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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for week ending on Aug 3, 1998
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Please read the important topic discussed in the July 21 Notes 1 & 2, and the July 26 Note-3 Last week - regarding Indian player's needing support ..
Aug 3 Note-2
The new rankings show Leander at his second highest ranking ever, #101 (he was #98 for one week in 97) .. Mahesh moved up 65 spots to a much nicer ranking, #342 .. Prahlad is at #451 and Fazal is at #615 .. In doubles Mahesh is down from #3 to #6, just ahead of leander at #7 .. The reason is that their points from the Canadian Super 9 last year fell off (the points are falling off a week early now, the way the calendar is .. ATP strictly follows a 52 weeks period, regardless of when a tournament repeats) .. LP was ahead of the #8 Ferreira by about 800 points that he stayed at #6 even after losing the 448 points from last year at Montreal. The team doubles rank remains the same. On the women's side, Nirupama is up to #160 from 165, another highest ranking this year for her. In doubles she is at #208 now.
Aug 3 Note-1
Happy birthday, fanclub ! .. It was 2 years back, to the day, that I sent a note in the rec.sport.tennis newsgroup asking for people to join a fanclub, driven then by the pride we felt in Leander's heroics at the Olympics .. Had S.Vijayanand, Rajesh Bawa, Sanjeev Bordoloi, Saurabh Jang and Raghu Madabushi join quickly, we had the fanclub, and the rest is history ! :-)
Some news on one of our future hopes, who has been somewhat forgotten by many, lately. Harsh mankad. He is at the Weil Tennis Academy in Ojai, California, for a 4-week training program, costing over $2000 (plus airfare etc costing about that much more), part of which he managed to get from a private foundation in Bombay .. The rest comes from his own paltry savings which he felt was best used for a training program like this, where one gets to play some of the best upcoming players in the US .. Anyway, I guess we can consider him among the first one to get some help from this fanclub, as we contacted him and told him late last week about a challenger across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, where he could try qualifying. He was unaware of the challenger (surprisingly, most ATP players seemed unaware of it too; perhaps the $25K+H challenger, organized by the Mexican Davis Cupper Alejandro Hernandez' father, hit the ATP calendars a bit too late). A phone call to the Mexican Tennis Federation on Thursday revealed that there were spots expected in the qualifier draw for even unranked players. The Weil Tennis Acedemy coaches felt it would be good for his training, Harsh came down to get a visa in a hurry to Mexico, and we were driving down on Friday evening to Tijuana to his first pro tournament abroad ! .. As it turned out, Harsh (ranked 1177) signed in and became the 7th seed in the qualifiers !! .. not bad for a first foreign pro tournament, huh ?..
Harsh was up and running in a hurry, and beat Adriano Pena of Mexico, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7), on Saturday to reach the 3rd and final round of qualifiers !! This was the first tournament match he has played in several months, as he had been at a dead-end with nothing to do in Bombay ever since the Indian futures ended in January; so it surprised me how he pulled off a convincing win. Then he went up, unfortunately, against the 2nd seed (and perhaps the one player in the qualy draw I didn't want him to face), Brad Pearce, 32 year old pro, once ranked as high as ATP #71, now making a comeback that has seen him move up quickly from unranked to ATP #639 after just 3 tournaments. Harsh lost yesterday, 6-2, 6-4 to Brad, but felt that he could have made a comeback, but for a couple of aggressive shots that went a bit long while at 4-4 in the second set .. He felt his gameplan of keeping him at the baseline was working and the old-pro was beginning to get tired, but experienced pros normally do what is needed in those situations (precisely whay one needs to play these kinds of games to learn and improve). Harsh also felt he needed to work on an occasional tentativeness in his forhand on a fast hardcourt surface .. Anyway, a very creditable performance by Harsh. He is the 3rd in line for a lucky loser spot in the main draw which may not come through, even though one or two main draw players seem to have withdrawn and a couple more (such as our old friend, half-Indian, Marcus Hilpert) had not arrived there yet. Will report if anything happens.
The good news is also that Harsh (ranked #1210 in doubles) hooked up with Mark Johnson (#1331) whom he met while waiting in the hotel lobby (!) and played doubles qualifiers also, and they have reached the final round of the doubles qualifiers after beating a Mexican pair, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) yesterday, soon after his singles loss. Mark has a healthy respect for Indian tennis players, since he has lost to Mahesh a couple of times in 95-96 when he was at the Univ. of Alabama and MB was at U.of Mississippi and wanted to play with Harsh immediately :-) .. MJ/HM play the final round of qualifiers today and HM seemed confident that they can qualify. Go Harsh ! .. I have more on Harsh and how a lot of folks have treated him in India, doing everything they can to kill the kid's self-confidence .. Will write on that soon when I feel like kicking up some noise .. :-)
Leander's trainer Sanjay Singh said yesterday that LP came back from Niagara Falls without any injury .. :-) .. Sanjay seemed confident that LP will be ready for doubles by Wednesday.
Aug 2 Notes
Leander decided Friday evening not to play the singles qualifiers at Toronto, as his ribcage injury is not fully healed. There are no broken bones, but the muscles are a bit banged up and he did not want to aggravate the injury while it is healing. He will take 4 more days of rest and then play the doubles. LP/MB will have a first round bye and will have to play only by Wedensday. Leander and his trainer Sanjay Singh went up to see the Niagara Falls, with strict instructions from coach Carmichael not to fall off the waterfall and injure himself more :-) .. The coach is concerned that Leander is capable of finding himself an injury anywhere ! .. LP is in good spirits.
Mahesh has reached Toronto last night. It appears he still has not decided to change his racquet. He plans to continue with Wilson, as he felt the new Spauldings were a bit too stiff for him .. He did have a chance against Petr Luxa to in the quarterfinals at Istanbul .. Had six set points in the second set but could not wrap it up and start the comeback in the 1-6, 6-7 loss .. MB is not going to Binghamton, the week after Toronto (LP will be in the draw, and Prahlad and Fazal will try the qualies there). I suspect his rank from 2 weeks back may have been a bit too low to make the direct entry and he may not be able to get there for the qualies, due to the Toronto doubles he should be playing this coming weekend .. Anyway, MB is expecting to be at the Cincinnati Super 9 and will be playing doubles there with Paul Haarhuis !!
Nirupama was enjoying a couple of days off in the San Fransisco bay area, and has reached Lexington, Kentucky, for the $25K challenger starting there on Monday. She is in better health than she has been for the last few months, though she had some shoulder trouble during her final qualifying round match against Tatarkova last Monday. She is happy after picking up quite a few points over the last 3-4 weeks and is expecting to move her ranking even further up (it should be around #155, her highest this year in tomorrow's new WTA rankings) .. After the Lexington challenger, she will be at the Tier III $164K WTA Tournament at Boston (Aug 10-16), where she will play the qualifiers during the next weekend. She then goes to the Bronx challenger (Aug 17-23) where she has her semifinals points from last year to defend .. That will be followed by the US Open qualifiers. I am told the USO qualifier field for women has been increased to 128 from 64, but it will not take 4 rounds as we guessed earlier, as they have increased the number of qualifiers from 8 to 16 as well. That makes it better, as she should be among the upper half of players in the qualifier draw, and won't have to pull 3 upsets in a row to make the draw as before. She still does not have any sponsorship support coming her way, and she is finding it hard to break even, though the IMG folks who have signed her up say that it is possible for them to find her some sponsorship soon.
Aug 1 Note-2
Just saw the qualifying draw for the Toronto Super 9, and Leander is not entered there .. Since I know he is in Toronto, and he could not have made the main draw based on the June 22nd ranking, even if there have been some late withdrawals (he was #123 and the draw closed at #101 of June 22nd), we have to assume he chose not to play the qualies .. Will try to find out more, especially about the injury situation, soon ..
Aug 1 Note-1
There were some reports the last few days about AITA's plans for junior talent development. Basically, they will be spending upto about Rs. 1 crore on "grassroot" junior development programs, including about Rs 30 lakhs to the state units (which meet some requirements regarding basic courts facilities, availability of coaches, etc), which can get up to Rs 1.5 lakhs. A few states have apparently already received an instalment of Rs 62K. I saw a claim that this would benefit up to 100 talented kids in every state. .. Not sure what it would give them, once the coach/officials/etc are paid .. May be 10 minutes of a lecture on how to hit a forehand a and piece of a Masal Dosai ? ..
I am not a big fan of decentralized schemes of doling out money, by institutions such as AITA without much manpower on monitoring and enforcing the quality of program execution by the state units .. I guess they know what they are doing. As I always say, while such grassroots development programs are necessary, the most important thing may be to come up with a few lakhs each for the top 5-6 juniors to get extra coaching and match experience in and outside India, and for the top 2-3 seniors starting out on the pro tour and in need of finances ..
Kamesh Srinivasan had a nice article in The Hindu on the current #1 junior, Vijay Kannan, yesterday .. I have some news and info on the previous #1, Harsh Mankad (why has everybody completely forgotten him ?) starting out on his pro career .. Coming soon.
July 31 Notes
Mahesh Bhupathi could not upset the 6th seed Petr Luxa (#188, CZE) who beat him 6-1, 7-6 on Friday .. Looks like a slow start for a 3rd match in a row and the comeback fell short this time .. I received an interesting piece of info that he found his new Spaulding racquet a bit too stiff and had to revert to the older one .. Anyway, a useful trip for Mahesh as he picked up 21 points and will move up Monday to around 340 from the current ranking of 407 .. That will keep him out of trouble in entering most challengers. I assume it would be Binghampton where we will see him play singles next, unless he manages to get to Toronto by Saturday to try the qualifiers at the Super 9 Canadian Open ..
Talking of Canadian Open, the doubles draw is going to be one of the toughest you will see at any Super 9. The tournament site says that 5 of the top 10 doubles teams, #4 Ferreira/Leach, #5 Johnson/Montana, #6 Bjorkman/Rafter, #8 Galbraith/Steven and #10 Knowles/Nestor are already in the draw. We also know that #2 Woodies, and #3 LP/MB will be there, and I am told that #1 Eltingh/Haarhuis are expected too. That would make it at least 7, may be 8, of the top-10 teams there ! .. The "Indian Express" will have their work cut out for them, to defend the title there.
Leander had still not recovered from the rib-cage injury and upper-body pain, as of Thursday when he was leaving for Toronto, even though he felt his chest wasn't hurting like it was a couple of days back when even laughing was cauding him pain. He said he will see how it feels on Saturday before deciding to play the singles qualifiers. He is expected to be among the top 2 or 3 seeds in the qualifiers.
July 30 Note-1
Terrific news .. Mahesh beat Eyal Ran, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 today to reach the quarterfinals, where he will face the 6th seed Petr Luxa (#188, CZE) !! .. The win gives him 21 points total so far, which is right now the largest number of points in his list and is enough to bring him up to around 350 .. If he reaches the semifinals, he will get 42 points and so this will be another good upset to pull off .. By the way, what's up with those first set problems ? .. Anyway, the new racquet seems to be working fine for MB ..
July 29 Note-2
Now I am a bit confused about the women's challenger at Lexington, Kentucky! .. The ITF's This-Week online magazine says there is a Lexington challenger *this* week, and the USTA online calendar says the Lexington challenger is *next* week, which is what I had reported earlier before I got confused by ITF .. But the USTA calendar makes no mention of the Men's challenger at Lexington next week (which could be because it may not be a USTA event), but that is listed by ATP .. When I look further, ITF says there is a $25K women's challenger at Lexington *next* week as well .. :-) .. The bottom line is that I assume that both the women's and men's challengers in Lexington are next week, unless I find otherwise .. So Nirupama has to be taking a break now, before going to Lexington. Thought I would put that up there to confuse everybody else too ! :-)
July 29 Note-1
I don't think Mahesh played singles today. He should be playing his second round match against Eyal Ran on Thursday. I believe 6th-seeded Peter Luxa advanced today, beating Andrei Stoliarov, and will face Mahesh or Ran in the QF .. I believe the other quarterfinal in the bottom half of the draw is between Alex Radulescu (GER) and Ota Fukarek (CZE) who beat Axel Pretzsch and Erhan Oral today. Voltchkov beat Sabau to reach the QF from the upper half of the draw .. The other 4 prequarterfinals should be tomorrow (source: Fanatik Spor Gazetesi, Turkey)
I just realized that the women's challenger at Lexington, KY is this week, and not next as I said in the Jul 28 note-1 (it is the men's challenger at Lexington that is next week). Since the info I received from the bay area (Umesh) was that Nirupama would be at Lexington next, I will check tomorrow and see if she made it up there for the challenger after losing in the final round qualies at Stanford on Monday.
In other news, Steve Gocha (the one with a very good eye to pick Indians out of big draw sheets! :-)) pointed out to me that a couple of Indians were in France trying their luck in the futures series there .. Mustafa Ghouse and Anand Radhakrishnan played the qualifiers for the $10K futures the last couple of weeks, but did not make it into the main draw after winning one or two matches in the qualifiers. Mustafa, who used to play doubles with Harsh Mankad was in the doubles main draw with Rodrigo Laub of Brazil but lost in the French F2 and F3 futures first rounds the last two weeks .. Incidentally, a Stanley Stanger is listed as from India in the draw sheets from the Fench Tennis Federation (FFT) .. I have never heard of him, but he lost in the qualifiers .. Also, strangely, out of 64 players in the qualifiers draw three weeks back, it happened that Anand Radhakrishnan went up against Mustafa Ghouse in round 2 .. Anand won 6-4, 6-4, but lost in the final round of qualies. So, the trip up there didn't help anyof them in getting any points. All three futures in France were played on clay, and it sometimes takes a while to get used to the red clay up there.
July 28 Note-3
It is good news from Turkey ! .. Mahesh upset the 4th seed (#180) Adriano Ferreira, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 to move to the second round of the $100K+H Istanbul challenger.. He now faces Eyal Ran of Israel (#203) in the second round [source: Fanatik Spor Gazatesi, Turkey .. I can only see the scores .. I don't know Turkish!] .. MB get 11 points for the win today .. Eyal Ran is a good player, and has a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win over Mahesh from the 1996 Aruba challenger. Mahesh has been playing at a pretty good level in the last few singles match he has played though, and is hungry for some points after he fell to his lowest ranking in a couple of years this week.
I forgot to report something Steve Gocha informed me about (thanks, Steve) a couple of days back. Vikrant Chadha qualified yet again for a satellite event ! .. that is about the 4th or 5th satellite or futures events in a row that he has qualfiied into .. though he still has not picked up any points .. The leg-1 of the USA satellites that started last week was at Springfield, Missouri, but Vikrant went against the 7th seed, Tad Berkowitz and lost in the first round of the 64-draw leg .. I believe the qualifiers are done only once for the first three weeks together and so he gets to play again. No news from this week's leg-2 at St.Joseph, Missouri, yet. The idea is to finish among the top-24 or so in circuit points (not ATP points) from the first three weeks and then get to the satellite masters in the 4th week (where the top few get first round byes in a 32-draw leg). One does not get any ATP points, I believe, unless one plays in the 4th week's masters-leg .. Vikrant is still alive for that, but I would think he will need to get to the final 16 a couple of times to do that .. I may be wrong about all these details, but thought I would mention them, so somebody who knows more exact rules for the ATP satellites can tell me .. The new futures tournaments are much more straight-forward than the old-style satellites.
July 28 Note-2
Just got a note from Stanis V. Thiruthuvadoss (thanks!), who was at the Winnetka firt round match for LP .. Bad news. LP lost, 4-6, 2-6 .. This is perhaps his worst loss in a few years, based on rankings as Groer was a qualifier, ranked #966 .. He looked "out of it" , says Stanis, and I am sure the rib injury is troubling him a lot .. LP had told me a couple of days back that he tried to play a match on Sunday, was in major pain, had to run to the Doctor and go under serious medication. I didn't report it as that serious here, but it is clear that he needs some more healing.. Get well fast, Lee!
July 28 Note-1
Nirupama could not come up with an upset yesterday and lost to #69 Elena Tatarkova, 3-6, 3-6 in the final round of qualifiers at Stanford .. A couple of fans who were there wrote saying she was having some shoulder pain and really couldn't go after Tatarkova even though she had gauged her opponent well and fought hard (thanks Umesh and Krishna Mohan) .. She couldn't play the doubles qualifiers either. She should be taking rest this week (too late to go to the $75K Salt Lake city challenger), but 8 points from Stanford is not bad for this week. These points should go into her total by next Monday and bring her up to 160 next week, up from 165 this week with about 148 points. She has picked up 32 points in the last three weeks .. Her doubles rank also went up this week from 228 to 210 with 10 points coming from Getxo, Spain (she must have reached quarterfinal there in doubles too) .. It has been a while since she picked up a few doubles points. She has a few points to defend in doubles again this week, if I remember correctly, from the Salt Lake City challenger last year where she reached the semifinals with Meilen Tu (?) .. Her doubles rank will fall a bit again. Basically, Niru has never had even a semi-regular partner though she is a very good doubles player too, and that has hurt her doubles rank. She plays at the $25K Lexington (Kentucky) challenger next week.
No news from Istanbul .. Actually I don't think Mahesh played his singles on Monday .. If I am reading a Turkish newspaper report correctly, the second seed Heuberger lost to Radulescu monday, and the 3rd seed Voltchkov won (as did Stolioarov, Pretzsch, etc) .. No mention of Mahesh's match yet. May be playing today .. As for Leander, he is playing this evening at Winnetka in round 1 .. I hope his upper body pain would have gone down enough by then.
In the new rankings, Leander stays at the same #103 and #7 in singles and doubles, and Mahesh is at #407 and #3 .. The team rankings remain the same at #3 .. Fazal moved up yet again, from #628 to #617, with one more point (from the second week of Futures he played at Greece) .. He came back to the US, dropping the plans to go to UK, due to problems with finances .. He will be trying to get into the Binghamton and Bronx challengers too, through qualifiers. Prahlad Srinath is at #452.
July 27 Notes
Mahesh's first round opponent at the $100K+H big challenger in Istanbul, Turkey, is the 4th seed Adriano Ferreira of Brazil. Once again, Mahesh gets a seeded player, though Ferreira is not one Mahesh cannot take care of. Ferreira is ranked #180, but has come up a lot in the last 6 weeks, winning the Colombian challenger on clay, and then reaching the finals and quarterfinals of the Bristol and Manchester challengers on grass .. This will be a good win for MB to pull off .. By the way, Mahesh's ranking has slipped to #407, after he lost the biggest set of points in his list, from the LA infiniti last year .. This is the right time to pick it back up .. The draw is,
6-Petr Luxa (CZE) vs Gabriel Trifu (ROM) \ Andrei Stoliarov (RUS) vs Eyal Erlich (ISR) / \ Eyal Ran (ISR) vs Q-Barry Cowan (GBR) \ / 4-Adriano Ferreira (BRA) vs WC-Mahesh Bhupathi (IND) /
By the way, nice of them to give Mahesh a wildcard out there .. I wonder if they expect him to play doubles in return ? .. The doubles draw isn't out yet.
Leander is the top seed at the Winnetka challenger (Diego Nargiso is the second seed) .. LP faces qualifier Chris Groer (#966, USA) in the first round. LP is still having some upper body trouble after the fall last week. It still hurts, and he is hoping to be ready by tomorrow (Tuesday) night for the first round match .. Lleyton Hewitt is a troubling possibility in the second round (remember that this kid won an ATP event, out of the blue, down in Australia in January, upsetting everyone who came his way). Nohm Behr is not an easy foe either. First he needs to be healthy enough to beat the qualifier Groer in the first round, though .. Here is the immediate draw:
1-Leander Paes (IND) vs Q-Chris Groer (USA) \ Noam Behr (ISR) vs Lleyton Hewitt (AUS) / \ WC-Michael Russell (USA) vs WC-James Blake (USA) \ / 8-Geoff Grant (USA) vs Justin Bower (RSA) /
Niru has not played her match at Stanford yet..
July 26 Note-4
Yeah, go Niru, Go !! .. Nirupama Vaidyanathan won the second round of qualifiers over the 8th seed Erica DeLone (#153, USA) today, and is in the final round of qualifiers tomorrow at the $450K Bank of West classic .. The tourney office didn't know the score yet, but said she is cheduled to play the final round of qualifiers tomorrow against the top seed in the qualies, Elena Tatarkova (#69) .. She has 8 points so far, including 2 bonus points for today's win .. If she beats Tatarkova tomorrow, I believe that would be the biggest upset of her career, and will get her a big total of 21 points including 8 more bonus points ..
So, all you bay area fans, make that drive down to the Stanford courts and cheer her (she will play on court 2 at 11 am Monday) ! - Admission is free for the qualifiers, I believe ..
July 26 Note-3
Here is the Indian Express report today (I am told Sharda Ugra of The Hindu also had a story on this, but I haven't seen it):
Fazal's Coach Stirs Hornet's Nest
Nikhila Natarajan, Indian Express, New Delhi, July 25
"IT'S all bunkum," said R K Khanna, president of the All India Tennis Association, reacting to a letter written to him by Davis Cupper Syed Fazaluddin's coach, Andrew Sorrentino. In the letter, Sorrentino, coach at Temple University, where Fazaluddin is a student, has said, "It is an embarrassment to you, to Indian tennis and to the All India Tennis Association that Mr. Syed Fazaluddin has not received adequate financial and political support."
Though Khanna claims that Fazal's father and National football coach, Syed Nayeemuddin, said that "Sorrentino is not Fazal's coach," in a telephonic conversation with Davis Cup selection committee chairman, Anil Khanna, Nayeemuddin had a different version when contacted this evening. "Since I have not yet seen the letter, I misunderstood the name of the coach in question. Sorrentino is indeed Fazal's coach at the University and has helped him right through. I am proud that he thinks so highly of my son," he said on hearing the contents of the letter.
Elsewhere in the letter, Sorrentino says, "I have tried through very modest means to support Syed Fazaluddin's recent professional career but without serious financial support he will become another of the many talented players that burn out while fighting their way through the Futures tournaments. Thus far, the expenses that Fazal has incurred are in excess of $5,000. It is inconcievable that at the very least, the All India tennis Association cannot arrange for one of its own Davis Cup team members to obtain a racquet, clothing, or sneaker sponsorship. While the top 200 juniors routinely recieve free coaching and sponsorship, Fazal still buys his own racquets, clothing and shoes when he can ill afford them."
In any case, the larger issue of individual sponsorship to India's top tennis players is still in a limbo with R K Khanna stressing instead that AITA is bringing in a lot more international tournaments - 16 Satellites a year, and more WTA and junior ITF tournaments. "Everything's finalised. Now that our players can get ATP points in India they should play tournaments here rather than travel abroad and increase their expenses," Khanna reasoned. Later he did admit that it is AITA's policy not to go all out on individual sponsorship. "If we do that for one person, on what basis do we refuse the other players?" he asked. About selecting at least India's best talents Syed Fazaluddin, Prahlad Srinath - for monetary help, Khanna sidestepped saying that "they make enough money from Davis Cup".
As for Nirupama Vaidyanathan, the AITA and DLTA had pooled in Rs 4 lakh earlier this year. Asked whether they would continue with the sponsorship on a yearly basis, Khanna was noncommittal. He also said that bulk of the Rs. 2 crore annual income from the RK Khanna stadium was being routed to the new junior develoment programme. On that front, the latest development is that Rs 1.5 lakh has been given to each of 20 state associations for the new coaching programme and the sponsored, academy-based junior programme is scheduled to get underway in the first week of October where AITA will pay about Rs 60,000 per year for each selected student at the academy.
Hmm.. Looks like I started a little controversy here .. Now I feel a bit guilty in perhaps landing Fazal in a bit of a soup, when he was away in Greece and was unaware of his coach sending me a copy of the letter that started it all (July 21 Notes) .. Coach Sorrentino felt it couldn't hurt to publish it here, though it may have, to some extent .. I am sure the AITA response is not a surprise to anybody, and some of their problems in subjectively selecting one or two players and supporting them may be understandable in the Indian system where everybody else complains whenever someone is selected for support, even if it is based on objective criteria ! .. The letter was published here to show the fans and others the need to do something to help our talented players, not to really attack AITA .. By the way it was just 4 weeks back ( June 28 Note-1 here) that AITA released their new plans to introduce more international tournaments (see June 29 Notes), and I had a long piece commenting and disagreeing with a Times of India article that had some criticizm on AITA's plans .. Incidentally, Fazal was the first player who contacted me and said he was in agreement with AITA's schemes and how it would help a lot (see June 30 Note-4) .. Since I am in a bit of a damage control mode, I thought I would point that out, though I don't think that is going to reach AITA .. Brickbats always reach their destinations, bouquets often do not ! .. But then again, it's alright if AITA takes some heat, as that comes with their job .. All fans, like me, are much more on the players' side, always.
Basically the bottom line is that all these players need help. AITA has taken some good steps, especially this year, but I have to disagree with the above statement from RK Khanna that the international tournaments in India and acedemy-based coaching are the answer to all problems. They are good and correct steps, but a few other things need to happen too .. Sponsorship is a must and whatever AITA can do in organizing sponsorship deals for players, be it in contacting potential sponsors, putting players in touch with them, or keeping good information on the potential and progress of each of the top players and providing that to potential sponsors .. Things of that nature need to be done. AITA plans to spend good money on coaching programs and in supporting selected students with Rs 60K each at the academies, but all that will take them only to a certain level .. They are essential steps, and will help in identifying more and more potential talents in the 12 through 17 age range and starting them off right (if the coaches who are getting paid money do their job .. The old question of accountability comes up again there) .. The next issue that AITA cannot overlook is what happens when the players are ready to "take the next step" .. i.e, what happens when one has gone through the AITA's regional coaching, or the coaching at an academy like Dhaita, and wants to grow from there ? .. The international tournaments in India, however many, are not enough to continuously pick up or defend points, play against enough higher competition and move up the tennis ladder.
Let me ask a specific question: If, say, Fazal, Vijay Kannan or Harsh Mankad does well in the 2 satellites and 2 futures in India (i.e., pick up about 30-40 ATP points; it's very rare that anybody does better), and move inside the world top-400 or 600 by next February, where do they go for support to carry on ?? .. Are there any sponsors that AITA has in mind ? .. The IMGs of the world (the professional sponsorship/management folks) would want to wait till much later before signing anybody up .. Need an example ? .. Nirupama was 18 and had reached the world top-200 two years back, all with her father selling land and finding money .. Not an iota of sponsorship went her way till February of this year (she still gets nothing much, in fact) .. Remember that the players need to play week in and week out to keep their rankings, and need someone to look after and help them .. and AITA needs to just face the fact that players can and do out-grow Indian academies and need to go out and play on their own regularly in the tough junior or pro tours to move to the higher levels (this is a complicated issue, that we will get into another time, along with the issue of a national coach who keeps track of the players, nurtures them, etc) ..
.. And, about sponsors in India, the less said, the better. To quote from an email I received from a well-respected authority in Indian tennis (name withheld fow now), "On the Fazal Issue, It is the Corporate sector that needs to help. AITA's job is to serve the general interest of the game starting from the club player to Leander .. The bottom line is, the Indian Corporate Sector does not suffer from "social conscience". They do not think utilising a miniscule percentage of their MEGA profits (made by selling their SUB STANDARD products to the poor souls..) to promote TALENT in ANY SPORT, ART or any other form is necessary" .. The question is, if AITA does not have any plans to do something to elicit at least some response from the corporate sector, who does ?? .. I don't know the answer, and I am not saying that AITA has the ability, contacts, and manpower needed to find sponsorship for all the players either, though I feel they are in better shape than the players themselves in doing something ..
It all comes down to us fans too, which is why I started this off. Can we find support for our players by organizing ourselves ? .. There are tons of Indians around the world who can help if there is an avenue, I strongly believe .. I repeat, the strength of Indians, if nothing else, is in numbers and why can't those who like to see their home country continue its tradition in at least one sport where it has a good one, join in and support ? .. After all, tennis *is* the favorite game that most NRIs around the world play, isn't it ? .. Is a $200K in contributions (or even investments) a year in the name of a few players, that impossible ? .. I don't think so .. If we can do this, Fazal's coach wouldn't have to write to AITA, AITA wouldn't have to go on the defensive (or offensive if they chose to - I hope not), AITA can organize tournaments and run their academies, and I could just enjoy reporting results and news here. So, do write to me, if you can help, or have an idea, so we can start a concrete scheme for support .. That is why I am spending all this time on this issue. Fazal just sent a note saying how whatever we do would certainly help potential future players even if it doesn't help him right now (and if AITA takes out their anger on Fazal who was not the one who started it all, it may even end up hurting him; I hope it doesn't come to that).
July 26 Note-2
Just found something on 17-yr old Katarina Nimmers, whom Nirupama beat yesterday at Stanford. She is a good friend of Venus Williams and comes from the same South Central Los Angelese area, and the same hardcourts that produced Venus. Nimmers is considered talented, and there was some press publicity last month when she made her pro debut at the Santa Clara challenger .. Looks like she didn't pose much problems to Niru at all, yesterday.
July 26 Note-1
Nirupama is playing the qualifiers at the $450K (Tier II) Bank of West Classic WTA tournament at Stanford, California. Niru won the first round of qualifiers, 6-4, 6-2, over a wildcard player (Nimmers, I believe.. no WTA ranking as far as I can see) yesterday. She now faces the 8th seed in the qualifiers, Erika De Lone (#153, USA) .. Niru gets 3 points for the first round win, and can make it 8 if she can upset De Lone today afternoon and reach the final round of qualies set for Monday morning .. 32 players looking for one of 4 qualifier spots and Niru is in the same quadrant as the 8th seed De Lone and the first seed, Elena Tatarkova (#69.. yikes) who is the potential final round opponent.
.. Previous notes at Weekly Notes, ending July 27 ..