Notes for week ending on Sep 22, 1997

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Sept 22 Morning Note

[The ATP Computer is down, and the new rankings won't be available for a couple of days.. There shouldn't be much change as only a couple of challenger tournaments were there this week, due to Davis Cup being played around the world]

I quote a report from The Hindu , as always with their inimitable style with a philisophical angle to Bhupathi's win... :

The world of sport is a stage that offers a versatile performer the chance to don as many roles as he likes, so long as he can play them out successfully. And, for a top professional sportsman, life in sport can be a fascinating voyage of discovery. The only problem is, the more coveted roles require a rare combination of courage, skills and willpower, depending on the twists and turns in the script - perhaps none more than the one that Mahesh Bhupathi took on in the India-Chile Davis Cup World Group playoff tie here on Sunday, and played out with the touch of assurance and class you'd expect of a Sir Lawrence Olivier as Shakespeare's Prince of Denmark. On an unforgettable afternoon, riding on a tidal wave of emotion in sweltering heat and high humidity, Bhupathi chose to be a gut-spilling heroic performer with the kind of in-the-trenches resolve you'd normally more readily associate with his team-mate, Leander Paes.

Here is a priceless picture of their victory lap (courtesy: The Hindu)

Mahesh & Leander. Victory lap (3-2 win over Chile, Davis Cup 97)

The Mahesh Bhupathi web page is also up. Look there for a picture of Mahesh celebrating the win ! More info and stats will be coming up on that page in due course of time. As for Varad's request that the fan club should be called Leander/Mahesh club.. no problem. It has been that way for a while anyway, as these two are almost inseparable !

Sept 21 Note

Oh Boy, what a show by Mahesh in the end !!...

Mr. Varad Pande reports from New Delhi:

Before saying anything else, I have a request-Let's rechristen our fan club "Leander/Mahesh Fanclub". Mahesh deserves it for what he did today..one of the finest comeback matches I've ever seen. Match 1--Leander started off quite determined keeping level with Rios in Set 1..it came down to the dreaded tie breaker once again and he was 0-4 down.Then in an inspired burst (as we've come to expect from him) he won 6 points in a row and took the tie breaker. When I reached the stadium,he was a break up in the second and we all started believing he could win. But just then his game begun to drop alarmingly and he lost 11 games in a row to lose the second set 4-6 and the third 0-6.The no. of unforced errors were amazing and he was once again (like against Agassi and Pioline) fading away. Ithink that's one area he has to work on.. cutting down unforced errors and keeping consistency for a full match. By the 4th set he looked absolutely tired out..all the reserves of energy had been drained off him and he was not even jumping to serve...I don't blame him after such a heavy weekend in such heat. Then he once again musters up some stamina by sheer will and takes the 4th set to a tie breaker!!..lost, but not disgraced...I also think Leander didn't attack as much as he should 've..you can't expect to beat Rios from the baseline.

So as all expected ,it came down to the final rubber--MB vs Sil., and the start wasn't encouraging. Sil was playing inspired tennis and had great passing shots..that sort of made MB stay back much more than he would've liked. Down a break in the 1st, MB broke back at 4-5 but once again the dreaded tie breaker took him. A break in the second cost him that too. Frankly, I had given up hope. But the crowd was tireless and not disheartened at all..they kept egging on Mahesh led by none other than Leander from the sidelines...with a national flag in hand ,he was orchestrating the sloganeering at times and really pushing MB on. And what a remarkable comeback we saw!..6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3..MB's passing shots improved tremendously... I didn't know he could play so well from the baseline. Meanwhile Sil was trying hard but just kept giving that crucial break to MB which was sufficient.

What a scene it was when MB won the last point.. there was a court invasion by LP, Jaideep, Mr.Paes Sr., Kirtane bros., and anybody and everybody who thought he had a part to play in this win. There was a victory lap, our players faces glowing with the pride of triumph, as if to thank the spectators for their tireless marathon effort. Cheers to our men again and THAK YOU GOD !.

P.S.

1) LP wrote in a column in today's TOI that their combo plays better doubles on clay or hardcourts rather than grass where the bounce is uncertain..please read his column tomorrow (I'm sure it'll be great) [We had been speculating this in the fan club earlier, after seeing their 2-2 record in the ATP doubles grass season, compared to the 30-3 record on clay and hardcorts; I guess it is validated now : R. Jayakrishnan]

2) Mr.Paes Sr, had an important role to play too..he was making chilled water towels for the boys throughout the 5 matches.

3) Mahesh's father (Bhupathi Sr.) was sitting a few rows to my left and to my amazement, didn't show a whisker of emotion all through the match. [I guess that explains where the son gets the ice in his veins from! : R. J.]

4) Doordarshan had in their commentary team, the likes of Naresh Kumar and Ramesh Krishnan, seeing whom, were rekindling the fond memories of the remarkable win at Frejus in France.

Sept 20 Note

Mr. Varad Pande reports from New Delhi:

Phew! That was close! We almost messed up the Doubles today.. Won it in the end but boy did it make us all nervous... Everyone went to the stadium expecting a one sided match but it was too close for comfort.. I only hope it has not taken all the energy reserves of LP/MB because they'll surely need it tomorrow. For starters, as I expected, Rios did play the doubles..it seemed very odd to me that they would not play a WORLD No.7 in the doubles, even if he is not a regular.. maybe part of a plan by the Chilean Camp not to reveal his name and lull the Indians into overconfidence. The 1st set started off well and our guys managed an early break. Everything seemed to be going fine but before we knew the Chileans had a break back and another, winning 4 games in a row and the 1st set 6-3. That made everyone take notice that its not such a cakewalk after all. Second and Third sets went fine and LP/MB managed a break each to take the sets. In the 4th, we went down a break and were 2-5 down,when the Dynamic Duo played some great tennis to make it 5-5. In terms of tennis quality, the 4th set was perhaps the best. The tie break syndrome seems to be following them ever since their "great"tie break record was discussed on our club (0-3 since the fan club bragged about their 13-3 tiebreak record a couple of weeks back) !.

Into the 5th set, and we were worried,.. Really! Nobody thought it would cross the 3 hour mark, but it did...Fortunately, the cool heads of Leander and Mahesh ensured they did not lose serve and managed to break Massu somewhere in between. The final game at 5-3, was interesting... At 15-30 on Mahesh's serve, he seemed to have hit a volleya little long but the linesman did not call, neither the chair umpire.. an error of judgement I reckon (the umpire is from Spain). The Chileans were up in arms, especially Massu and their captain. A few minutes of futile pleading with the Umpire was of no avail. After losing the next point, Massu chucked his racquet and almost walked off. If it was not for their captain, I think he would have. It was real great relief when the umpire announced Game, Set, Match, India... Result-- 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3

The crowd was certainly much more today and also much more vocal..our boys needed all the support in the end ,as it turned out. I'd say the stadium was 65% full yesterday, and 85% full today.. I don't think it is lack of interested people.. I think some people who are not too keen, have kept the passes and are not using them till Sunday..expect a full house tomorrow.

LP/MB were getting really excited on big points and were doing their "chest banging" (that's a new thing I've seen.). The heat was killing even in the stands, and I really hope today's effort doesn't influence tomorrow's big day.

Sept 19 Note-2

Lots and lots of coverage in the Indian press on this Davis Cup... Even the Rediff on the Net that hates to acknowledge the existence of sports other than cricket have had a couple of articles ! (actually their sports page is the cricket page where they have a button for "other sports" with very scarce articles..).. Anyway, the following are a sampling.

This piece from the Indian Express summarizes Leander's match against Silberstein.. The Chilean had six break points on Paes' serve to show for his efforts, other than which he looked like a player who wandered into the wrong court. What a pity, then, that one was robbed off an opportunity to watch the classical Paes, the fist-clenched, adrenalin-flowing over-achiever who would have given the crowd value for money. Today his rival has to be blamed for that... All the newspaper reports are about how Leander showed the new-found maturity (professionalism) in playing without over-exerting when it wasn't needed. His first serve percentage was lower than he would have liked to, but he came up with the big shots whenever Silberstein threatened (especially on the break points). Silberstein, to be fair to him, did put up a fighting effort on a surface not to his liking. The match took an hour and 26 minutes. The Times of India on Paes' shot of the match: Paes played two stunning shots angling past the Chilean in the fifth game of the second set, one of these a superb inside out forehand which found the line, to snatch a break... On the same shot, and on Leander not finding his forhand shot for a while, The Deccan Herald says: After years of pushing the ball around, Leander`s new coach Aussie Bob Carmichel helped the Calcutta kid rediscover his killer shot. But, for a brief while today, he seemed to forget it. Then in the fifth game of the second set, Paes chipped a marvellous forehand cross court winner and then followed it up with a diving forehand volley to break the 5` 10`` Silberstein...

Indian Express about Marcelo Rios' comments on Bhupathi: "He is a great player, much better than what his ranking suggests,'' Rios said of Bhupathi after the four-set win. "He has great serve and volley.'' Perhaps that was the only good thing Bhupathi had on an extremely hot and humid day which could have melted even the coolest of temperaments. But the 21-year-old Rios is a class act. Be it heat or the crowd or the pressure of playing Davis Cup away from home, he displayed in ample measure why he is termed a genius... Mahesh made too many unforced mistakes and admitted to being a little nervous at first. He served extremely well later on (perhaps up to 70% in first serve after the first set). Rios was just too good. Bupathi said, "One may serve fast to him, but 65 to 70 per cent the serve is coming back. His serve may look innocuous but is one of his main weapons and so are his crosses, which are difficult to retrieve.''... This match took 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The Deccan Herald on Marcelo Rios' brilliance: Rios`s lovely hands, that sometimes pull off the softest shots in tennis, was there for all to see..

The Hindustan Times on the crucial 5th match on Day 3 between Bhupathi and Silberstein which is the most probable clincher match: Leander, Rios and Silberstein had all spoken their bits about the fifth rubber but Mahesh Bhupathi himself would let that be: "Right now, I am pretty much focussed on tomorrow's doubles match.".. Yeah, Mahesh. That's the way to look at it.

Here is a moving account from The Deccan Herald on the bond between Leander and Mahesh: After receiving a check of Rs 2.11 lakh (for the Frech Open mixed doubles championship at Delhi this week) Mahesh took over the microphone, his hands shaking. He thanked his family, his coach, the entire Davis Cup team and then looked straight at Leander. ''I want to especially thank Leander for guiding me through the ATP Tour. He has been more than a doubles partner. He's like my brother." Tears welled up in Leander's eyes as he nodded at the appreciation. Then slowly at the conclusion of the function he walked up to Mahesh and patted him on his back. This was not one for the cameras or the crowds. It was the coming together of two distinct individuals, who have carried with great dignity, the terrible burden of having to grow up in front of the flash bulbs...

More news to come.. Isn't Davis Cup wonderful ?..

Sept 19 Note-1

Mr. Varad Pande reports from New Delhi:

Day 1 has ended with the honours shared as expected, with Leander and Rios winning their respective matches. Match 1 was really no contest..Leander dominated from the word go and gave absolutely no chance to Silberstein. Sil didn't help his cause either, playing some lousy shots..perhaps because Grass is not his surface, and he is still getting used to playing on grass for the first time this year. The crowd as usual did their part in egging Leander on and he didn't disappoint. Good that it was a straight set match..LP can conserve his energies for the big match on day 3....Result--6-3, 6-2, 6-2, and highly enjoyable.

Mahesh vs Rios was an interesting match because Mahesh had nothing to lose and all to go for. The first set went to Rios with ease..It perhaps took some time for Mahesh to come to terms with the big match. The quality of MB's game really picked up from the second set and his serve was superb with a great first serve percentage. He broke Rios in the 3rd game to go up 3-1 and then held on to his serve three times to go on to win the set. This set showed his character. Rios didn't play as a world no 7 should and that gives real hope for Leander..I think if they both play as they played today, LP has a great chance on day 3... Leander was watching Rios intently from the sidelines with grit in his eyes. The third and fourth sets were closer than the scoreline indicated but the one break of serve in each set was the clincher. It was evident Rios was not comfortable on the surface... Result--6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4...

The new stadium is fantastic.. The crowd support for India was fantastic as usual ..there was even a 4 member band playing during the breaks and plenty of slogan shouting. The reserve Indian players (Sandeep and Nitin Kirtane) were also very vociferous.. the crowds role is not yet over..They have a big job on day 3 if we are to win 4-1..

Sept 18 Note-2

The Chilean captain has pulled a fast one: He seems to have Massu and Gamonal playing the doubles on day 2. This means he is clearly chickening out on doubles and conceding it to our Dynamic Duo. Come on "Pato" ! At least put up a fight!!.. I guess he wants to conserve the energy for Rios and Silberstein for the reverse singles, as they are concerned about the temperature and humidity affecting them... LP and MB are in superb condition and it shouldn't be a problem for them to play a 3-set doubles match (ok, bragging here..:-)) and come back for reverse singles the next day.. Of course, both captains reserve the right to change the team for the doubles till the first round matches are over.. The singles order has Paes and Silberstein playing the first match on day 1, followed by Bhupathi and Rios playing the second match, so the draw did turn out to be a lucky one for the Indians.

Sept 18 Note-1

As always India is looking to see if Leander will be playing the first match on day 1. The draw at the Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's residence will decide this (the order of play is set, with the #1 of the two teams required to face each other only on Day 3). India's record in Davis Cups where Leander played first: 8-3, which means we want him to play the first match on day 1. Some of the improbable (unbelievable) wins India has pulled off when Leander played first are: against Britain (September 1992, Delhi), Switzerland (Calcutta, March 1993), Croatia (September 1995) and the Netherlands (February 1996). Leander's record in 19 Davis Cup ties: 34-20, which is great! (courtesy: Times of India).

The last time Chile played Davis Cup on grass: 1983 (1-4 loss to Britain)....The last time Chile won a Davis Cup tie on grass courts: 1949... (source: The Hindu)

Here is something interesting: The UPR rankings lists Leander as # 31 in the grass court rankings this year (thanks to his good showing at Newport where he reached the semis, and the wins at London and Rosmalen. Interestingly, Rios is not rated in the top 50 in this ranking.. Hmmmm... See the rankings at UPR grasscourt rankings page.. Also check out the UPR profiles on Leander and Rios to see the individual performances at various tournaments.

The Indian press folks seem to really like the nonplaying Chilean captain, "Pato" Cornejo. He is a pleasant and jovial type. Still not saying who will play their #2 singles, even though it has got to be Silberstein. He may indeed let Massu play the doubles with Rios, as these two have been practice partners for a while (Rios has been Massu's favorite big-brother)... Pato keeps on joking about his plans to the press; perhaps he wants to keep the Indians guessing. The Indian captain Jaideep Mukherjea has really no decisions to make about who plays; everybody knows who will play the 5 matches for India!

Again, there is quite a bit of hype going on about India being the favorites. Don't know where that comes from, but there are only 2 matches where India has a higher ranked player or team (Paes against Silberstein, and LP/MB in the doubles). At least on paper, India is the underdog. I do feel that Bhupathi should beat Silberstein on a grass court (but don't forget that Gabriel is also a player who elevates his game a bit while playing for his country.. That is shaping up to be the clincher match).

Mahesh Bhupathi got felicitated by AITA and was given a Rs. 2.11 lakh cheque by R. K. Khanna. The DLTA came out with a Rs. 1 lakh cheque in addition, in a spontaneous gesture ! Congrats, Mahesh !! It is great to see that, even though AITA was criticized for not even contacting Mahesh and congratulating him after he became the first Indian to win a grand slam event (the Mixed Doubles at the French with Rika Hiraki). Hope they would do more for some of the struggling players (especially women players such as Nirupama Vaidyanathan) with finances, as well. Mahesh, of course, deserves every prize he gets, but he will be the first to tell you that the Indian tennis establishment leaves a lot to be desired in nurturing young talent in India.

Sept 17 Notes

Our on-site man at Davis Cup, Mr. Varad Pande, talked to Leander Paes yesterday. Leander again thanks the fan club and everybody else for the support. When prompted about how he might have an advantage with Rios being able to practice only 3 days on grass, Leander said "not to underestimate the extremely talented Marcelo Rios". Leander said his match against Rios will be on Day 3 (Sunday). He is confident and looking forward to it.

As expected, Leander dropped to #109 this week, after losing 43 points from the Madras Challenger last year. He was confident of picking those points up soon, as he has 6 or 7 tournaments coming up after the Davis Cup. He lost 60 odd points for the doubles title at Madras as well (so did Mahesh), but replaced them with a few points from another doubles tournament. No substantial changes in the point total in the doubles, so he remained at #19 (Mahesh remained at #14), and at #5 in team ranking.

Marcelo Rios and Gabriel Silberstein arrived at Delhi on Tuesday and put in some practice before the Davis Cup. The press and media, as usual, have been having their way mis-quoting and bad-mouthing Rios, who has always had trouble with the press. In a short interview in the evening he said the "doubles point is the one they(India) should get", which seems to have promptly been misquoted as "they will only get the doubles point" by one national newspaper... anyway, Rios did say the matches will be tough. He was not happy with the grass at the practice courts, which the ground staff has not been able to maintain well because of the rains over the last few weeks and the soft surface conditions. Rios only played one match on grass in 1996 (at Wimbledon), and played on grass only at Wimbledon again this year, but surprised everybody by reaching the final 16. Gabriel Silbertein said he has not played on grass this year, and that Chile has no grass courts at all.

This could end up being a terrific Davis Cup tie. See last week's notes for some more news on the Chilean team, etc.

The draw looks like this: Bhupathi vs. Rios and Paes vs. Silberstein on day 1; Doubles on day 2; Reverse singles on day 3.