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Indian-Tennis: Daily News for the week ending on Feb 28, 2005
(Previous week's notes) (Next week's notes) (Daily Notes Index 1997 thru 2005)

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Feb 28 Notes

There have been very few in Indian sports who smoothly talk the talk and then smartly walk the walk without fail .. Well, Sania is not your usual player .. It doesn't matter whom she is playing - the girl sets the sights on the bigger things and goes after them .. Today the 18 year old became the first Indian woman to win a top-50 match .. [R1] (WC) Sania Mirza (IND,97) d. Jelena Kostanic (CRO,36), 67(2) 64 61 .. The match started with Sania breaking Jelena .. She followed that up with another break in the 5th game to go ahead 4-1 .. Then she proceeded to lose 5 games in a row and it was 5-5 very quickly .. After another trade of breaks, they went to a tiebreaker, where Sania fell behind early to 1-4 and could not make a comeback .. In the second set, Sania again started with a drop of serve, but immediately got even in the second game .. She dropped serve once more in the 5th game but once again broke right back to get on serve .. At 4-4 in the second set, we fans in the forum KNEW that we had the match .. Had no doubt about it .. Why? .. Because if Jelena was unable to find a way to use her experience and force the upstart to go away by then, we knew that she would be just about out of options .. We boldly predicted that Sania was just about going to have her adrenaline kick in and start turning the able on JK to dominate .. That is exactly what happened right there .. Sania of course obliged us by winning 7 games in a row  and go up to a 5-0 lead in the third set .. This ended up as a no contest with her winning 8 of the last 9 games! .. True that Jelena has not playing as well as she is capable of, lately, but she is still playing top-50 caliber tennis .. But Sania, who said her year-end goal has now been upgraded to a top-50 finish, may be forced to upgrade her own goals again very soon at this rate .. The win gives her 39 points, including 10 bonus points, taking her point total to 409 and her ranking to about #86 next week .. An 8-1 start to the year in WTA events including a grand slam and a Tier-II .. Is that incredible or what? .. Up next is the tough sixth seed Kuznetsova .. Knowing the power and playing style of the US Open champ Kuznetsova, it is tough to imagine Sania having an easy time, but who knows anything about what Sania can do? ... YOU GO GIRL!!!

We will be back in the chatroom with point-by-point updates on wednesday .. Will announce the match time by wendesday ..

Feb 27 Notes

Sania's first round match at the Dubai Open is scheduled on the center court on Monday at 4.30 pm (6 pm India, 2.30 pm London, 7.30 pm New York) .. [R1] (wc) Sania Mirza (IND,98) vs Jelena Kostanic (CRO,36) .. Come to our chatroom for score updates and to chat during the match .. Sania has evoked a lot of interest in the expatriot community there and they are expecting a big crowd for her matches .. In the pres sconference, the tournament director metnioned all the calls they were getting because of Sania .. She was in action in the doubles qualifiers today .. Wildcards Sania and Selima Sfar of Morocco upset the 3rd seeds Yuliana Fedak (UKR) and Galina Voskoboeva (RUS, 8-2 in the Q1 round but then fell in the final round to Leanne baker (NZL) and Francesca Lubiani (ITA), 64 46 26 ..

The Davis Cup team is all assembled at Delhi .. According to The Hindu, Harsh Mankad was given the luxury of taking an extra day of rest, after all the playing he has recently done .. Leander, Prakash, Karan and Vivek Shokeen were practising on Sunday and Mahesh has just joined the team from Dubai after the doubles SF loss there .. They will also briung in young Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan tomorrow, as they could use some practise against a good lefty server .. That is good planning by uis, and it is also a big honor for the 16 year old Jeevan who is in the world junior top-35 .. Leander has not said whom him would have for singles, or whether he himself would play on the first day (knowing him, I cannot imagine him not suiting up right away!) .. He has said that Prakash's serve and volley game suits the grasscourts, but that he is happy to see the great form Harsh has shown recently .. If I am reading all but the Hindustan Times reports right, it looks like Harsh would need to get out there and still show something more in practice before he would get consideration to play his first Davis Cup match in India ..

If you have not seen the earlier mentions of this, Harsh Mankad surely holds the Davis Cup all-time world record for going most matches abroad in a row before playing his first home match .. This is Harsh's SIXTH year of being in at least one DC tie .. He has played in 8 ties and 13 matches, but not even one at home, unbelievable as it may sound! .. So I was naturally a little sad to see Leander say yesterday about his DC record being not great -- "Harsh's past performances in Davis Cup make you think that you should look at a younger player. But he is now a player in form and is coming in with a winner's mindset. It makes my job more difficult," Paes said, according to a PTI report .. If he was not misquoted, that was surprising, as LP surely knows the kind of top-100 players HM was thrown against time and again, for 6 years, all in away ties, 7 of his matches in world group playoffs coming against SWE, USA, AUS and NED .. I believe he has had only 4 of the 13 matches that was against a player ranked below him and he won all but one .. LP probably was referring to HM having not pulled a big upset over anybody - which is true, but such is the case normally with everybody but Leander! .. On the other hand, I do think Leander has noticed the big improvements in HM's game since last summer (or he would at least see that in practice this week) -- the whole fanclub in the forums who follow the players on a day by day basis has been quite convinced of this, and there are all kinds of stats we have posted which unequivocally show that this is not the same Harsh from before.  Due to a variety of reasons, the biggest being everybody giving up on him for not being a tall big server, he has not had sufficient financial and psychological encouragement over the years from too many people in Indian tennis .. Perhaps he is somebody who will bloom at 25, which is really not THAT late in tennis .. Anyway, I am curious to see how HM would look on grass practice this week .. If I am not mistaken, Leander has NEVER seen Harsh Mankad play on grass (I don't think he was ever in a home tie team, which would be the only occasion for grass) .. He was once a junior grasscourt national champion and all that, though he has not had too many chances to play on grass lately .. Let us see what Leander feels about how his game is on grass - for now, many of Lee's newspaper statesments seem to indicate that he is leaning towards Prakash for the singles spot .. Well, he is the boss who knows - so we will have to leave it to LP to decide I guess .. The only thing that gives me comfort is that Prakash is also in good form, or I would get very concerned about our #1 ranked player being not allowed to feel that anybody has confidence in him on grass .. That is not a great way to boost Harsh's morale before this tie, even if he is used to all this and more for so long.

Though I complained a couple of days back that Harsh Mankad's excellent work in UK went unreported by Indian newspapers, it was nice to see that, The Hindu and the Hindustan Times have all had some nice coverage today and yesterday .. Harsh moved back up to #301 in the latest rankings with a career-high 122 points, and also moved back up as the top Indian doubles player behind LP and MB, with a #182 ranking.

Feb 26 Notes

Third seeded Mahesh and Woodbridge went down at the $1M Dubai Open in an upset,  76(3) 26 46 to Martin Damm and Radek Stepanek, who seem to be a good pair for this year .. Mahesh was the defending champion there - so he would lose a few points ..

The $585K Dubai WTA draw came out today .. If you did not see it in the Sania page, she will be playing Jelena Kostanic (CRO,36) in the first round .. Considering that the cut was #38 there, I suppose Sania did get a good draw for the first round .. 23 year old Jelena is not at all an easy player though .. If SM advances, the second round will be against the 6th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS,10) who has a first round bye ..

In other earlier news I forgot to report for the week, at the $25K+H Luebeck (Germany) challenger, the 3rd seeded Mustafa Ghouse and Robert Kiernen (GER) lost in the SF yesterday to the wildcard pair, Phillipp Hammer (GER) and Rasmus Norby (DEN), 26 76(2) 67(5) ... At the $25K bendigo challenger in Australia, Rushmi Chakrvarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy were upset by the qualifiers, Christina Horiatopoulos (AUS) and Napaporn Tongsalee, 64 63 ..

Leander was in Delhi today, starting the Davis Cup preparation .. Harsh Mankad must have just about landed in Delhi by now, as he left saturday from London ..

Feb 25 Notes

Man, is Harsh Mankad "in a zone" or what? .. He finished off the $50K British satellites in grand style at Sheffield today, topping the singles table as well .. Beat the 4th seed Mark Hilton of Britian in straight sets 64 64 .. So the guy who went in with 24 circuit points and in 6th place to the 4th week, came out with 55 points and at the top of the tally, inching ahead of Hilton with 53 circuit points who finished runner up.  Basically on three days in a row he went past the "current" circuit leader, to place himself finally at the top .. Talk about coming through when it counted! .. Mind you, this is the toughest satellite circuit that I remember ANY Indian playing in, with about 7 or so top-300 quality players there .. As we all know the satellite circuits are such gruelling tests of endurance by the time you get to the end of the 4th week of play .. That Harsh had already had more doubles wins than others while topping that table as well, and that he still had stuff left in his tank to pull off back-to-back three-set comebacks and then to play such a good "drive-the-nail-in" final, is mind-boggling .. The guy seemed like he could go another four more weeks, reportedly .. That shows what kind of great physical condition he is in too .. This is among the worst endurance tests I have seen any Indian go through since Leander in the Wimbledon final weekend in 99 ..

The win gives Harsh 39 ATP points .. The highest point total earned in one shot abroad by any Indian since LP made the QF at Newport in 1999 .. It is also the best show by any Indian but LP abroad since the Ramesh Krishnan days more than 12 years back .. Mahesh (Kyoto 97) and Prakash (Uzbekistan 04) had $25K+H challenger finals which amounts to 35 points .. The win takes Harsh's ATP point total to 124, a career high for him .. He has now come through in the crunch with 52 points in the first two months of 2005 after going 5 months without a point due to a tough physical training program in Pasadena and then visa problems and everything at the end of 2004 .. About the best start we could have imagined for the year ..

There are even more telling stats to talk about .. Out of his 124 points, 111 are all earned abroad -- that is the highest point total earned abroad by any Indian but Leander in a 12-month period in eight years, the best since Mahesh in 96-97 ..Also, not a single point in Harsh's point total has come from a wildcard or walkover or anything .. Every bit of it all earned the hard way .. Hats off man!

By the way, though the fanclub has been going bonkers in the Harsh Mankad thread in our forum and knows the quality of the stuff Harsh has been doing, I am sorry to say that I have not noticed a single article in the Indian newspapers about what Mankad has been doing .. Come on folks - where are you all?  .. You guys still not recovered from Saniasis or what? -- Come on, let us see some coverage of what this man has done in UK.  Harsh needs a publicity manager who sends out his results as ready-to-go stories by press time, I guess .. Not the kind of thing HM worries about, as he only wants to just keep playing his tennis and take things as they come.

HM is right now on his way back from Sheffield by train to London, as I type - and our own Samarth Sinha of the fanclub is waiting with his wife to throw a party and feed him some good food .. Have fun buddy for a night, Harsh, but don't let your body and mind relax .. You have one more week to go - need to stay focussed till we take care of the Chinese next week .. Get on a plane back to Mumbai, have a shower there and go straight to Delhi to get down to business on the grass courts .. I know it is tough for tennis players to stay focussed after this kind of career-best performances, but he has no choice.

His ranking will move back inside top-300 this monday, which is important in another way as well .. Having someone ranked higher than the Chinese #1 Peng Sun (334), gives us a bit of a psychological advantage next week in the Davis Cup also .. A boost for our team .. I am sure his team mates are thrilled to see Harsh in superb form right now.  With Prakash also having shown that he is playing well the last two weekends, Leander would have a few options .. I would think it is not a bad idea to have PA and HM play on the first day and save LP for the 3rd day if needed .. But knowing LP, he would want to have a go at the Chinese right off the bat and he would play on day 1 .. If LP plays on day-1, then HM would be our #1 player, and it is tough to imagine the Chinese #2 Yu Wang beating Harsh on current form, just as it is tough to imagine either Chinese beating Lee on grass .. Whatever Lee decides to do, I am right now much less worried about this Davis Cup tie than I was, even last week ..

Mahesh and Woodbridge came back to win 46 64 62 over Schuettler and Youzhny yesterday at the Dubai ATP .. They play the SF tomorrow against Martin Damm and Radek Stepanek of CZE who had upset the top seeds KNowles-Nestor in the QF ..

Feb 24 Note-1

LP and Zimo went down at Dubai, 67 26 to berdych and Kiefer .. Hope LP is all recovered from the ankle problem and will be ready by next week for Davis Cup .. MB-Woodbrigde are at 46 64 00 as of now in their QF match.

Terrific news from Britain .. Harsh Mankad pulled off another three-set comeback to reach the masters leg final!!! .. Won 57 63 62 over James Auckland and assdured himself of at least a runner-up finish in the satellites with the back-to-bak comebaks against circuit leaders .. So 29 ATP points .. Faces Mark Hilton tomorrow to try and top the circuit .. I cannot believe that Harsh has the endurance to keep doing these things, after having played 24 matches in 23 days and topping the doubles circuit also .. In his 7th event in 8 weeks of the year (15-6 record, a 7-2 record against quality top-300 players, and 42 total ATP singles points so far this year .. Great!) .. Gotta run; more later.

Feb 23 Notes

Mahesh Bhupathi and Todd Woodbridge hardly broke a sweat today at Dubai today, advacing to the QF with a 61 62 win over Petr Pala (CZE) and Olivier Rochus (BEL) .. They face Dominik Hrbaty (SVK) and Thomas Johansson (SWE) in the QF, which may be on Friday.

Fantastic win by Harsh Mankad today .. At the all-important Masters leg in the $50K British satellites QF today, the 6th seeded Mankad upset the top seed Lee Childs in a big comeback after being down a set and a break .. 46 76(2) 63 win for Harsh .. It is tremendous to see that kind of a match from harsh after having played 4+ hours yesterday at the end of a gruelling 4 week satellite where he also played a lot of double to top that table .. Harsh's fighting spirit when the chips are down, is well-known, but what has added more to his heart and arsenal seems to be his fitness level .. Thank you, Huntington Memorial (Pasadena)! -- You guys did do a job on Harsh, who deserves a lot of credit for keeping up his workout regime and taking it dead-seriously ..  Fabulous work by HM today .. The win gives him 16 circuit opoints for 40 total (20 ATP points) so far .. He faces Auckland in the semifinal .. A win tomorrow in the semi will assure Harsh of at least a second-place finish and 4 bonus ATP points; so tomorrow's match is worth 9 ATP points! .. In fact, if Mark Hiton lost today, or loses tomorrow in the semifinal, all HM has to do to at least tie for the circuit topper spot and 8 bonus ATP points would be to beat Auckland tomorrow.  Go HM, Go !!!

For some bad news, Ruishmi Chakravarthi (IND,357) went down quite badly yesterday afternoon in the R1 of the $50K Bendigo challenger in Australia, 06 36 to Adriana Szili (AUS,509) .. I just cannot figure out what ails Rushmi in these events abroad .. Very very odd for such a quality player who does so well at home to look so listless abroad (there is a report in our forum on the match, which made me rather sad) .. Oh well .. Rushmi and Sai are drawn to face qualifiers Christina Horiatopoulos (AUS) and Napaporn Tongsalee (THA) in the first round.

Feb 22 Note-2

A couple of important events today .. The first retirement of a fanclub masthead web page, and the inauguration of the first such web page in 7 years .. The Nirupama Sanjeev web page is now officially retired .. Niru herself had asked me a little while back to retire her page and start pages for Sania and Shikha .. A page has been started for Sania Mirza, who had satisfied the loose but tough criteria that we haughty fanclub guys (;-)) had for what everyone in the forum calls the "badge of honor" from the fans .. Shikha Uberoi has also satisfied the criteria - her page is also coming soon; it is simply delayed due to the laziness of the fanclub head honcho, mua! .. Jokes apart though, it was a rather poignant moment for me to do a final update to leave a link to Niru's own tennis academy webpage and to leave that Niru page to rest in peace .. After all, I must have done about a 1000 updates on that page, ever since starting it after Niru's AO win in 1998 - so it was a bit sad for me to do the final rites .. But there is happy news too - the spanking-new Sania Mirza web page is now online .. Of course, again in the "elitist" and "no jazz" manner in which we fan club folks operate (yeah, we take ourselves way too seriously!), there are no frills on that page - the same classic Prakash Hemdev design from circa 1999 is still used, and "SM" has now been elevated to the lofty pedestal that LP, MB and NV have occupied .. And I will be updating the latest Sania news on that page on a daily basis, or as and when any news breaks ...

Mahesh and Todd are scheduled to play their R1 at the Dubai Open at 2 pm tomorrow .. Their opponents were changed though - it will be Petr Pala (CZE) and Olivier Rochus (BEL) .. I guess Aspelin-Perry withdrew or something .. LP and Zimo are not on the schedule for wednesday .. They should be playing on Thursday ..

At the $25K+H Luebeck challenger .. Mustafa Ghouse and Daniel Kiernan (GER), seeded 3rd, beat the Geramn wildcards Dennis Peschek and Thomas Schreyer easily, 63 63 .. Our own Florian was there as the onsite fanclub member reporter .. You can read his match report in the forum.

China announced their Davis Cup team for the tie next week at Delhi .. No surprises - Peng Sun (334), Yu Wang Jr (408), ben-Qiang Zhu (433) and Hao Lu (720) are in the team ..

Feb 22 Note-1

At the important masters leg at the $50K British satellites in Sheffield, UK, Harsh Mankad has just reached the QF today .. He beat Federico Torresi (ITA,665), 63 76(2) .. This takes his circuit points tally up by 10 more to 34 points .. So he will have at least 15 ATP points from these staellites .. The points will go into the computer this coming Monday, and so he will be back as the Indian #1 next week .. A couple more wins would be worth a lot more points now though .. He faces the top seed Lee Childs in the QF tomorrow at about noon time ..

Afternoon Update from Sheffield -- Mankad an Butorac had their 8 match win streak snapped in a 64 76(2) 36 loss in the doubles semis against Hilton-Marray .. Having already topped the doubles circuit, and with nothing riding on this match, there is hardly many players on the tour who would fight for that long in a doubles match (they would have added one ATP point to the 41 they have, with a win today!) .. That too with an all-important singles QF against the top seed coming up tomorrow .. They were down a set and a break today and still did not throw in the towel, pushing it to a 3rd set after a tiebreaker .. The long doubles match this afternoon will not help Harsh in the singles match, but my respect for this guy just went up another notch .. The thought of tanking a match does not enter Harsh's mind at all whenever he is on court.  Admirable! ..

Congratulations on topping the circuit doubles though .. They finish with a 9-2 doubles record in the circuit .. HM will go up inside the top-180 once again with the points from there, and the new partner Butorac will raise his point total from 49 to 90 along with his rank from 650 to about 450 .. He is somebody Harsh basically hand-picked as a partner to nurture .. HM knew him from Minnesota, where EB played college tennis in a Division III college (not at U.of.Minnesota where HM was) .. If EB can pick up another 30 odd points and move near the top-350, they should be able to play doubles wherever HM plays challenger singles ..  Basically Harsh has always wanted a partner who would take doubles seriously and would not tank matches due to singles and having to play qualies and all that .. Eric apparently has the right approach to it .. EB also has all the tools to be a pretty good doubles partner for HM, based on the reports from Samarth and Florian at the British satellites .. Let us see where these two can take their career together if they continue .. I believe they will make an attempt for sure.

Sai Jayalakshmy went down in the final round of qualies at the Bendigo challenger, 46 64 57 to the 5th seed Arpi Kojian (USA,636) .. Ooh, tough loss for Sai .. Hopefully she will make it in as a lucky loser - she is the first in line for that spot .. Sai and Rushmi are in the doubles draw, and are drawn to face a qualifier pair, yet to be determined.

Arun Prakash Rajagopalan, the 2003 Asian Junior champion, who is one recent junior that we fans have a lot of hopes on, but never hear much about, was at the qualies for the USA F4 futures qualifying rounds at Brownsville, Texas .. He went down after a fight to the 9th seed Stephen Mitchell (RSA,849), 67(4) 62 36 ..

There are a couple of domestic AITA tournaments which I haven't said much about .. There was a pretty good prize money event at Imphal last week and there is the old Central Excise event (on grasscourts) this week at Kolkata .. Later, on that.

Feb 21 Notes

LP and MB will both play by only wednesday at the Dubai Open ATP, I believe.

Neha had another excellent win at the qualies for the Tier-III Acvapulco WTA, but she then fell in the final round .. [Q2] Neha Uberoi (USA,291) d. Ruxandra Dragomir-Ilie (ROM,318) 76 36 63 .. [Q3] l. Julie Ditty (USA, 258) 36 36 .. The win against Ruxandra Dragomir is noteworthy, as she is a former top-20 players on a comeback trail, and still a much better player than her ranking would say ..

At the $25K Bendigo challenger in Australia, Rushmi Chakravarthi (IND,357) is drawn to face Adriana Szili (AUS,509) .. Sai Jayalakshmy (IND,571), seeded 3rd in the qualies, won the Q2 round with a 76(5) 26 63 over Bianca Acquistapace (AUS,720) .. The final round is against the 5th seed Arpi Kojian (USA,636).

At the $50K British satellites, Harsh Mankad and Eric Butorac (USA) made sure that they would be the circuit toppers in doubles with their 8th consecutive doubles win today, in the QF round of the masters leg in Sheffield, UK.  They won easily 60 64 over Ervin Eleskovich (SWE) and Christopher Koderisch (GER) .. That gives them 40 circuit points each .. They have 41 ATP points each as well, including 8 bonus each for being the circuit toppers as well .. Harsh, seeded 6th, plays the singles R2 tomorrow, after a first round bye.

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the weeks ending on Feb 21 ..

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 playera, let me know .. Please email me - R.Jayakrishnan