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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for the week ending on Apr 17, 2000

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Apr 17 Notes

The ITF $10K women's satellite in Delhi is starting today .. Nirupama Vaidyanathan gets back to action after a 3 month injury break (since that most unfortunate turn of events when she had her ankle caught in the court drain in the final round of AO qualies when she was cruising to a win) .. The last time she played a satellites was as an 18 year old in 1995 ! .. She is using this tournament for some match practice, basically - top250 players never play satellites otherwise .. She needs some match practice before the Fed Cup next week and this would help .. She is the top seed obviously .. Manisha is the second seed, and she may be looking for some revenge against 4th seed Sai for upsetting her in the Mumbai satellites last week .. Megha Vakharia could not qualify in this time, though she did well reaching the QF last week .. 17 yr old Sonal Phadke, the big breakout player at Mumbai is in the main draw as a wildcard .. Shruti Dhawan lost in the first qualifier match ..  See the Delhi satellite page for qualifying results and some main draw matchups .. Indian players seem to have better matchups this time .. Niru goes against qualifier Nina Egger ..

Sorry for not writing a bit more on the wonderful satellite our women had in Mumbai - the best international event that our women have had in recent times, that too against some decent competition .. I was having a busy week - but that doesn;t mean I wasn't excited seeing all the upsets pulled by youngsters like Isha, Megha, and finally of course Sonal .. To be frank, I was never that convinced of Sonal, despite her having had success in the ITF junior levels (ranked just inside top-75 for a few months now as the highest ranked Indian junior) .. I had felt that she had picked up a lot of those points in some of the African ITF events with perhaps questionable competition .. Then she had a first round win at the AO juniors, but it was again against a wildcard Australian player of questionable quality .. I was frankly a bit more impressed with some of the results from Radhika Tulpule (#1 junior in the AITA list and #2 Indian in the ITF list behind Sonal at #101 .. She has had a lot of domestic success too, winning a leg of the ITF developmental satellites as well) .. My reservations on Sonal's ranking did not change after the far east junior tour she had recently either, as she failed to get far, despite being among the top 2-3 seeds at all the events .. But, heck I think I was wrong on how good Sonal is .. No 17-year old pulls off two wins in a row against top-500 players (#426 Urska Vesenjak and #464 Satomi Kinjo) in succession in her the very first pro tournament without some serious talent ! .. The win against Urska is no mean achievement, as we all know how devastating Urska was when she came to India just a few months back .. I am happy to be wrong in my opinion on Sonal, though I never wrote anything here about it, as I tend to hold judgment on players till I see results .. It's fair to say that Sonal has "arrived" !! .. In fact, who knows what would have happened had she not fallen prey to stomach cramps in the final against Sai at Mumbai, where she actually went up 2-0 so fast and had Sai on the run at the beginning ? .. Watch out for Sonal! ..

And finally, how about Sai ? -- It is so nice to see her get her first $10K satellite title .. She has been persevering for a couple of years and has generally been slowly moving up in ranking .. Once again, the fact that she can play with the best at this level is clear from her win over 2nd seed Manisha (#337), who is certainly established at this level with 2 titles and 4 or 5 finals .. Both Sai and Sonal got 6 WTA points each (Sonal with 2 points for the two top-500 wins and Sai with 1 for the top-500 win over Manisha) .. Sai should be right at #400 or just inside in ranking now .. Sonal will debut in the WTA ranking inside the top-800 rightaway.

The Fed Cup team for next week is:   Nirupama, Manisha, Sai and Radhika .. Radhika replaces Uzma Khan, who is in the US playing for the University of Arizona ..

I have not put in an update for a while about how our players are doing in US colleges .. Harsh Mankad, Ajay Ramawami, Jahnavi Parekh and Uzma Khan are the ones who have been having the best results so far this year, along with Salil Seshadri in doubles .. Jahnavi in her second year has been the highest ranked, inside the top-20 in colleges throughout the season .. Ajay Ramwami transferred from Charleston Southern University to Lousiana State Univ, a top-10 program for his second year .. He has worked his way up from the #5 spot to #2 now, with a very impressive 12-2 run in the last few weeks, after a relatively slow start .. He has had three wins against top-100 players who are always tough to beat .. Harsh Mankad started playing the top spot for the Univ of Minnesota a month into the season and has held that spot ever since then, leading Minnesota to a top-20 ranking - something not easy for any freshman to do .. In fact Minnesota faced Univ of Illinois (coached by the South Africa Davis Cup captain, Craig Tiley, if I am not mistaken) this weekend, effectively for conference title .. Harsh upset the #8 player in colleges, Carey Franklin of Illinois in straight sets to put Minnesota in a position to upset Illinois for conference title, though their #5 player lost a 3rd set tiebreaker in the end to hand a 4-3 squeeker win to Illinois .. Harsh Mankad has had upset wins over about 6 or 7 top-100 players, but is not ranked yet, as he has also picked up some losses to lower ranked players, which is possibly due to his freshman inexperience (but a 32-16 record is impressive for any freshman, especially somebody playing the #1 spot who is always drawn against the top player of the universities they play .. 10 of his losses are to top-100 players) .. Ajay Ramaswami also had the best win of his college career this weekend, beating the #25 player in the country! .. What the LSU folks are surprised about is how well he has played under pressure, winning the clinching match many a time in recent weeks for LSU .. I would like to see both Harsh and Ajay playing in the satellites this June to evaluate the improvement they have made - if I were to guess, both will do very well .. Uzma Khan, in her first season though she has been at the Univ from January 1999, played #1 spot for U. of Arizona for a while before slipping to the #3 spot after a few losses in the middle of the season .. She is inside the top-100 at #88 now, and has won 5 of the last 6 matches she played including a win over a top-75 player .. She is having a good year as well .. Jahnavi Parekh has been having an excellent season at the Baylor University, where she is in the second year .. I haven't followed her all that closely, as she has been doing well (!) and been ranked high throughout the year .. It would be nice to see her do well at the NCAA chamiponships, the place where reputations are made in the end .. She will be a direct entry for that in late May.

By the way, I have the latest AITA ranks and the updated domestic schedule, which I will post soon.

Apr 15 Notes

Sorry for a break for a couple of days .. At the Mumbai satellites, 17 year old Sonal has been having an incredible run, upsetting two top-500 seeds in the QF and SF to face Sai in the final today - Sonal has picked up 6 WTA points already! ..  Sai upset Manisha in the SF yesterday too .. Check out the Mumbai satellite page .. Will be back later with more.

Apr 13 Notes

According to some Swedish sources corresponding with me, it appears that the Davis Cup tie will be on clay in Bastad, Sweden, July 21-23rd .. This is the same venue where the Swedish Open tournament will be held in the previous week to the Davis Cup tie .. The Swedish captain is reportedly considering perhaps Magnus Norman (#5 in ESP ranks) and Andreas Vinciguerra (#58) for the singles with Larsson (#36) also a possibility .. Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillstrom should also be in the team .. 9th ranked Thomas Enqvist is not the best clay player they have, and may not be playing, from what I hear .. In fact, Enqvist did not play in the recent Euro-African tie that Sweden won against Finland .. The doubles team may possibly be Kulti-Tillstrom, a very good pair - they played the doubles against Finland .. Bjorkman has also not been playing lately for Sweden, which may also be because his singles form has not been as good as what it was a couple of years back .. Kulti is the experienced doubles specialist, but Bjorkman hasn't been playing with him for a few years though they used to be a terrific pair about 3-4 years back.

At the $10 Mumbai ITF women's satellite yesterday (wednesday), the #1 among the Indian under-16 girls, Megha Vakharia of Maharashtra, continues to impress - she had a 62 62 win in the second round over Swiss qualifier Lucia Tallo, who had upset the 5th seed Rushmi Chakravarti in the first round .. That is the 4th consecutive easy straight sets match that the 15 year old Megha has won, including the qualifier matches .. Apparently Megha could have finished off the match in one set as Tallo could have been handed match panalty because a spectator was hit by a ball she hit in anger - however Megha did not argue for it and the chair umpire was a bit slow in punishing the Swiss girl .. Not a bad attitude for Megha who wanted to play and win fair and square, but the young girl should also be told that in pro tennis it's rare for players to show such sportsmanship and that Indians don't need to be "nice" to anybody :-) .. Anyhow, Megha, who has not played much ITF junior events but has been quite good in domestic competition, needs to be taken serioiusly after reaching the QF with such good wins in only her very first pro event! .. The #2 in under-16, Isha Lakhani of Maharashtra, went down to the top seed Manisha Malhotra .. Manisha seems to be in very good form .. Our top u18 player, Sonal Phadke (she too is from Mahrashtra) also reached the QFs, with a nice 62 62 win over Anna Sismundini of Spain, who had upset the 6th seed Keiko Tameishi of Japan in the first round .. Seeded Sai and Archana were the other two who won, thus putting five Indians in the quarterfinals .. This is about as good as we could have expected in an ITF satellite - and I am extremely glad to see two youngsters among the five as well .. Cool .. See the Mumbai satellite page.

Apr 12 Notes

Flash news .. Boy! .. Lady luck did not smile at us like we wanted .. Off to Sweden we go, in summer for Davis Cup ..  India-vs-Sweden in the 2001 Davis Cup world group playoff this July! .. They are about the toughest possible opponent India could have got for that tie .. Traditionally India has not done well against Sweden, at home or away .. 1-14 is our record in 15 matches against Sweden in three ties we have played against them, the last being the world group quarterfinal in 1996 when Enqvist, Bjorkman and Kulti killed us 5-0 on grass in India .. We have thrown our big guns at them and drawn blanks against the always-tough Sweden .. Our record is, V.Amritraj (1-3), R.Krishnan (0-4), Leander Paes (0-2), M.Bhupathi (0-2), Anand/Vijay (0-2), LP-MB (0-1) in those ties in 85, 87 and 96, with Vijay's dead-rubber reverse singles win over Wilander being the only win we have .. Can we pull this off this time ?  - hell yeah, anything is possible if LP and MB are in form ! .. But two top 10 players in Norman and Enqvist and great doubles players like Bjorkman etc, would be very tough for us .. I guess we should expect clay somewhere in Sweden.

I believe the tie will be during July 21-23, as the previous week has the Swedish Open ATP tournament at Bastad  .. Davis Cup ties are to be scheduled for those two weeks, and the dates were to be selected depending on whether the country involved has an ATP event or not in either of those weeks .. That is good news, as it lets Leander play the Newport grasscourt event the previous week.

More later.

Apr 11 Note-2

There was a mistake in my earlier notes on the possible Davis Cup world group qualifying playoff (July) opponents for India ..  I had forgotten that ITF actually seeds eight teams (based on the rankings of the top 2 players in each country), and does not necessarily pair the 8 teams who are in the world group this year against the eight who are trying to get in for next year - even though often the seedings result in pairings like that .. Just received the ITF announcement today and this year's seeded teams are, France, Great Britain, Italy, Morocco, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and Zimbabwe .. Since India is not seeded among those eight, we will be getting one of those teams .. Sweden and Morocco are teams not in this year's world group (Austria and Belgium were the teams I had mentioned earlier to be possible opponents - they are unseeded even though they were in the world group this year) .. India has homecourt advantage against FRA, GBR and ITA .. SUI, SWE and NED are away ties for us and ZIM, MAR tie locations will be decided on coin toss if I am not mistaken .. Thus we only have a 4 out of 8 chance for a hometie as opposed to a 5+ out of 8 that I had expected .. We will know tomorrow about India's oppoenent, after ITF does the draw .. Anyway, there are no easy teams in that group of opponenents - home or away.

At Mumbai, Isha Lakhani and Megha Wakharia, #3 and #1 in the Indian 16-and-under rankings, are really creating some noise .. Both qualifiers advanced to the second round at the women's satellite .. Isha's win was particularly impressive as the 15 year old simply blew away Svetla Bozocnic ranked inside the top-900 and four years older, by a cheap score of 61 61 .. Coming right after her straight sets win over Shruti Dhawan, it shows she is in great form .. Megha blew away Nikita Bhardwaj by the same score too .. Rushmi Chakravarti's bad run continues from how she did in a couple of tournamentys in far east last month too - the 5th seed lost to qualifier Lucia Tallo .. Top seed Manisha was in terrific form against a good opponent, SK Tara, in a 62 61 win .. Shruti had no chance against Satomi Kinjo the 4th seed .. Radhika made a bit of a recovery in the second set which was tough for anybody to do against second seed Urska Vesenjak in her earlier trip, but Urska won it in straight sets, 61 75 .. The top junior, wildcard Sonal Phadke beat wildcard Liza Pereira 62 61 - I guess that is an expected result .. 3rd seed Sai had an easy win over Isha Chopra .. Archana Venkatraman beat a qualifier .. In general, a very good day for Indians, as 8 of them advanced to the final sixteen .. See th Mumbai satellites page.

AITA never seems to rest these days - here is the latest in their untiring efforts to do something to move Indian tennis ahead - they have appointed Christopher Paul Kachel of Australia, former coach of Rafter and Philppoussis, to coach our Davis Cuppers without a coach now - Srinath, Fazal and Vishal  .. Paes is coached by Australian "Nails" Carmichael already and Bhupathi is also expected t be coached by him once he get back .. The Times of India report that Kachel, who is the head coach of the Australian Institute of Sport, will conduct a coaching camp for these players to groom them for the big league .. AITA has also appointed C G K Bhupathi as director of men's tennis who will be responsible for the programme of Davis Cup players other than Paes and Mahesh and also of the prospective players, AITA said .. Other players who will undergo training at the coaching camp of Kachel are Vijay Kannan, Mustafa Ghouse, Saurav Panja, Vinod Sridhar, Rohan Bopanna and Vinod Sewa .. The players will participate in the satellite circuit after the camp as a preparation for India's next Davis Cup tie, the release said.

Talking of the satellites in June - AITA has had it in their calendar since January, but as recently as 10 days back, ITF had told me that it was not in the ITF calendar .. When I enquired, AITA was pretty sure that ITF will have it in the calendar on time - some of the players from the US who wanted to make travel plans had asked me if I knew whether the satellites were on .. I told them to trust what AITA said .. Sure enough the satellites just went into ITF calendar this week, just as AITA said .. Four weeks starting on June 5th ..  I am sure the AITA coaching camp by the new Aussie coach before the satellites will help our players to get in shape and be ready during the satellites .. I hope that AITA would also consider some of the talented players like Harsh Mankad, Ajay Ramaswami, Vijrant Chadha etc who may come from the US colleges to play at the satellites among the second string and offer coaching advice to them too during the satellites .. They should not be allowed to get lost in the shuffle, just because they chose to leave India on tennis scholarships.

Apr 11 Note-1

No news yet on how the main draw matches at the Mumbai $10K women's satellite are going today .. I believe they were starting the matches only late in the afternoon due to the heat, and are playing some under light as well, at the Ranade courts .. In yesterday's final round of qualies, Shruti Dhawan lost to Isha Lakhani - a good win for young Isha, even if it's against Shruti who is just starting a comeback .. 16 year old Megha Vkharia also qualified into her first pro event .. Shruti made the draw however, as a lucky loser, as the second seed Masarykova withdrew .. Actually they had to redo most of the draw, as is required when a seed withdraws .. Urska Vesenjak of Slovenia is now the second seed -- poor Radhika Tulpule can't get a break, as she is now drawn to play Urska instead of the original second seed .. Till somebody beats Urska in India, she is clearly the favorite to win this evenet - though top-seed Manisha and a couple of others can pull off one against her, especially if Urska is not in the unbeatable form she was in when she came to India late last year and won a bunch of matches .. See the Mumbai satellite page for some matchups, as well as for all the main draw doubles scores - all seeded teams won yesterday.

LP and MB lost the points from their Chennai title last year .. This dropped LP to #6 and MB to #13 in doubles rankings .. LP lost a few points for his first round win at Chennai in singles, and dropped 6 spots to 122 in singles .. MB is ranked at #496, but will drop all the way to near #800 next week after losing 38 of his 48 points (from the Delhi challenger final from last April) .. LP will also lose 48 of his 329 points (from the title at the same challenger), and will drop to around #140 next week .. Now LP has only 34 points in July to defend before December! .. Anyway I have updated all the stats pages including all their doubles and singles points tallies, etc, at the LP and MB stats main page .. Take a look! .. As for MB, he will need wildcards into a few places to get moving up in singles again .. For LP, singles action is next at the clay challenger in Bermuda where he will play only his 3rd singles match on clay in 2 years (he had won a round and lost the next at the FO qualies last year) .. I assume he will be putting in a bit of clay practice somewhere, before going to Bermuda - which may be another reason why chose not to play anywhere next week .. There is a clay challenger in Mexico next week, but he may need a few days of rest after that tough Davis Cup, before starting some practice and may have decided that he did not have much chance to do well on clay rightaway next week .. Actually, a two week rest and training may not be a bad idea now - I believe what follows will be 12 or 13 weeks of continuous play - Bermuda, Orlando, Rome masters, Hamburg masters, French Open qualies, FO, FO,  Queens (grass), Wimbledon qualies, Wim., Wim., Newport, Davis Cup .. He better be 100% physically fresh before starting on that period.

Apr 10 Notes

We will have to wait till wednesday to know about the Davis Cup opponent for India, in the playoff for a spot in the 2001 world group of 16 teams .. This tie will be played in July (not sure if it will be in the second week or the 3rd week - I hope it is the 3rd week, because the second week starting on July 10th has the Newport grass tournament, Leander's favorite event) .. The playoff is normally done later in the year, aroun October or November, but is moved to an earlier date this year because of Olympics, etc coming in later .. ITF will do the draw this wednesday in London to decide the team matchups.

The qualifying rounds started yesterday at Mumbai for the $10K ITF satellite event for women - see the results at the Mumbai satellites page ..  I have not seen the full draw yet, but Radhika Tulpule has got a tough match against the second seed Maskareyeva of Slovakia .. 4th seed Sai also has a tough matchup against the top-ranked unseeded player, Antonia Matic of Croatia .. Manisha Malhotra, who needed a wildcard due to a mixup at ITF about her entry forms, is the top seed .. Rushmi gets a qualifier to be determined today .. At least a couple of Indian girls should be making it through the qualies .. There were 16 players for the qualies with a few Japanese etc .. Only final round qualies and first round main draw doubles were scheduled for Monday, iwith the first round main draw singles starting on Tuesday .. It is so nice to see an old name reappearing in the qualies - Shruti Dhawan! .. She created waves winning the satellite masters as a 16 year old in late 98, had missed early part of last year as she decided not to continue playing in the juniors where she had reached near top-100 ranking then .. She subsequently missed several months also due to a back problem .. Making a comeback of sorts, she had won the first round of the qualies easily, and was to play Isha Lakhani of Maharashtra in the final round today .. There will be around 13 or 14 Indian women in the main draw.

Leander Paes is taking this week off .. I saw a report that he was skipping next week also, effectively making it an 8 week off-period from ATP event singles, except fro two rounds of qualies at Indian Wells .. LP certainly needs to take this week off, as 11 sets of tennis in three days is hard on his body (and Davis Cup matches tend to be much more sapping in physical and emotional energy, especially for LP) .. I had thought that he might be playing the qualies at the Monte Carlo Super 9 next week, though he may not make direct entry to qualies and would need to go and wait there .. He may have decided against wasting time and may have skipped doubles out there too - not a bad idea, as he is now waiting for MB to return to tour in three weeks at Orlando, and there is no point in playing doubles with yet another partner on clay at Monte Carlo .. He mentioned in the press conference yesterday that he will be playing singles next at the $100K+H clay challenger in Bermuda starting on Apr 24th, two weeks from now .. That will be the first clay challenger he will be playing since Prague in 97 April - actually I don't remember which was the last $100K challenger he played at .. Those tend to be extremely competitive, and his resolve to play serious singles on clay is commendable -- Leander of the last 2-3 years would not even give it a thought - but singles has become very important for him now and he may be feeling sufficiently in form to try clay, where his last significant win was over three years back against Jiri Novak in Davis Cup in Czech republic.

Apr 9 Note-2

Some details on LP's match today - from the online tape-delayed commentary clips at Wahindia.com:

LP broke Lee two times in the first set to win it easily at 6, though it was Lee's mistakes and poor tennis that made it easy for Leander .. Lee raised his game by several notches in the second set .. LP was broken in game 2 of the second set and Lee played strong tennis for the rest of the set to win it 63 .. LP was broken again in the first game of the 3rd set .. Leander at this point was looking a really spent and drained, not getting to the ball fast enough and making way too many mistakes .. Then down at 1-3, Leander and Ramesh Krishnan had a nice chat ("animated" as the commentators called it - basically Ramesh egging LP on) .. Then he held serve in the next game with a second serve ace at love .. He came running out for the next game, all pumped up - prompting Sanjay Minotra of the announcing team to immediately correctly predict that LP was going to get that break back, just based on his sudden change in body language - and sure enough the crowd got into it with H-T.Lee serving two double faults, perhaps a bit intimidated also by LP moving way up to receive his second serves .. A brilliant crosscourt from LP got him the break to tie it up at 3-3 .. Leander was down a break point in the next game .. First serve was a fault - and Leander shouts to the crowd, "come on! -- pump me up here -- get me to move!" .. Ah the beauty of LP and Davis Cup in front of the Indian crowd! .. Of course, he held serve that game, and the complexion of the match had changed .. The Koreans went subdued - exactly what India does on our homecourt .. Even a Mexican wave started going around the crowd in the packed stadium .. How about that? .. LP was fully pumped up, springy, adrenaline flowing .. Leander was diving left and right ("Jonty Rhodes on court" - damn you, commentators! :-)) .. Well, that was the match .. From there on, it was basically a canter to the finish line .. H-T.Lee did continue to fight, warding off a set point to LP and coming up with an ace to send it to a tiebreaker in the 12th game of the 3rd set .. LP was down 0-2 but got 7 of the next 8 points to go up on top 2 sets to 1.. A break in the 5th game of the 4th set was all LP needed to finish off the match, though H-T.Lee hung in there till the end.

Thought I would write that much about the key moments .. Give a big hand to the Delhi crowd that never fails to pick up LP when he is down (or MB for that matter - remember the 5th match against Chile?)  .. I am sure you will see all the newspaper reports for more details on the match tomorrow .. The Wahindia team mentioned that Leander appeared to have some sort of physical discomfort by late 3rd quarter though, and that he was pumping himself up to keep going somehow .. Hopefully nothing serious.

Apr 9 Note-1

India d. Korea 4-1 !!

Today's scores -  Leander Paes d. Hyung-Taik Lee 61 36 76(3) 64 and Fazaluddin Syed d. Seung-Hun Lee 60 67(2) 62 ..

I could not follow the Leander match till late in the 3rd set when he was in trouble down a break - he had just got his bearings back, and had broken back to take it to a tiebreaker which he played very well to snub out the Korean challenge .. In the 4th set Leander went up a break in the 5th game and cruised to the final score .. I will need to listen to the tape-delayed commentary clips at wahindia.com to see what went wrong in the second set .. Then Fazaluddin won the dead-rubber match to complete the demolition of Korea ..

So, India advances to a world group playoff which should be against a team from among the following - ZIM, GBR, ITA, BEL, AUT, FRA, NED, SUI .. Only the last two have homecourt advantage against India .. I think ZIM has 50% chance for a hometie against us on a coin toss, as we have never played them .. MB should be back for that tie later in the year, and things are really looking up for India again - win the next tie later this year and we will be in the world final-16 in 2001 .. None of those teams are easy though.

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the week ending on Apr 10 ..

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