LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for week ending on Aug 2, 1999
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Aug 2 Note-1
The Leander Paes vs Jason Stoltenberg (AUS,59) match is scheduled for this evening as the 4th and last one on court 6 at the Montreal Super 9 today .. It should be around 4 pm there (1 pm PST, USA, 1.30 am tuesday India), plus or minus half an hour .. There will be ball-by-ball discussion in our chatroom during the match, as the online updates will be avaialble from ATP's site.
Fazaluddin and Jan Boruszewski had a first round qualifier doubles win at Montreal yesterday! .. They beat T.Parry and M.Pellerin of Canada, 36 61 76(1) and now faces a tough pair today - F.Syed (IND,362) - J.Boruszewski (GER,458) -vs- A.Clement (FRA,500) - S.Grosjean (FRA,396) today in the qualifying round at Montreal .. The match should be starting at about 7 pm (+/- one hour) .. The chatroom discussion should be continuing with updates of this match after the LP match .. Despite their doubles rankings, Arnaud Clement and Sebastien Grosjean will be a pair of tough cookies to beat, though - they are #71 and #34 in singles.
Here are the singles and doubles main draws at Montreal for Leander:
1 Patrick Rafter (AUS) BYE \ Gianluca Pozzi (ITA) vs Q Alex O'Brien (USA) / \ Leander Paes (IND) vs Jason Stoltenberg (AUS) \ / \ 16 Jonas Bjorkman (SWE) vs Jiri Novak (CZE) / \ __ SF 9 Nicolas Kiefer (GER) vs Daniel Vacek (CZE) \ / Magnus Larsson (SWE) vs Guillaume Raoux (FRA) / \ / Andrew Ilie (AUS) vs Martin Damm (CZE) \ / 8 Tommy Haas (GER) BYE / 1 L.Paes/ J.Palmer Bye \ J.Novak/ D.Rikl vs P.Norval/ K.Ullyett / \ B.Coupe/ E.Taino vs WC B.Kokavec/ J.Robichaud \ / \ 7 T.Woodbridge/ M.Woodforde vs D.Adams/ J.DeJager / \ __ F 3 O.Delaitre/ F.Santoro Bye \ / A.Florent/ D.Macpherson vs M.Barnard/ B.Haygarth / \ / S.Lareau/ A.O'Brien vs Q Qualifier/ Qualifier \ / 6 J.Bjorkman/ P.Rafter vs J.Gimelstob/ R.Reneberg /Tough draws, both of them, but that is normal at Super 9s.
By the way, I forgot to mention that there is a junior (under-18) nationals at Chennai starting today .. We will keep track of what goes on there during this week .. We should know the monday results from there soon.
Aug 1 Note-3
Nirupama is at the Lexington Challenger in Kentucky .. She is drawn to play Lindsay Lee (USA,279) in the first round of the qualies (three rounds), but he match got rained out today .. I will try to get hold of the draw there .. Lindsay is the same player who Manisha lost to in three close sets in the QF of the Baltimore futures on Friday ..
Aug 1 Note-2
Looks like Srinath let a golden chance slip away .. Jan Boruszewski (GER, 535) d. Srinath Prahlad (IND,331), 62 62 .. Srinath gets 5 points for reaching qualifier round, but it could have been much better with a lot of dough, had he reached the main draw .. I will await any news from Ed on the match .. Looks like there was nothing much to say about it, though.
Aug 1 Note-1
Leander is drawn to play Jason Stoltenberg (AUS,59) at the DuMaurier Super 9 at Montreal .. He is in the same part of the draw as the 16th seed Jonas Bjorkman .. I will post the draw later.
It's good to have two of our friends out there at Montreal to report news ! .. Ed Toombs, a long-time Leander fan, is a close observer of Indian tennis who edits an online tennis magazine .. We also have Jeff Leevoy of the fanclub out there, who should be able to give us some match reports from there too .. After he sent me an email with the news of the Srinath -Fazal match, Ed Toombs also put up an excelent write-up at his "On the Line" tennis magazine (check it out at http://surf.to/ontheline) .. Here is Ed's account of yesterday's match (excerpts from his site - read Ed's site for the article, with his comments about the playing styles of Fazal and Sri, etc): "The initial set was dominated by Syed's attacking game. A service break at 4-4 put Syed in a position to serve out the set: he failed in that task, but broke Prahlad again at 5-5 and was finally able to close out the set, 7-5, on a risky second serve winner ... The first six games of the second set were a little painful to watch. Both men had trouble keeping the ball in play, and Fazal was having all the misery in the world trying to keep his rear toe from dragging over the line on his serve: he had a grand total of 14 foot faults by my count .. After a succession of service breaks, Prahlad finally held to go up 4-2, and the more experienced Prahlad began to find the range with his baseline strokes and pull away to 6-3 ... The third set continued the trend, with Prahlad increasingly relaxed and confident and Syed's frustration with the wind, his naughty feet and his errors mounting. At 2-2, 30-40, Syed's serve was broken when he hit a poorly-struck slice backhand into the net. Dispirited, Fazal was not to win another game in this match, and a composed and smooth-stroking Prahlad closed out the match in style, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2. Next up for Srinath: the modest German Jan Boruszewski, ranked in the 500s. A golden opportunity for Prahlad to compete in a main draw on the tour for only the second time in his career".
Looks like Fazal just did not get going today, and Sri has become quite good at grinding it out these days .. I am excited - let's hope Sri can get into the main draw .. That would be great,as he would get some pretty good prize money, and do wonder for his confidence .. Fazal may still be able to get back to the futures this week at Decatur if he is entered in it ..
Harsh Mankad reached the US yesterday, at the University of Minnesota .. He will be at the Decatur (Illinois) futures starting Monday .. He was the 17th best player in the 64-draw the last I heard, and may be seeded when the draw is made.
July 31 Note-4
Srinath beat Fazal today at the Montreal Super 9 qualies, 57 63 62 .. Even better, he has a good chance to make it in, as he goes up against Jan Boruszewski now, who beat Stephane Timu of Canada (subbing for Tieleman who graduated to the main draw when Hewitt withdrew) 6-3 6-1 .. Thanks Ed Toombs for the email with news! .. I will give a link to Ed's online magazine soon. Gotta run.
July 31 Note-3
Check this out! .. I had heard earlier that Fazal and Srinath were going to go to Montreal and try their luck in getting into the qualies there .. Guess what, they did, they got in, and have ended up facing each other when the draw was made! .. Sri actually ended up as the 14th seed in the qualies where 28 players try to get into the 7 main draw spots. Here is the draw
1 Laurence Tieleman (ITA,111) vs Jan Boruszewski (GER,535) \ __ main draw. 14 Srinath Prahlad (IND,331) vs Fazaluddin Syed (IND,431) /Will await any score from there - but it's good to know that at least one of the two will advance to the second round .. Boruszewski was Fazal's doubles partner in the futures last weeks .. So actullay three of these pals ended up in the same part of the draw .. What are the odds, huh ?
July 31 Note-2
A newsbit that Mahesh emailed me from India - he heard from the Kirtane cousins that they are in the doubles final in the Egypt futures (thanks Hesh) .. I had heard earlier that Mustafa Ghouse had also gone to the Egypt futures, but I have not found any results from there I can't find any Egyptian newspaper coverage on that, and Steve Gocha had not got much this week from the ITF person who transmits results, as he is moving. We well get the news/results sometimes .. Good news from the Sandeep and Nitin .. They have 12 points so far and can make is 18 with a title - thye might both enter top 300 in doubles now ..
July 31 Note-1
Oh boy, did Leander miss Mahesh out there tonight .. LP had won the last 20 doubles matches he had played (27-1 in 28 matches), and his winning streak had to end somewhere .. He had won with pickup partners like Arthurs and Siemerink .. I just couldn't imagine that the streak would end in the company of one of the very best doubles players out there, and that too against a scratch team, but that's exactly what happened today .. I will first give the onsite fanclub member report on the match - there is some good news at the end, though.
The match started a bit earlier than the expected 9.30 pm, as the other showpiece match of the night under lights got done abruptly with Lleyton Hewitt getting injured and defaulting against Agassi at 4-5 in the first set .. The introduction of the players evoked some laughter in the crowd, which was one of the bigger ones you would ever see in a doubles QF match since all the people who had only seen a short singles match stayed on for a while .. The announcer, who was on the court, described "the #1 doubles player in the world" and his record in the company of "Mish-mash Bhu-patty" or something like that .. He just couldn't read Hesh's name and made a joke out of it (one of the disgusting habits many people have in this country - hell apologize if you can't read a name, but don't joke -- it only shows that you did not try -- I mean, come on, how difficult is a first name Ma-Hesh ?? .. If you get the accent wrong, I can understand, but being unable to read anything that is not a John or a Smith or a Clinton only shows you in bad light .. one of the rare pet-peeves I have .. but I digress) .. He introduced Bjorkman and mentioned the well-known trick that Jonas is adept at - that is, impersonating the service actions of other players .. he said, "Jonas can imitate the service of McEnroe, Becker, Borg, and Leander's normal partner too" (he said he wouldn't try saying the name again .. ha, ha, funny, I guess) .. I didn't know Bjorkman now does a Hesh too ! - Hesh has quite a distinctive service action .. Anyway, what I felt later was that Bjorkman should have tried to imitate his own good serve ! -- He was just not "on" today, and it did hurt .. I have been a big Jonas fan for quite a while, and I was sad to see him not at his best, though he did pull out some of those nice crosscourt drop shots and some tough lob-retrieves which were beautiful .. Oh well, they all have bad days .. Leander seemed to play well enough to beat the other guys though .. He too made some mistakes, but perhaps not as many at crucial points, as Bjorkman did .. Paes-Bjorkman lost to Martin Damm and Adam Peterson, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6 .. I must give credit to a very good match played by Damm (terrific returns all day) and Peterson (he was aggressive all through- I had expected him to be the weak-link, at least ranking-wise, but that wasn't the case).
As for the game, it perhaps was lost by the 5th game of the first set .. By then LP-JB had wasted 8 of the 9 break chances they had, and had been broken back once in one of the 2 chances the other guys got .. The opponents who were clearly outmatched and a bit worried at first seeing how Leander got going immediately in the first game, were a confident pair after LP-JB kept showing an inability to convert those break chances .. Once they felt they *could* beat the #1 seeds, things changed quickly .. The match started withDamm dropping serve after falling 15-40 (LP was all over the court in a hurry) and then getting broken in the 5th break chance .. The break happened with some superlative net play by LP - he got badly jammed and still returned a volley with incredible pace which surprised Damm who could only flip it back for LP to hit a winner right back .. Jonas was down 15-40 immediately in game 2 though .. Half volley errors by JB (both LP and JB had many of them, as MD-AP adpetly kept sending them to their feet) caused the break .. Then in game 3 Adam faced 2 break attempts, but they held on with LP hitting a forehand down the line out .. LP served well, and he did so throughout the match .. At 2-2, Damm was again down 15-40, but after two netted shots from LP and JB, and they held again .. Trouble started in game 6 when JB had a double fault and then Damm came up with a scorching return - our pair was down 2-4 and it had taken 35 minutes for all of that .. The set got done at 3-6 .. In the second set, LP started getting fired up again at about the 5th game, but they still wasted 2 more break chances in game 6 .. Then in game 8, Jonas did the job with two cross-court returns to get that break .. LP held easily to tie it up at 3-6 6-3 .. They still did not look all that comfortable and were making too many unforced errors, in the 3rd set .. LP was getting a bit upset and even got a code violation and point penalty for "ball-abuse" .. The end started when Jonas dropped serve in the 4th game, following a volleying error .. Then in the final game, JB netted one return and LP and JB missed forehands too long .. The match was over in 1 hour and 43 minutes .. It was a pretty good match to watch .. Though there were mistakes (mostly from LP and JB), there were also some good quality doubles play from both teams. The key stat is pretty clear - 2 of 14 in break chances for our guys versus 3 of 5 for the other guys .. Basically LP and JB were not totally in sync all the time, as it is only their second match together .. sometimes great doubles players can't do much unless the partner does exactly what you expect.
After the match LP said that he has just made the singles draw at the Montreal Super 9 .. I was happy to hear some good news .. Actually it may be better to have lost this match, as he can get there early and get ready for singles .. I am sure LP doesn't want to ever lose a match for such a reason though - he takes every one of his doubles matches seriously and plays to win .. At least, I had some good news to drive back home with .. We will know the Montreal draw by Sunday or so.
July 30 Note-2
Some results this week for our National #2, Manisha Malhotra, now ranked #383 in the world .. She is at the $10K futures in Baltimore, Maryland .. She lost in the quarterfinals today, but had two good wins earlier .. She beat Lindsay Reilley (GBR,771) in the first round easily, 61 64, and then beat Marie Pelletier (CAN,559) in the second round, 67(5) 64 63 .. I believe Manisha is seeded there, but she could not upset a higher seed today in the QF, falling in a close one to Lindsay Lee (USA,279), 76(5) 57 46 .. She picked up 1.5 more points for the two wins, which should push her ranking inside the top-375 .. She has been slowly and steadily going up in rankings while picking up valuable match practice, which is nice to see .. In doubles, she is partnering Stephanie Nickitas (USA), who plays for the University of Florida and is top-10 in US collegiate doubles .. They won 63 63 over Julie Ditty and Jennifer Hall of Vanderbilt University and Notre Dame university, respectively .. Several college players come out to try their hands at the pros during the summer, and many are pretty good though they have no ranking as they are not in the pro circuit full-time .. Anyway, they are playing the doubles QF today - I'm not sure against whom (source: phone call to tournament desk..)
July 30 Note-1
Leander and Jonas Bjorkman are scheduled to play their quarterfinal match today at about 9.15 pm at the $325K Los Angeles Mercedes-Benz Cup (the last match of the day on the centre court) .. I will be there and bring you the report .. Paes-Bjorkman vs Martin Damm (CZE,33) and Adam Peterson (154,USA) .. As far as I know Damm and Peterson are playing together for the first time .. Damm was playing mostly with Grabb last year, and has been generally playing with Cyril Suk this year .. Peterson is one of those players who play with whoever is available .. By the way, I saw an agency report that was published in at least 4 of the national newspapers yesterday that Paes-Bjorkman have reached the semi and will be playing DeJager/Grabb in the semis ! .. It's all wrong, of course -- I must say that news agency reports should never be trusted for any doubles news, anywhere! .. Just ask us fanclub people - we go sit there and watch some doubles matches too, something that wire agency reporters never seem to do (that is one reason why you rarely see any doubles news in agency reports) .. Anyway, 3rd seeds DeJager/Grabb lost yesterday in the QF to Byron Black and Wayne Ferreira (the "other" Black and the "other" Ferreira who play doubles too) .. Our darkhorse picks, Hewitt and Woodforde gave a scare to the second seeds Wayne Black and sandon Stolle last night, but lost 6-3, 3-6, 2-6 .. So, one semi on Saturday will be between Black/Ferreira and Black/Stolle ..
We had a nice chat a few hours back with both Leander and Mahesh on the chatroom here .. Leander was of course sitting jobless in his room in the evening, and stayed on for close to three hours chatting with fans who came in and out to say Hi and ask questions .. Mahesh, who said he had to meet somebody in the morning at 8 am (somehow I felt that he was just being nice to me, and actually wanted to catch an extra hour of sleep in India :-)), did come in by about 9 am Indian time and stayed on for some nice fun chat .. MB came in as "daddy", his favorite chatroom name -- here is Leander to Mahesh .. "hey, daddy, ready to go win one at Cinci ? " and daddy goes, "yep, yep" ! .. LP was planning to call Hesh later to find out about how he was doing, but we saved him precious money (:-)) with the chatroom .. When LP asked about that, Mahesh said he is feeling much better with the injury, and that he started hitting some balls three days back .. Not pushing it hard yet, but he is not feeling much pain or anything .. He said he will get to Cincinnati by next Friday (Aug 6th) and try to see if he can get into the singles qualies, though the draw might close at a higher rank .. Anyway, he is set to play doubles with Lee .. As for the chat, somehow there seemed to be more questions to Leander about his girlfriend Vicky than on his tennis ! .. Leander was in his elements, and answered questions on a wide range of topics, including such important items like the restaurant that serves the best Biriyani in Calcutta .. He said he had no update on where he stood on singles entry at Montreal next week (when he had checked earlier he was at about 5 out from the main draw - so I doubt he will make it) .. Prakash and I got some quotes from Lee and Hesh on what they felt about TennisIndia.org becoming official .. It was nice to have them both there to inaugurate the name ..
In other news, there was news yesterday that AITA will recomment Enrico Piperno for the Dronacharya award .. Having coached his ward, Mahesh, since 1997 January from a world ranking outside top-100 all the way to #1, there is certainly some big items in his resume .. Dronacharya award is not a small thing though - in fact I read the Telegraph, Calcutta, reporting that Akhtar Ali was turned down for that by the ministry a few years back .. It is normally given only to experienced long-term coaches .. Somehow I can't visualize Rico as a ripe old "Acharya" :-) .. Anyway, Rico himself had suggested this, perhaps in half-jest, at Wimbledon after our pair won the title -- "hey, shouldn't I get a Dronacharya now?", according to a newspaper article then by S.Kannan in the Hindustan Times, who was present there and was generally supportive of the notion of Rico getting it .. Looks like it has become serious now .. Anyway, according to The Telegraph, Piperno took the opportunity to clarify that he had been wrongly portrayed as one of the villains in the much-publicised Leander Paes-Bhupathi tiff. “It hurts when outsiders, who have absolutely no idea about the situation, make comments about my being responsible for the Leander-Mahesh rift,” Piperno said. “Had that been the case, Indian tennis and I would have been the biggest losers.” .. Rico also said that his goal now is to guide Mahesh to a top-150 ranking .. Hey, that's too low, Rico - he has what it takes to go at least another 50 steps or more higher .. But the goal is right - small steps, one at a time, to go up .. Hesh needs to get a chance to play singles somewhere -- that's the real problem.
July 29 Note-2
No news to report today yet - will find out about Manisha and Fazal soon .. Meanwhile, as we promised in the last note, we will have an online chat with Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi tonight (Friday morning in India) .. Go to the chatroom page, log into the room, and ask them whatever you want (poilitely :-)) .. If you aren't able to log into the java chatroom, you may have to wait and come back later (but I will have some updates on that page).
The chat will start at 7 pm Pacific time (Thursday) in LA .. That is 8.30 am (Friday) in India .. Prakash Hemdev will be in LA setting up the chat for Leander .. Mahesh Bhupathi had another prior engagement at 8 am, but said he will try his best to join us from Bangalore as soon as he is done .. How about that ?? .. A global chat to mark the birth of an internet name and celebrate a few grand slam titles .. Let's have fun.
Sorry for the short notice - it's always tough to set up anything when our guys are at a tournament .. We had to make sure that LP would not be playing today and knew that for sure only last night .. I had warned the fanclub about the possiblity in an email, though.
July 29 Note-1
Big announcement today !
TennisIndia is official !! .. Now you have one simple name to remember - tennisindia.org ..
Check out the front page (http://tennisindia.org) .. You will see the picture of Leander inaugurating the site name last saturday at the get-together with the fanclub in Manhattan Beach, California .. Our web design guru, Prakash Hemdev, continues to come up with nice looking stuff. Take a look at the cleverly placed Bharat Chakra and tennis ball on the page. The "org" in the name, as you know, shows that it is non-commercial. We ain't dot-com ..
All the pages at this site are accessible from that front page, but no need to bookmark long URLs any more ..
We may announce a chat with Leander and Mahesh sometime soon with short notice, to mark this red-letter day in Indian tennis, when the site by the fans, of the fans, for the fans, became a reality .. "For a better future for Indian tennis", as our front page says .. Ok, ok, enough hype from me .. Back to regularly scheduled programming soon :-)
July 28 Note-2
The first round doubles match was a breeze for the Indo-Swedish pair today .. Paes-J.Bjorkman d. A.Florent-P.Kilderry, 6-2, 6-3 .. The first set was over in about 25 monutes as they broke Florent and Kilderry once each .. In the second set, they went up 2-1 with a break off Kilderry in the 3rd game after three deuces, followed by a nice running forehand that clipped the net and fell in, and then a nice placement in no-man's land by Jonas .. After LP served a love game with an ace, LP/JB went up by 2 breaks to 4-1 following a double fault by Andrew Florent .. Then Bjorkman dropped serve unexpectedly, as both Kilderry and Florent came up with some scorching returns and JB double faulted (it looked like the sun right in his eye on high tosses was a problem there for JB) .. PK was taken to a deuce in the next game after a beautiful crosscourt flip after a reflex lunge by LP backwards (one of those shots that not many would try!) .. PK held to go 3-4 after LP netted an easy volley though .. After LP served an easy 8th game for 5-3, it was time for the final nail .. A timely lob from LP was returned long by AF, and some adept volleying by BJ and LP made it double match points .. Then AF double faulted and it was over .. The work was done in about 55 minutes and LP was off to some golf in the afternoon .. He is not scheduled to play tomorrow .. As for Bjorkman, he had a nice solid game .. Nothing too flashy, but one could see why he is one of the very best doubles players out there, as he clearly knew what to do at all times .. It's nice to have somebody like that alongside LP when his best partner Mahesh is not available .. LP had that comfortable look on his face showing his confidence in what the partner would do, like when he plays with Hesh .. The QF is on Friday.
I also watched the team I called darkhorses in my July 26 notes - Mark Woodforde and Lleyton Hewitt .. They won against Brandon Coupe and Eric Taino, 62 64 .. That pair looked really good .. I had expected Lleyton to be fun to watch, but he also showed excellent doubles instincts, unusual for an 18 year old .. Great touch at the net and reflexes .. As you may remember, he was travelling last year with LP when he was being coached by the same Bob"Nails" Carmichael last year .. The kid must have picked up some good tips for sure .. The legend, Mark Woodforde, was of course solid .. They play the second seeds Black/Stolle tomorrow in a featured night match .. In other matches, 8th seed Wayne Ferreira seems to have gotten over the bad form he had when he lost to LP at Newport three weeks back - he beat Justin Gimelstob in a comeback, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 .. Chang had an easy 2nd round win, 6-4, 6-2, over Gillaume Raoux, who made a large number of unforced errors - he even asked to measure the height of the net at one point as he was dumping so many on it :-) .. The upset was by qualifier James Sejulov, who pulled it off against 5th seed Thomas Enqvist, 6-7 (1-7), 6-4, 6-3 .. Sampras is playing Lareau as I type.
Please check back a few times within the next day - we may have an announcement of some interest ..
July 28 Note-1
It feels like I have hardly reported any good news for weeks now! .. More bad news today: The St.Joseph News-Express reports that 12th seed Fazaluddin lost yesterday in the first round of the USA F12 futures there .. No other info available, so I don't know who he lost to .. So, that's that for that, once again .. Fazal may be in the doubles draw also - we will know later.
July 27 Note-2
Leander's first round doubles match in Jonas Bjorkman's company, against Andrew Florent and Paul Kilderry at Los Angeles is scheduled for tomorrow as the second match on the grandstand court .. It should be starting at around 1 pm .. I will have a match report by evening ..
Fazal is at the USA F12 Futures at St.Joseph, Missouri, this week .. The main draw must have started today .. I have not seen the draw yet, but we will find out soon how it's going in the latest installment in the USTA futures series .. Based on what I have heard from players who have gone through the futures circuit, especially in summer, nobody has any right to complain about conditions in the Indian satellites .. Our Indian newspapers have a habit of reporting the complaints from the foreign players, generally assuming that things are so much better in other places - apparently that is not the case! ..
I am also told that Manisha Malhotra is at the $10K futures in Baltimore.
SK Shivshankar was the 2nd seed in the qualifiers for the futures in Italy, but crashed out in the second round to unranked Roberto Bresolin (ITA), 57 06 .. SKS is also having a tough time in the foreign futures circuit.
Srinath seems to be getting well again - remember he had withdrawn from the futures in Turkey earlier as he was sick .. I heard he is practising in Mumbai now, and will be coming to North America this week.
Here is an interesting news item - the US claycourt 16-and-under tournament was at Washington DC last week. The doubles title was won by Rajeev Ram (from Indiana, USA) and Jonathan Stokke, defeating Prakash Amritraj and K.C. Corkery, 6-7 (14-12), 7-5, 6-2 .. There was yet another Indian-American in the semifinals - Stephen Amritraj in the company of an American kid .. In fact these three teams were all seeded in the top 8 in the tournament - doubles skills run in Indian blood, huh ? .. Actually all three kids are pretty good in singles too .. Rajeev Ram was the featured under-16 boy at the kid's day exhibition matches at the US Open last year .. The Amritraj boys have also been making some noise lately.
July 27 Note-1
Just got back after an hour of wretched driving from the Mercedes-Benz Cup at Los Angeles .. I hate qualifiers ! .. I am sure Leander does too .. It's yet another disappointing outing for LP in singles .. The gist of it was that Eric Taino had nothing to lose, and he played almost an error-free game .. Quick feet and very good ground strokes .. Leander was having trouble with his forehand all night long, and when that happens, he is in big trouble against a fleet-footed lefty guy whom you can't easily beat with chips and drop shots .. Eric Taino (USA,644) d. Paes, 7-6(4), 6-1 ..
The match started at about 9.45 pm and ended at 11 pm Monday .. Right from the beginning LP's first serve percentage was not very impressive .. Taino was perfectly comfortable staying at the baseline, but any time LP tried to move him up, the dude looked fine doing that too .. He came up with some very good passing shots to let LP know that he can't easily be beaten with serve and volley, especially when the first serve isn't going in often enough .. Taino was returning well throughout the match, dropping it at the feet of a charging Leander a few times, or hitting screaming two-fisted backhands past him .. Taino's serve is not a huge weapon, but he was accurate enough to keep it on Leander's backhand side and he did not let Leander do much by way of returns either .. Despite all that, the first set went pretty even, and but for the erratic forehand which was spraying long and wide, LP could have created opportunities for himself .. It went with serves with neither getting any break chances till 4-4 when trouble brewed .. LP started with a screming backhand kill on a lob from Taino, which made everyone go ooh, but two great returns from ET and a volleying error put LP in a hole at 15-40 .. LP just couldn't afford any mistake there, and he came up with three aces in a row to avoid a break .. LP seemed to be hitting a stride for a minute there, as he went up 0-30 on ET's serve right then, with a great running forehand crosscourt (the forehand crosscourt shot was conspicuously missing otherwise) .. But that was a short-lived charge as Taino stayed remarkably composed for somebody playing his first world series match (as far as I can figure out) - he came up on top in a baseline exchange and then hit an ace, which was followed by a volleying error from LP .. It went to the tiebreak with no breaks in the first set .. LP fell behind by a minibreak at 2-3 .. Two more sprayed forehands and a chip shot error from LP, and it was 2-6 .. LP made another charge facing three set points with some nice touch shots at the net, but fell at the 3rd set point which ended in Taino winning a nice volley exchange and the set (I was impressed - for once I had to yell, "well done Eric" - I still was not expecting him to win the match though) ..
As for the second set, the less said the better .. In the 2nd game, LP faced a break point, but for the 3rd time he came up with an ace to squeeze out of a jam, and won a baseline duel for a change .. The real trouble started in the 4th game with LP serving at 1-2 .. An LP double fault and some good running around by ET, and LP was down 0-30 .. Again LP managed to pull it back to deuce after warding off a 4th break attempt .. Then he missed yet another forehand long, and one could clearly see frustration on LP's face, as he looked unable to figure out the inaccuracy in that shot .. A good volley from him made it 5 averted break attempts .. Then something strange happend - Leander played two strange shots, some sort of looping spin shots which could work only if it totally confused and surprised Taino .. It did surprise him, but he did return it twice and then went for a winner .. I can only think of some real frustration on his forehand not working that caused LP to resort to that .. Anyway, it was a 6th break chance for Taino in the match, and this time he got it .. After that it was just a matter of him serving twice and breaking LP once more .. LP went for two more aggressive forehand shots in the 5th game, perhaps in a last ditch effort to hit his way out of trouble, but it didn't work and he was broken .. So, Taino won the final 5 sets to finish the second set at 6-1 .. For the match ET broke LP twice coming in the 6th and 7th break chances he got .. That was enough .. Eric did not face any break attempts.
LP will just have to regroup once again .. I am not sure at this point what exactly is affecting his singles game .. Perhaps he needs to stop thinking and just get back to basics and play his game .. As I know he had put in a lot of practice here for the last 3 days, I expected him to be sharper, but that was not the case today .. Coach Bob Carmichael was there observing the whole thing - I am sure he will have some advices for Lee. Physically or otherwise there seemed nothing wrong with LP .. His shots were there occasionally but he was just not accurate or consistent in the execution today .. This is perhaps the lowest ranked player LP has lost while injury-free in many many years - but that doesn't mean much - Taino has beaten about 3-4 top-200 players now, and is one whose ranking is on the upswing .. Though we folks from the fanclub were screaming in support of LP throughout the match, we went and congratulated Eric for the fine match he played .. As for LP, he will be fine .. Just needs to break out of a bit of a funk in singles one of these days - otherwise, nothing wrong that should worry us.
Hmm.. It is 1.30 am .. The match was actually yesterday, though I said "today" above .. I better go to sleep -
July 26 Note-3
Here is the double draw at Los Angeles:
1 J.Bjorkman/ L.Paes vs A.Florent/ P.Kilderry \ M.Barnard/ B.Haygarth vs M.Damm/ A.Peterson / \ 4 J.Gimelstob/ S.Humphries vs G.Grant/ M.Tebbutt \ / WC J-M.Gambill/ R.Leach vs B.MacPhie/ G.Ivanisevic /Bjorkman and Leander will be a tough team for anybody to beat, I think .. Bjorkman has been in town for a couple of days and LP has had some practice with him .. The second seeds are Black/Stolle, in the bottom half .. There is one wildcard team here - Sampras and Annacone .. I am sure there are people who would like to see them play doubles, but I generally dislike seeing a spot in draw taken away from some deserving team though .. An interesting darkhorse team in the bottom half is Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Woodforde - watch out for them.
July 26 Note-2
Nirupama was in the singles qualifiers at the $50K Salt Lake City challenger, but lost in the first round to Ding Ding (#394, CHN) 06 64 46 .. Oh boy .. Niru is in some sort of serious funk lately .. The 5 week lay off may have left her a bit rusty .. The bad thing is that she had three weeks of points to defend and will drop a bit more next week in the rankings .. She is down to #211 this week, after losing some points from the Puchheim and Gexto challengers last year .. She has 7 more points dropping off next week for the qualifiers at the Stanford WTA events last year .. That will drop her to around #225, and then she has nothing much to defend for a while .. The problem now is that she will have to play qualifiers at virtually all challengers unless she plans her schedule very very carefully .. In doubles she is at #230 this week .. She is a tough one and I am sure is not yet bothered by the recent poor form .. Frankly though, her real problem is still that she has no coach with her .. She basically has not had any coaching this year at all, since she was unable to afford David O'Meara of Florida who had coached her on and off for a while .. I am a bit upset that despite all the big talk I heard from everyone last year about her being signed by IMG and all that, all she has got for sponsorship is some gift money and a couple of airline tickets (based on a story S.Kannan of the Hindustan Times had written late last month) .. I have not talked to Niru in a few weeks .. I will do so, and report what she feels about all the lack of support .. It is just not easy to go around the tough pro tour all alone and not get any criticism or advice on what one is doing right or wrong .. It can get to one's psych .. Were we not sure of the determination Nirupama has always shown in sticking with it for all this while, we would all be concerned that she would be packing it in soon .. Don't worry - Niru will be back .. But I am not so sure of the help from all these sports management conglomorates who can't even find money to get her a coach .. It's pitiful what the best player from 450 million women has to go thrugh to cut a pioneering path .. Everyone who sits and watches should be ashamed.
For some good news, Niru did manage to squeeze into the US Open qualifier draw as one of the last few players, based on her ranking last week .. US Open has a 128-size qualy draw, unlike other grand slams which have 64-size qualy draws.
Manisha Malhitra was not at the Salt Lake City challenger qualies.
July 26 Note-1
At the $325K Los Angelese Mercedes-Benz Cup, Leander faces qualifier Eric Taino (USA,644) in the first round today .. The match is scheduled for about 9.30 pm - one of the featured night matches .. Wonder why this match is a "featured one" ? .. It's because Eric Taino is a former UCLA player, and the tournament is at the UCLA courts - he was their top singles player when UCLA was ranked #1 or #2 in 1997 in collegiate tennis .. Don't let his ranking fool you; the 24-year old is a tough fighter .. He has had some good results in challenger matches - actually he has wins against Marzio Martelli of Italy when he was ranked in the top-150, and over Lionel Roux and Michael Hill in the top-250 this year .. He even took Andrew Ilie in the top-50 into a 3rd set tiebreaker in the Laguna Hills challenger earlier this year .. Plus he just came through three round of qualifiers; he was a bit lucky, getting two wildcard players ranked below 1000, but he did have to beat Michael Joyce (#205) in the second round .. There will be all his UCLA friends out there, on the grandstand court, so familiar to him .. I think this may be his first match in the main draw of an ATP world series event .. I plan to be there with a couple of other fanclub folks and we will scream as best as we can to give Leander some support, but our screams may get drowned .. The tournament desk has given me a press pass for the tournament (they tell me it is the first time they remember anybody asking press passes for an online tennis page .. Heck, why not ? .. Indians are of course first in these things!) .. Since I am not a print press reporter, I don't have to follow the journalistic ethics and stay impartial, do I ? :-)
The other qualifiers are Magnus Larsson, David Wheaton and James Sekulov .. I believe Larsson (#63) had to qualify as he had not entered the tournament before the deadline .. Wheaton beat the current Asian #4, 20 yr old Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand (#201), in the final round.
.. Previous notes are at Weekly Notes, ending July 26 ..