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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for the week ending on Apr 24, 2000

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Apr 24 Notes

Leander is at the $100K big clay challenger in Bermuda .. Pretty tough field out there - All eight seeds are in the top-100 actually, with #98 Marcus Hantschk seeded eight ! .. #55 Andrew Ilie is the top seed in the field, which also has top players like #71 Pozzi (second seed) and #76 Stoltenberg (3rd seed) .. Leander is unseeded as he is ranked #138 in the entry ranks this week .. We should know the draw within a few hours .. I have no idea what form Leander will show on clay - it's been a long long time since he played a singles event on clay - first time in three years at a challenger, actually .. He has played a couple of French Open qualifier matches in the last two years on clay and that's it .. He has put in a bit of practice on clay at Orlando this week though .. I have always been of the opinion that LP, despite his dislike for clay, can be a pretty darn good clay player if he really wants it (some of his best results in Davis Cup have come on clay too!) and tunes himself mentally to do what is needed to win on clay .. I doubt he has substantially changed his view about the surface though :-) .. So, I am not looking forward to great results in Bermuda, but as always, who knows - anything is possible with LP! -- I am just glad to see him back on the singles circuit.

India is drawn in a pool of 5 teams at the women's Fed Cup Asian qualifiers in Japan ..  There are two pools of 5 and 6 teams each.  Teams in each pool play each other (each tie having a doubles match and two singles matches - #1 vs #1 and #2 vs #2) and the pool toppers play in a final on Sunday to advance to the world group .. India is drawn in Pool A with Japan (#1 seeded team) and Thailand (#4) .. Japan with Ai Sugiyama playing the #1 spot and Thailand with Tammi Tanasugarn at #1 will both be tough foes for India .. We play Thailand on Tuesday, Japan on Wednesday, Kazakhstan on Thursday and Hong Kong on Saturday .. The first two matches will be tough .. Japan has #22 A Sugiyama and about 4 other players in the 100-200 rank range .. Thailand has #62 Tammi and #352 Benjamas Sangaram as their top two players .. It would be too much to expect for us to upset Japan, but beating Thailand is not out of the question, as both Niru and Sai have a chance to pull off upsets, and our doubles team is pretty good if Niru and Sai play that too .. #224 Nirupama will of course play the #1 spot for us .. Nandan Bal has said that for the #2 singles spot he will select #407 Sai, ranked about 70 spots below Manisha, but in better form currently as Manisha is returning from an injury .. He hasn't decided who will make up the doubles team .. Niru-Sai will be our best team, but he may choose not to play them in all ties to keep them fresh .. I would expect them to play doubles Tuesday in the first tie against Thailand if it is tied 1-1 after the two singles matches, though .. Manisha has not played with Niru for a very long time (neither has she played with Sai), but Manisha and Radhika should be a pretty good doubles team too .. Pool B has #2 seeded China, #3 seeded Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand and South Korea .. I think that is a tougher group .. India should have no problem beating Kazakhstan and Hong Kong in our pool - in fact it would be a big upset if either of those two end up beating the other tree teams in the pool - thus the tie between them would probably be to determine who gets relegated to the lower group in Asia ..  I am optimistic about India putting on a decent show, though it would be very very tough to advance to the final on Sunday .. At least our players are in good form and good spirits after those two very timely satellites in India.

Apr 23 Notes

Leander must have left from Orlando for the $100K Bermuda clay challenger starting on Monday .. He was in Orlando, training for a week or so, and I talked to him a couple of days back .. In good shape, and looking forward to the long stretch starting now .. I will update his schedule soon.

Nirupama had no difficulties yesterday in winning the final at the $10K Delhi ITF satellite, beating Sai 62 63 .. Sai's arm was hurting after playing 18 matches in 12 days and she could play well only in patches, which is not enough against someone of Niru's caliber .. She picked up 10 total points in two weeks which will raise her points total fromaround 25 to 35 points and her ranking should go up by about 70 spots from the current 443 to a career-high around 375 in two weeks .. For Niru, the 6 WTA points from this title are not much, but the match pactice was very useful.

Apr 21 Notes

The two $10K satellites in India have turned out to be really good for Indian women - after an all Indian final in the last leg, we have another all Indian final this time - Nirupama and Sai Jayalakshmi in the final which will be live in the evening on Saturday on Doordarshan TV (the semis were also televised) .. Sai has a chance for consecutive double crowns - an extreme rarity in professional tennis .. She won the singles and doubles (in Rushmi Chakravarti's company) last week .. She again won the doubles final today in the company of Nirupama, over Rushmi and Radhika Tulpule pushing her winning streak to 17 straight matches in two weeks (9 singles and 8 doubles) .. It certainly will be quite a huge win for her if she can upset Niru tomorrow to finish the double double - the last time these two faced each other was about 5 years back which was about the last time Niru played anything other than challengers in India .. In today's semifinals, top seed Niru and 4th seed Sai beat 3rd seed Urska Vesenjak and unseeded Maja Mlakar, both talented Slovenians .. See the Delhi satellite page .. Urska is quite a talented player, but Niru is in a higher class and her win was no surprise .. Good that Niru is getting all the match practice and not showing any effects from the ankle injury form January .. As for Sai, it is quite comendable that she (despite having played the 17 matches in 11 days) was still able to bring out something extra for a three set comeback win today, after very badly losing the first set without even winning a game .. She has become quite a tough pro .. Though Manisha is higher ranked and had some better results over the last year than Sai, based on the form and confidence at the moment Sai may even get favored to play the #2 singles spot in Fed Cup.

Talking of Fed Cup in Japan next week, here is a nice preview article by Kamesh Srinivasan in Saturday's The Hindu .. It won't be an easy job for Indians to come out to the final tie (between the winners of two pools - the winner of the final moves to the world group) .. India finished second in their pool in last year's competition and repeating that should be considered a very good  performance this year, considering the competition in women's tennis in Asia .. Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, China, etc have more top players than India .. Nandan Bal leads the team to Japan and will have some interesting decisions to make, especially on picking the #2 singles .. As Niru and Sai played together this week and did well, there should be no question on the doubles team for the ties .. Kamesh's article makes the point that Indian women's tennis may be finally showing signs of coming off age, based on the results in the two $10K satellites .. That may be a correct opinion .. Not just that those like Sai did well in the satellites - there were quite a few others who pulled off wins against some decent foreign players - in fact about half the field were foreign players, but a proportionate number of Indian women managed to reach the later rounds of the events as well .. Kamesh makes the observation that physical fitness levels have indeed improved among the women lately .. Perhaps it's a side effect of internationalizing Indian tennis - the players see the kind of fitness levels they need to have, to succeed in the grind.

Apr 20 Notes

According to PTI, two Indians have made it to the semifinals at the $10K ITF women's satellite at Delhi today .. Sai Jayalakshmi is in fine form, and did not let young Sonal get going n their QF match, a repeat of last week's final - this time winning it 60 64 .. Manisha was upset by Maja Mlakar in three sets - Mlakar seems to be in fine form too, seeing how she beat Radhika so easily yesterday and Manisha today .. Manisha does not seem to be in her top form yet, after returning from the thumb injury she had a couple of months back .. Sai faces Maja Mlakar tomorrow .. Niru made a few mistakes and became a bit complacent in the second set against Masa Vesenjak but won it 62 76(3) .. Niru faces Urska Vesenjak in the SF tomorrow, as Urska beat qualifier Jennifer Schmidt in three sets .. See the Delhi satellite page .. Sonal got 2.5 more WTA points for 8.5 points in her first two pro events - terrific, especially as she has three top-500 upsets in the two weeks as well .. She should be moving inside the WTA top-700 in two weeks ..

Apr 19 Notes

Leander has been in Orlando for a few days, training before the big 13-week stretch coming up for him .. Mahesh is doing fine and still expecting to play in two weeks at the Orlando ATP .. Will have an update on both soon .. By thye way, ATP named LP-MB as the doubles pair of the year for 1999, at their anual big gala function in Monte Carlo this week .. Their selection was a forgone conclusion, of course .. Neither could be there in Monte Carlo though.

At Delhi, the Sonal upset-show continues .. Today she reached QF again, upsetting the 5th seed Satomi Kinjo (JPN), 6-0 6-1 .. Are you kidding me ? .. This is the same top-500 player she beat in the semis last week 76(1) 63 .. It says something when a player can learn about another player so much in a match to do so much better the next time .. Kamesh Srinivasan of The Hindu does not mince words in saying that Sonal is "easily the best Indian junior player" .. Yeah - this is exciting stuff from Sonal .. Otherwise, it was an even day for Indian women .. 7th seed Archana went down to qualifier Jennifer Schmidt of Austria .. The top three Indians,  Niru, Manisha and Sai are in the final 8 along with Sonal .. Maja Mlakar had a surproisingly easy win over Radhika Tulpule, but she now faces Manisha .. Niru should not have much problems with Masa Vesenjak .. Sonal gets a revenge match against Sai - this should be a fun match .. Urska Vesenjak and Jennifer Schmidt in the last quarterfinal .. See the Delhi satellite page - as usual I update the score there first at the end of the day when they become available.

This is what S.Kannan of the Hindustan Times said about Sonal today - Any tennis player can have a good streak. Just that in Sonal's case, the recent results are indicators she is maturing fast. Transition from a teenager playing junior tennis to the women's level is coming well ... If Sonal can generate pace and impart power with such a frail build, there is no doubt she can be a bigger threat should she add more muscle to her frame .. In other words, Sonal has tremendous potential .. By the way, why do we continue to hear so many comments on the "frail build" of all these talented players .. Come on guys - eat well, and work out well ! .. Getting physically fit is something that can be done by anybody with just hard work - unlike innate talent and atheticim which one is often born with .. In Sonal's case, no complaints - she is very young and has time .. I don't understand it when I hear that comments about even some of the senior players.

Apr 18 Notes

The first round was completed today at the Delhi $10K ITF satellite and no big surprises so far [source: PTI] .. I am yet to see one of the late results from today, but just like last week, a whole bunch of Indians have advanced to the round of 16 - nine of them ! .. The sad news is that 6th seed Rushmi Chakravarti who was upset in three sets by qualifier Lucia Tallo last week was again upset in three sets in the first round - this time by Masa Vesenjak, the lesser-accomplished of the Vesenjak twins from Sleovenia .. Something has been affecting Rushmi's play for a while now and I have not seen any reports on what it is .. Otherwise, it was all good news .. Nirupama got back to the tour today, and had an easy  61 62 win over Nina Egger of Austria .. The youngsters to advance are Sonal Phadke, Radhika Tulpule and Nandini Perumal, the first two in easy wins over  Nona Wagh and Geeta Manohar .. Nandini effectively got a walkover as her opponent Misae Saeki of Japan, withdrew early in the first set .. 4th seed Sai and 7th seed Archana also advanced with easy wins .. Shalini Thakur was in tears due to pain late in the 2nd set after twisting her ankle but showed some guts to pull through for a in over Jasleen Randhawa in a match on Monday .. Arthi Venkatraman went down yesterday to 3rd seed Urska Vesenjak, 06 57, though she put up a fight in the second set, even going up a break late in the set, unable to capitalize on it .. See the Delhi satellite page for results .. As they are playing during the day in Delhi, many of the matches are under really hot conditions, unlike in Mumbai where they had matches under lights .. We will see if this affects some of the players with less stamina and endurance.

By the way, I had heard earlier that Paul Dale, coach for Thailand for a while, had started working with Indian Fed Cup players - I had not seen any official reports on this though .. The Hindustan Times had an article a couple of days back with some comments from Paul Dale who is in Delhi right now to work with our players .. I guess that is yet another of the good moves by AITA .. From what I know, Paul Dale is a pretty good coach - he has been the coach for Thailand's men and  women teams for the past few years .. He must have stopped working with Thailand, if he is now working with the Indian team .. By the way, I remember seeing a report in a Thai newspaper before the Asiad in late 98, where Paul Dale had mentioned that he had trained Mahesh and Leander sometime (I am not sure when) and was hoping that he could somehow find a way to get the Thais to go past the best doubles team out there - of course, Leander could not play at the Asiad due to injury and the Srichaphan brothers won the gold if I am not mistaken .. Anyway, Paul Dale is a 40 year old from New Zealand who is well-respected in tennis circles .. According to the Hindustan Times, Paul was very impressed with Nirupama .. Dale has watched Nirupama since the time she played the ITF junior circuit. “I can say she is certainly top 100 material, provided she gets a few good breaks soon,” .. In his view, what Nirupama really needs to work on is her backhand. “Her serve has improved and she looks fitter, and she is possibly the best Indian I have seen,” he said .. Niru has been working on fitness during the layoff in New York from what I know - hopefully we will start seeing the results soon.

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.

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the week ending on Apr 17 ..

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.