from somewhere ? :-)

To give those like Harsh and Rohan some financial support to get moving, till other sponsorship is found, is something extremely urgent - and AITA is uniquely placed to take the ball and run .. There really aren't too many other options for immediate help, despite those like Dr.Paes and CGK Bhupathi trying their best .. So, can we find a few thousand dollars at least for each to start their journey with some piece of mind? .. I for one would love to see Harsh come to India and play the three futures next month to pick up enough points and not have to play futures any more before getting seed spots in challenger qualies, because his ATP points from the summer events last year will fall off soon after he gets back to the pro circuit in May otherwise .. A 22 yr old player does not have three to six months to waste because that is big chunk of less time from the usual prime time of a pro tennis player which may only be about 3 or 4 years perhaps, normally between 23 and 26 .. If Harsh needs to come out now, I think he will have to forego his college season, pay the fees for the semester himself and find travel money (he is a 3.75 GPA student in economics and won't have a problem getting back much later for a couple of semesters to complete a degree!) .. Harsh is a well-proven quantity and Rohan is almost there too .. Time to do something .. I challenge AITA to come up with the goods .. We will not forget a thoughtful act of support at the right time - and this time it won't be like a claim to have done something, as often made by the Indian sports federations - never accepted by the Indian sportsmen, sports fans and media as anything but hollow.  This will be taken as a genuine act of support for a change.

If we can come up with say Rs.10 lakhs for Harsh Mankad - enough for perhaps 10 events of pro tennis? - I am willing to call him and try to twist his arms to get out of school and go pro :-) .. URGENT!

... and sorry - as usual, I can't seem to write these things in fewer words and I create mahabharatams on these topics .. Need to take some classes from Mahesh on one-liners!

Feb 13 Note-1

The Wellington Renouf Tennis Centre was announced today as the venue for the Asia/Oceania Group-1 Davis Cup semi-final tie between New Zealand and India (April 5-7) .. Glenn Wilson, the NZL Davis Cup Captain, said that player preference was instrumental in the decision. "Al Hunt won the Wellington Open there last month and Mark Nielsen has played well on the plexipave courts over the last few years" he said. "The recently resurfaced courts provide a slower surface than indoors and together with the cooler autumn weather may provide us with a slight advantage over a top Indian team." .. The Renouf Tennis Centre stadium court has a capacity of 1850, including corporate boxes, and they are expecting it to be a sellout [source: New Zealand Tennis official web site] ... "Cooler autumn weather", eh ? .. Hmmm, Mr. Wilson is trying to scare us, I think ... After playing in that subzero- temperature arena with indoor ice in China last year, no place can feel all that cold for India! .. Since seeing outdoor clay in sweden in late 2000, India has played 4 away ties in a row in indoor arenas, and will finally play outdoors ..

NZL has traditionally been big trouble for India .. For some reason my memories of Davis Cup from some 25 years back (when I was a kid :-)) are all about a certain Onny Parun messing up our Davis Cup plans every year .. We lost three ties in a row then in 4 years to New Zealand and it looked like we would never get out of Zonal semifinals again! .. Somehow the two teams have not faced each other since 1978, and India now gets the chance against them in yet another zonal semi .. Once again, we can count on NZL being tough as nails .. India needs to go big time for some payback for all of Parun's crimes against us!

Feb 12 Note-2

At the Grade-3 Rajshahi ITF juniors today, the 2nd seed Isha Lakhani reached the SF beating Woo Ri Seak (KOR) 60 64 - she faces Wen-Hsin Hsu (TPE) next .. The other smi is between the top seed Pichaya Laosirichon (THA) who beat Punam Reddy 64 61 and Ting-Wen Wang (TPE) .. Jaco Mathew is the only Indian in the SF in the boys' draw .. ended Saurabh Singh's winning streak at 12 matches, with a 61 16 61 win .. I love the competition between this bunch of kids - Saurabh, Somdev, Jaco, Chatwinder etc - all seem to be talented .. Jaco won the Sri Lanka event, Saurabh won Delhi and Chandigarh and Somdev won the Kolkata event .. 135th ranked Somdev Dev Varman's 7-match streak ended today after a big fight against the 4th seed Wang Cheng Hsieh (TPE,70) in a 75 26 62 match .. There are a few other talented kids in the Rajshahi event .. One is a British boy Alex Miotto, who had beaten the top seed Tai-Wei Liu (TPE,47) 64 63 in the first round and beat Rishi Behl in the QF today .. Rishi played a close match but Miotto won 46 75 64 .. He runs into Jaco next .. By the way, isha Lakhani has moved up to #72 in the world rankings this week, and she will move up a bit more with the points from the SF at Rajshahi.

New Zealand has selected Wellington as the site for the Davis Cup against India (Apr 5-7) - outdoors, slow hardcourts .. more on that soon.

Feb 12 Note-1

ITF has started rating nations based on the Davis Cup performance starting this year ..  It's a great idea, and it adds to the interest in these kinds of events - actually they should have done this long back .. Anyway, the weekend win moved India up to #18 in the world ..  Not bad for a country with nobody in the top-300 of the ATP list! .. The rankings are based on points for rounds won at various levels such as world group, regional group-1, regional group-2, etc, and there are bonus points for beating higher ranked teams and for wins abroad .. Three-year rolling point total with the point values reducing with time .. Behind the world #2 Australia, India is second in the Asia-Oceania region .. Actually we just edged past Uzbekistan, which fell from #15 to #19, as we moved up from #20 .. Others from Asia are Thailand at #26 (they moved up from #34 with their upset of the #15 UZB), New Zealand at #27, Japan at #31, Korea #34, Indonesia #37, China #38, Taiwan #42, Lebanon #47, Pakistan #51 .. 142 countries are in their list .. They say that these rankings are a primary criterion for seeding the teams in the draws - though I think the seeding committee will still combine it with the rankings of the players they expect to play for each country .. If we beat New Zeland in the next round, actually there may even be an outside chance for India to get seeded in the world group playoff and not have to play teams like Australia, Brasil,and Britian who lost this weekend and will probably be seeded in September for the WG playoffs - that would be great, but beating #27 NZL in NZL will not be easy at all, to get to that point.

AITA announced the team for the Fed Cup Asia-Oceania qualifying round in three weeks in China (by the way, when will we have Fed Cup regionals coming to India for a change? -- it has been a few years since the last one) .. Manisha Malhotra, Rushmi Chakravarthy, Sheetal Goutham and Sonal Phadke with Radhika Tulpule as the reserve ..  A bit surprising that Sheetal and Sonal were picked ahead of Radhika, I must say - after all, Radhika had won two $10,000 ITF titles in India last year, which is a better show than by Sheetal and Sonal .. Sai has had a nightmare time in the last few months with her form, so she has been dropped from the team .. Niru will be back from injury layoff only in June or so (need to be awy for over 6 months to get injury protected rankings for entry on her return) .. Actually Sania was considered for the team, though I think it's too early for her to play for Fed Cup - she is doing her 10th std exam and cannot go unless the board changes the exam dates, which is unlikely! .. Enrico Piperno is the coach/manager.

AITA also announced the Indian team for the  World Youth Cup (u16) regionals -- Karan Rastogi, Tushar Liberhan, J Vishnu Vardhan, Vijay Sunder Prashant (reserve)  which is quite a dynamite team that will be at the Boys regionals in Malaysia (May 6 week) .. The girls' squad has Sania Mirza, Ankita Bhambri and Kartiki Bhat, with Sanaa Bhambri as reserve - the girls' regionals will be in Indonesia (May 13) ..  Sania and Kartiki may be the top two there, but Ankita also gets the call - I don't think she has shown great results lately, though she was doing well last year.

The team for the World Junior Tennis (u14) regionals: Rupesh Roy, Sumit Prakash Gupta, N.Jeevan, Sanam K.Singh (reserve), for boys - and that is a solid team too - The regionals will be in Sri Lanka (Apr 29) .. Sanaa Bhambri, Sandri Ganotri, Sandhya Nagaraj, Tara Iyer (reserve), for girls ..  The girls' regionals will be in Indonesia (May 6) .. Good to see them thoughtfully including Tara Iyer in that group even though I believe she has been away from India and has been practising in the US where her dad is on an international assignment; she looked good in some US events last year too .. But Tara may not be asked to travel, I think .. As both the girls' events are in back-to-back weeks in Indonesia, Sanaa is the reserve for u16, and I think Kartiki qualifies for u14 as well if needed, AITA may have to pay only for 6 girls to travel - so this is a cheaper team too (my not-so-subtle dig at AITA, who likes to save a buck here and there whenever possible, I guess :-)) .. But a good job with the teams by the selection committee.

Nothing much going on on court this week .. It is one of the rare free weeks on the AITA calendar, as the grasscourt nationals which I believe was originally slated for this week is now postponed to next month .. Isha Lakhani, Saurabh Singh, Somdev Dev Varman, Jaco Mathew, Rishi Behl and Punam rReddy seem to have reached the QFs at the Grade-3 Rajshahi ITF juniors yesterday .. That's a very good show out there.

Feb 11 Notes

The main draw started at the Grade-3 Rajshahi ITF junior event on Sunday .. Saurabh Singh continued his run with another tough win over Chatwinder Singh (pity that they met early), 75 57 62 .. In other matches, Somdev Dev Varman d. Hu Jung Guk (KOR), 06 76 62 (another fighting job by him), Jaco Mathew d. Yang Lin Ito (TPE) 63 64, Rishi Behl d. Abhay Prakash, 63 63, Nihal Advani d. Chang Chi Hao (TPE) 62 61 .. Punam Reddy d. Sharanya Pattabi 64 64, and Krushmi Cheddha d. Hyun Yung (KOR) 75 46 61 .. Some more girls and boys first round matches are yet to be done I believe, so we are not sure who else has gone to Bangladesh [source: The Independent, Dhaka]

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the week ending on Feb 11 ..

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.