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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for week ending on Dec 7, 1998
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Dec 7 Note-1
Some more details on the tennis draw at the Asiad, according to V.Krishnaswamy in today's Indian Express - India's potential second round opponent on the men's side is Pakistan, and the potential semifinal opponents are the 2nd seeds Japan .. The draw is as below, based on what I have seen in various sources:
1-Uzbekistan Bye \ Taiwan vs Iran / \ Thailand vs China \ / \ 3-South Korea Bye / \ 4-India vs Qatar \ / Pakistan vs Philippines / \ / Indonesia vs Kuwait \ / 2-Japan Bye /
On the women's side, it is:
1-Taiwan vs Thailand \ 3-Japan vs Uzbekistan / \ 4-Indonesia vs India \ / 2-China vs S.Korea /
A semifinal apperance feteches a bronze.
According to a PTI report in the Pioneer (Delhi), the format in the team competition is a bit worse than I thought .. Unlike in the Davis Cup, the #2 players of each country play each other first and the #2 players play each other next, before the doubles match in each tie .. That makes the situation really hard againt Indonesia in the first round for our women, as it forces Nirupama to possibly try to pull the biggest upset of her life over #57 Yayuk Basuki, unless Manisha, Sai, or Uzma gets an even bigger upset over Wynne Prakusya first .. Based on Kompas online (Jakarta), Yayuk-Prakusya could be their doubles team .. It may make sense to pick Manisha or Sai over Uzma, though Uzma is the national champion, as they both have some more experience at this level of tennis .. We will find out soon .. As for the Men's side, this pits Bhupathi against the #1 of the other team - if you ask me, Mahesh, despite his lower ranking, is a better singles player than any of the players there at Bangkok .. According to Indian Express, the #1, #2 and #3 players out there are Ogorodov (UZB), Hideki Kaneko (JPN) and Kutsenko (UZB), all in the top-200-250 range (that means Japan's Takao Suzuki has skipped it) .. Mahesh is getting to Bangkok on Tuesday morning .. I believe India plays Qatar on tuesday itself, but I am not sure .. The Asian Games website looks grand, but so far has not been giving any useful info - it is at http://www.asiangames.th if you want to check out.
There is a big ITF junior ranking tournament in Calcutta this week. Kedar Tembe and a foreign boy are the top two seeds on the boy's draw .. Shruti Dhawan and Sheetal Gautam are the top seeds on the girls' side .. We will hopefully start seeing some results coming from the DKS courts in Calcutta.
Dec 6 Note-2
The draw got done today .. According to The Nation, Bangkok, the Indian men are seeded 4th in team events at the Asiad (with Uzbekistan, Japan and Korea as the top three seeds) and missed a first round bye given to the top 3 teams in the 16 team field .. So India faces Qatar in the first round .. Not a big problem, though, and we may not even need MB's services for the first round tie .. Other first round ties are Iran vs Taiwan, Philippines vs Pakistan, Kuwait vs Indonesia and Thailand vs China .. the winner of the THA-CHN tie will face South Korea in final-8, which means India should be facing Pakistan, Indonesia or Taiwan in the next round (I expect those to reach final 8) .. I will post the complete draw once I get it .. The interesting thing I notice is that Japan is seeded second, which indicates that Takeo Suzuki (#115) is perhaps not playing ?? .. If he is, they would be the #1 seeds .. We will wait and see what's up with that .. if so, it opens up the singles draw considerably next week.
On the women's side (eight teams), India plays 4th seeds Indonesia in the first round, Thailand plays the top seeds Taiwan, South Korea plays the second seed China, and Uzbekitan plays the 3rd seed Japan .. All things considered, Indonesia is perhaps the best opponent we could have had, though veteran Yayuk Basuki (#57) will be very tough to handle. Indonesia's second highest ranked player (their only other player in the top-500) is the young Wynne Prakusya (#218) .. 17 yr-old Wynne is a very talented player - she beat Jahnavi Parekh in straight sets in Fed Cup in March 97 and she was not even 16 then ! .. But, Niru can certainly handle her (if I am right that the #1 player plays the #2 of the other team) .. It might come down to the doubles, where I am not sure whom Indonesia would play, but Niru-Manisha is a good team for us .. More later on that .. The Thais must be sad to draw Taiwan first with Shi-Ting Wang (whom the Thai ace, Tammi Tanasugarn, though ranked highest here at #38, has never beaten in 5 attempts or something!) and Janet Lee, who will be tough for the Thai #2 player Orawan Wongkamalasai to handle (we Indians know all about the talented Orawan after our satellites) .. China may probably struggle against South Korea and Japan may find Uzbekistan pretty easy in the first round. The women's draw is gonna be fun - don't put it past the Indian girls to win the first round and reach the semis, though.
Some of our press firnds are at Bangkok, and hopefully we will get some added infor from there.
Dec 6 Note-1
Nothing much going on, still .. Tathiana Garbin (ITA) beat Amanda Hopmans (NED), 6-1, 6-3 at the Delhi challenger finals on Saturday, to pick up 62 points .. Amanda got 42 points .. Krizan/Kscwendt gave a walkover to Hopmans/Cenkova in the doubles final, dur to stomach upset problems .. By the way, Indian tournament organizers need to do something about this problem - a big reason why a lot of foreign players are afraid to come to India is the fear of getting stomach upsets .. Either because they eat food from places which are not clean enough and drink water which is not pully pure (most foreigners have very liitle immunity compared to Indians who are used to it, as you know), or because they take a liking for some hot and spicy Indian food which their stomachs can't digest easily .. Anyway, every time we have a tournament, we see at least 2 or 3 walkovers due to stomach problems .. I am not sure what can be done about it, but something creative like having some strict and well-monitored arrangements with a couple of tournament restaurants to give clean and bland (!) food might help - and if anything like that is done, it should be given some serious PR coverage with the players too .. The more I think about it, the more it looks to me like the article by Andrew Rueb (US player) in the TennisWeek magazine on his experiences in the Indian futures circuit hurt us .. The two main problems mentioned were the food aspect, and then the uncertainty of surfaces. We list clay, and they find some sort of sand .. we list hardcourt and they find grass! .. ITF had listed all four legs of the recent men's satellites as hardcourts, if I remember correctly, but some were not! - in the January futures circuit, apparently nobody knew that the Chandigarh leg was going to be on grass (except the Indians) ! ..
The Indian team left from Calcutta and reached Bangkok safely - Mahesh was in Bombay and was to fly separately and join them shortly .. A funny story is that Uzma forgot to take her electronic credential badge with her .. It got stuck in her dad's luggage as he left Delhi for Hyderabad .. He figured it out along the way, got out and rushed back to Delhi, but the team had left .. In the meanwhile AITA faxed a bunch of paperwork to Calcutta and things were fine .. Apparently, some official leaving late will take the badge to Uzma ! (source: Hindutan Times)
The draw for the team events in the first week was to be done today (Sunday) - no news yet on that.
Dec 4 Notes
Not much news today .. 7th seed Amanda Hopmans and 6th seed Tathiana Garbin play the final of the $75K Delhi Challenger tomorrow, and both are reportedly in the first $75K challenger final of their careers .. Tathiana beat Miriam Schnitzer to reach the final .. Amanda beat our good Japanese friend, Rika Hiraki, today in the semis .. Hiraki was originally th elast entry (though she was in the upper half of the field when it all started), and has had a good tournament so far - except that Amanda has had an even better one .. Hiraki lost in singles and doubles to Amanda today, and the Dutch girl is in the finals of both events. Tina Krizan and Karen Kshwendt play Amanda Hopmans and Lenka Cenkova tomorrow .. See all the results so far in the Delhi women's challenger page.
The Indian teams are about to leave for Bangkok from Calcutta.. Team events start on Tuesday, and I am not sure if there has been a draw yet for that .. Will report as soon as I find out .. Basically Mahesh/Fazal and Nirupama/Manisha are the doubles teams .. I would like to see Mahesh and Niru not having to play two matches every day ! .. We will see how things pan out, but I have this strange feeling that Srinath will pull off some upset wins that we don't expect him to .. By the way, there was a bit in an article in the Saturday Indian Express by SK John that "there is no entry listed in the singles, doubles and women's singles, but all players are listed in the team competition" .. I am not sure if this is true, and if it is, that means something has really gone awry, due to somebody messing up .. Probably not - it may just be that the final entries for the individual events can still be filled in, as it is only the week after next. Mixed doubles and men's doubles are the Golds certainly possible, and men's team Gold is also not out of question if Srinath is in form. I am not sure if Mahesh can manage a singles medal also, if he is playing both doubles and mixed doubles at the same time.
Dhanraj Pillay (hockey) will be the flag-bearer for the Indian contingent, since both P.T.Usha and Leander Paes are hobbled with injuries .. LP said that what hurt him most is that he missed a chance to bear the flag .. There have been some newspaper articles today which give the proper situation about why Leander had to pull out from the Asiad, and stating his actual medical condition - that the doctors are putting a cast on his foot every night to help heal the injury, after some strict swimming and rehab schedule during the day, with the crutches not fully gone yet .. It looks like everybody understands what LP is going through and that he did not just put himself ahead of his country, as some rumors seemed to hint recently - we all know that LP deserves at least that much of understanding from all of us for what he has time and again done for India .. Good to see it not becoming another hyped-up fingerpointing and rumor mill exercize .. Now, let's all give all our support and encouragement to Mahesh, who has a tough job ahead leading the team .. The Asia Cup experience would help him a lot, though this is his first Asiad (..and I once thought Asia Cup would be a waste of time two weeks before Asiad! .. I am sure it gave Mahesh a ton of confidence).
Dec 3 Note-2
The confusing reports on Asiad plans keep on coming .. Today's news, according to Time of India is that the Government has NOT cleared all three remaining women, as the newspapers reported yesterday, but has only cleared Manisha Malhotra .. Today it was told to young Shruti Dhawan (who was "in tears" according to the newspaper) and Rushmi Chakravarti (who was "close to tears") that they have not been cleared even at a no-cost-to-government basis, if we are to believe that AITA did indeed show full willingness to pay for all three as reported (somehow, I fail to believe that fully - why should the ministry bother so much then ?.. but I guess I should give the benefit of the doubt to AITA) .. Anyway, as far as our chances are concerned, Manisha was the important one to clear, due to the need for her to play doubles with Niru .. As tennis fans, we should all take the ministry actions as some sort of an insult towards tennis - just when women's tennis is showing signs of life in India. This doesn't help the morale of tennis players for sure. If I am to go by the numbers published in the Hindustan Times, only 9 players were cut out from the list of 235 submitted by IOA (Indian Olympics Association) .. And 3 of those were in women's tennis - now two. That certainly doesn't look fair, but as far as medal chances are concerned, we are probably OK .. So far I have not seen articles in the newspapers about how tennis was expected to be the one that would bring us multiple golds - all we saw was how they didn't clear tennis players because they were somehow "sub-par" compared to all those 300 or so people who are going there - most without much medal hopes, despite all the hype that all the sports federations give ..
However, things have drastically changed in tennis medal hopes too because of Leander's pull-out. The men's singles Gold is much less probable, though mixed doubles and even doubles are certainly possible .. Team event medal is tough to predict as they involve country-vs-country ties with three matches each.
As for Leander's pull-out, there seems to be the same confusion everywhere as happened when he had to pull out from Davis Cup in Italy. Once again, the newspaper reports are all over the place. UNI supposedly reported today about Jaideep Mukherjea saying that Paes has not joined the team in Calcutta, and that "if he doesn't turn up on time," (Saturday departure for team) "we can assume he is not going to Bangkok" !! .. I am not sure if the report is from a couple of days back, but Leander has been telling anybody who talked to him over the last two days that he cannot go .. Then there was another newspaper report today about Vece Paes saying he cannot be there next week but not ruling out him going (since he is to do more doctors' examinations on next Monday) .. That report also seems to be a bit dated, as Vece Paes himself is away due to a sad death in the family. I am not sure how all these things start flying around every time LP becomes unable to play - It is almost like nobody wants to believe that LP won't be there .. as though he is a superman who can somehow play through any injury. Folks, he is in enough pain while walking that he sometimes grabs the crutches. If he could manage it in any way he would play - after all it was LP who has been talking for four years about how much his loss to Yong Il Yoon and the lost singles medal in Japan hurt him. He has wanted it more than anybody else. Right now he can't do anything about it. The heel hurts (.. and no, it's not an ankle that has "been bothering him", as a newspaper report said today..). He can't play .. He ain't going to Bangkok.. End of story .. We all just need to move on .. and leave it to Hesh to do his heroics which he is getting to be pretty good at.
By the way, they cleared Sanjay Singh to be at Bangkok as the physio - that is good news, because the trainer is the most important element in the kind of gruelling schedules as at the Asiad.
Dec 3 Note-1
Bad news all around today ..
First, Nirupama lost 0-6, 4-6 to 4th seed Miriam Schnitzer today in the QF at Delhi .. No more info and no other news yet, except that she looked very subdued today, though she played much better in the second set .. So, that's that for the Challenger .. Still a very good month for Niru, who will now lead India at the Asiad next week..
Now the worst news possible - Leander has pulled out of the Asian Games .. I knew it was coming, as I had heard that the injury was not responding to the rehab yet .. He has now postponed his trip to India tomorrow by another week to undergo more rehab on the bone-spur in his heel .. Still in crutches and the doctors want him to take a whole 6 weeks break ("I don't think I have ever taken a 6-week break from tennis since I was 12," said a sad Leander when I talked to him a few minutes back) .. If he could walk without making the injury worse, he would have thought of joininig the team anyway for moral support, but no chance for even that now .. As it stands, he will miss the next two weeks, and will have to skip the two weeks of challengers in India too after that .. It will be the Qatar Open in January when we hear from LP again .. It's sad news all over.
So, it's once again up to Mahesh to fly our flag high .. The problem is that Mahesh needs to watch out too, as he is pretty tired after all the tennis for 7 weeks that ended in that exhausting Asia Cup triumph last week .. After the Asiad, he will be playing two weeks of challengers and then following that with another several weeks with Leander starting at Doha .. He has to be very careful now too .. It would make sense for him to skip individual singles altogether in the second week at Asiad and just focus on mixed doubles and doubles (Fazal and mB have looked good together) .. In the team events in the first week they would probably require him for some singles though .. We will see how it all shakes out .. Mahesh should definitely be careful not to limp into the new year carrying injuries and fatigue.
Dec 2 Note-2
Here is a nice line from Uma Venkatraman of the Times of India that sums up Nirupama's win over the talented upcomer Carolina: "What separates the grain from the chaff, the men from the boys, the winners from the losers? It is a matter of mind and Nirupama Vaidyanathan proved it in a telling manner in her 0-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Frenchwoman Carolina Jagienak in the second-round" .. Niru had a slow start and lost the first set before she knew it, but then comes the point where Niru's game always seems to take a turn .. She is a player who uses her intelligence to make adjustments (there have been numerous matches where she has turned things around mid-match - the win against Gloria Pizzicchini at the Australian Open was a great example) .. In this case, Carolina letting a close call that went against her at 30-0 in the first game of the second set get to her, also helped Niru .. I can never understand why players, who are all told time and again that they should not let bad calls affect them, continue to forget that - apparently Carolina was complaining all the way late into the 3rd set ! .. Or, as Niru said, "she probably felt that everyone was against her since she was playing an Indian" .. Hey, that is tough luck, Carolina - the crowd is going to cheer the Indian more in India ! .. Anyway, nice to see Niru reaching the final-8 for the 3rd tournament in a row .. Apparently, a "packed gallery" (so says Prajwal Hegde in the Deccan Herald..) saw Niru win this match - it is the first time she is playing in India in almost three years and she has handled the pressure well .. She gets 16 points (including 2 "quality" points - the WTA term for bonus) .. Make that 9, 13 and 16 points in the last three tournaments for a total of 38 pts, bringing her point total up to about 151 points - close to a high in the last 18 months .. It should place her at about #157 now, up from 187 three weeks back .. However, I believe WTA has the Nov 23rd rankings as the year-end final ranks and so she will stay at #174 till the new ranks come out in early January.. She next plays the 4th seed Miriam Schnitzer (#140) of Germany .. She is a player with a very similar record as Nirupama - nicely coming up in rankings over the last 4 years or so, finally qualifying in and winning a round at the US Open this year .. Baseline player with a nice backhand, but does well on hardcourts .. The quarterfinal could be a very good game, if Niru is not too drained with a three set singles and then a doubles match today .. Niru has occasionally had a problem this year in staying in shape through more than 2-3 matches - she seems to be healthy again, though .. 12 extra points are at stake for Niru here - Go Niru!!
Sai's loss was a heartbreaker - 2-6, 6-2, 6-7(2) .. Even in the first, the score does not show how well she fought, as most games went to deuces, and then she came back from one break down in the 3rd set to go up 6-5 and serve for the match .. Her lack of big-match experience at big points caused her to lose in the end, as Lorna Woodroffe (sorry I said Abigail Tordoff below - confusion between two British players) took over in the end .. As for Manisha, she was playing her 4th match here and looked a bit too drained to do much against the 7th seed Amanda Hopmans.
Now to that doubles match I was waiting for - looks like Niru and Manisha did play very well, as they are playing together in a very, very long time .. The 7-6(5), 6-4 score indicates that they were in it all through, but sometimes you need that good match experience and understanding together to pull it off at the crucial points .. I still feel they are the best women's doubles team we have, and hopefully this match will help them next week at the Asiad .. All the results are at the Delhi women's challenger page .. I have now added the three missing qualifier results, which Tom Kunc sent to me (thanks!) ..
Dec 2 Note-1
Nirupama came back from 0-6 down, to win in three sets - otherwise this would have been a terrible day, as Manisha lost to Amanda Hopmans, Sai lost in a 3rd set tiebreaker to Lorna Woodroffe, and Niru/Manisha lost their doubles match (so much for my hype!) .. Anyway, at least Niru is in the QF!! .. More details soon.
By the way, Leander's injury is just not responding as fast as expected - he is still in a lot of pain while walking, and needs crutches occasionally .. I don't know .. For now I am preparing for the worst, as far as Asiad is concerned .. Not good at all.
Dec 1 Notes
Sorry that I have been less talkative this week than normal - a bit busy at work .. Anyway, today the two wildcard youngsters couldn't get past their much higher ranked opponents - Shruti lost to Timoe Hotta (JPN) and Uzma lost to 7th seed Amanda Hopmans (NED) .. Uzma took a while to figure out Amanda's great slice backhand according to Prajwal Hegde (Deccan Herald), but showed her intelligence in catching up in a close second set - Uzma even served for the set, and missed a forehand wide at 6-5 in the second before it it went to a tiebreaker where Amanda took care of her job - good fight by Uzma .. Shruti was never in her match at all, from all reports.. In other news there, Shruti and Sheetal ended up qualifying into the doubles draw with two qualifier wins, including an easy match over the Venkatraman sisters .. Archana and Arthi also made it into the doubles main draw as lucky losers. Both Shruti/Sheetal and Archana/Arthi lost in the first round of the main draw today .. Rushmi/Sai pair (who had a wildcard into the doubles) didn't do as well as I thought they were capable of, and lost their first round doubles match too, today. The other wildcard doubles pair is Nirupama/Manisha who are yet to play (I think they may be the best pair in India, though they have never played together - how about that for "hype" from me ? .. :-)) .. All Tuesday results are at Delhi women's challenger page ..
Nirupama, Sai and Manisha play their second round matches on wednesday, and all three have tough matches .. Niru's opponenet, Caroline Jagienak is a talented young player coming up in the ranks - Niru will need to play her best .. Manisha has what it takes to give Amanda Hopmans trouble, but that will be tough too .. Sai faces Abigail Tordoff, who was among the top couple of players in the Mumbai and Delhi futures in March this year, but can certainly pull an upset if she plays like she did Monday ..
Finally some good news on the Asiad mess .. According to the Times of India, AITA has obtained the no-cost-to-government clearance from the ministry for Manisha, Sai and Shruti, and will pay to send them to Bangkok ! ..
Will report soon on how Leander is doing in Orlando .. There have been a few confusing press reports on his Asiad plans lately - Anyway, he will be there at Asiad.
Nov 30 Notes
Wow !! Incredible stuff from Delhi .. Sai Jayalakshmi pulled the upset of her life, beating 3rd seed Karin Kschwendt of Austria (#131) today !! .. Not to be left behind, Manisha Malhotra won over #575 Eva Belbl too .. Nirupama had no problems at all in winning in straight sets over Katalin Miskoczi of Hungary either .. The only Indian to lose today was Archana Venkataraman, who lost to the second seed Jolene Watanabe .. The wins give Sai 9 points with 2 bonus, and Manisha 7 points .. Sai, who had gone up to #640 from #725 with her Indian satellite final pts, now has 21.5 pts (including 1.5 from Manila last week), which will place her at about #460 which is the highest that any Indian without a name Nirupama has probably ever been ! .. Right behind her as the Indian #3 will now be Manisha, who has picked up 11.5 points here to go to a total of 20, which will have her also inside top-500 about 20 spots behind Sai (and she got about 18 of those in just two tournaments - the UK futures 3 months back and this - that is impressive, moving from about 1000 to inside 500 in two tournaments flat!) .. I wonder if the Indian sports ministry realize their mistake in not clearing Manisha to the Asiad at least now ?? .. This is precisely why I was so upset at their bonehead decision (and AITA not showing the readiness to do something about it yet, as well) .. Anyway, huge congrats to both Sai and Manisha for what they did today. Wilcards Uzma and Shruti are playing tomorrow, I believe .. See all the results in the Delhi women's challenger page ..
Nov 29 Note-1
Good news from Delhi - Manisha and Archana qualified into the main draw of the $75K women's challenger today !! .. Manisha Malhotra upset the top seed in the qualies, Madoka Kuki (#385), 7-6(5), 7-6(5), which is one of the biggest upsets of her career .. Same for Archana Venkataraman, who upset the 3rd seed in the qualies, Kerstin Marent of Austria (#494) in a marathon three setter, 6-7(3), 7-6(5), 7-5 !! .. Jahnavi Parekh, who had upset the 4th seed Saori Honda in the second round could not pull another upset and went down to Eva Belbl of Germany (#575), 6-3, 6-2 .. in the 4th final round match, second seed Riei Otakeyama (JPN, #441) beat Jennifer Tinnacher of Germany .. There is some chance for Jahnavi to still make it into the main draw as a lucky loser if there are 4 more withdrawals from the main draw, which was made today .. Kuki, Marent, Tinnacher, Jahnavi, Honda, Vanessa Henke, Rushmi Chakravarti, .. that is the lucky loser waiting list as of now ..
By the time the draw was made, there were four more withdrawals, and the direct entry has now gone down to #398 - However, it is quite probable that a lot of those people who were about 15 out from the original entry list cut-off never expected to get in, and will not show up by tomorrow, which means we should have quite a few lucky losers moving in .. Stay tuned on that.
The latest withdrawals are Emanuelle Gagliardi (#105) who would have been the top seed and Jeannette Husarova, who would have been the 6th seed .. Meilen Tu of Canada who was ranked #101 on Nov 2nd in the original list has fallen all the way to #204 this week, and so her withdrawal does not weaken the field a whole lot, on paper. Very interestingly, Nirupama is the 9th highest ranked player, and missed being seeded very narrowly!! .. The latest entry list and the qualifier results are at the Delhi women's challenger page.
As for the draw, it is very nice to Nirupama and Manisha and very unkind to most other Indians .. Niru faces one of the last direct entries, Katalin Miskolczi of Hungary (#375), and then should be facing the 8th seed Shinobu Asagoe (Japan, #157) .. If she moves on, it could be Mirium Schnitzer (GER, #140) next and then 2nd seed Jolene Watanabe (USA, #130) .. As for the others, Manisha Malhotra has a manageable match against another qualifier, Eva Belbl (GER, #575) .. Wildcards Uzma and Sai have tough opponents in 7th seed Amanda Hopkins and 3rd seed Karin Schwendt .. Qualifier Archana faces 2nd seed Watanabe .. those are three very tough matches .. The 3rd wildcard, Shruti Dhawan, ended up with unseeded Timoe Hotta (#274) of Japan .. I still wish AITA had shown the foresight to ask the 16-yr old Shruti to play the qualifiers and get some match experience than to wildcard her into the main draw .. This is the highest ranked player she has ever faced .. As of now, the ones who have already picked up some very good points are Manisha and Archana, who both have 4.5 points each so far (3.5 for qualifying, 1 bonus for beating top-500 opponents) and will make over $1000 in prize money, including the $650 for the main draw first round .. both Manisha and Archana will move up by about 100 spots each in ranking with this .. Manisha has a great chance to pick up another 7 points more and make that huge jump to inside top-500 if she can beat her qualifier opponent Eva in the first round ..
All the fun starts tomorrow !!
Nov 28 Notes
The qualifiers have started at the $75K Women's challenger at New Delhi, and they are trying to finish the whole qualifiers on Sunday itself - that is a rarity on the women's tour, where the final round of qualifiers are almost invariably ending on Monday, and in some cases as late as Tuesday! .. Anyway, I had a note from a press friend that a whole bunch of players have not arrived, and apparently any Indian player could have basically walked in, signed in for the qualies and walked away with $175K for even if they lost (except that, this being the first time that an event like this is happening in India, most did not know about the posiibility, I assume) ..
The Hindustan Times reports that only seven matches were played today - two first round matches and 5 second round matches .. I assume it's because some of the players got first round byes due to the lack of 32 players being on hand for three rounds of qualies .. That means there will be three more second round matches and 4 final round matches to be played on Sunday, with three players having to play both 2nd and 3rd rounds.
The good news is that Jahnavi Parekh, Manisha Malhotra and Archana Venkataraman are among 5 of the 8 final round players determined today ! .. The ones to fall in the second round were Arthi Venkataraman and Rushmi Chakravarti, both to higher ranked foreign players, and the young Sheetal Gautam who lost to Archana .. The most impressive win of the day was by Jahnavi Parekh (where have you been, lady?) who upset, in straight sets, Saori Honda, who at #536 is about 250 spots above Jahnavi and must be one of the top couple of seeds in the qualies .. The other surprise upset was by unranked Shalini Thakur in the first round over Keiko Tameishi (#740) of Japan .. See all the results of the day and the entry list as it stands, in the Delhi women's challenger page.
I am told that everybody is surprised at all the withdrawals at Delhi so far .. Actually it should have been expected for a one-week-only event, and the main reason is the travel expenses to India .. India is one of the most expensive places to fly to, from most tennis-rich places around the world .. It is a tough decision to buy a $1000-1500 ticket and be ready to spend $1500-2000 to go for qualifiers in India when the chances are that one hardly breaks even, even with a first round main-draw win, much less qualify through 2 or 3 rounds .. Especially in a $75K event where you expect many top-200 players in the main draw .. AITA goofed up big-time, and everybody seems to agree on that by now, in going for a $75K event, rather than a three-week sequence of $25K events (even if it were all in Delhi!) .. A lot more of the top-400 players would have taken a chance then, as there are much better odds to come out with a $1000 or more in that case, especially with slightly more manageable competition .. Anyway, I don't want to beat up on AITA for that though - at least they got us a big women's challenger for the first time - hopefully everybody would learn from this and plan well for a nice sequence of events next year. It is a fact that if there aren't at least about three weeks of events, it's tough to get anybody to come to India - this should be considered seriously in the future .. Look at the Calcutta men's futures a couple of weeks back - it was supposed to be followed by two weeks of futures in Bangladesh originally, but once the Bangla events got cancelled, it was clear that the competition would be much worse than what we had for the three-week futures sequence in January this year .. Another thing to consider is that the 4-week satellites circuits have suddenly become much less popular, ever since the futures events without 4-week commitments started this year .. It is a double-edged sword though - one can get away with much more points from a satellite circuit than from 3 or 4 futures events, the way the points structure is set up now, but somehow the players are very reluctant to go for it..
As for the Delhi challenger now, no need to worry - There will still be a lot of top players in the main draw, and Indians will get to see some top-quality women's tennis next week.. There are bound to be at least another couple of main draw withdrawals, and that increases the chance for some of the Indians in the final round of qualies to make it in, even is they lose on Sunday .. Reaching the final round have already given Manisha, Archana and Jahnavi two WTA points each !
Nov 27 Note-2
Does any other country produce tennis players who show up so consistently with heart for their country as India does ?? ..
Will the vast majority of Indian sports fans ever know this fact ? .. (that is a rhetorical question directed at enemy #1 to tennis in India, by the way - Doordarshan, I mean ..)
It should bring tears to any Indian tennis fan's eyes to think of what Mahesh did today - We have seen this all from Leander for so long, and when his buddy was abroad hardly able to walk, Mahesh knew what he had to do .. and that was to win his 6th match in 4 days, all in must-win pressure situations.. Today, he had to go up against a player much higher ranked than he is .. India was up against two guys who have beaten even Leander many times .. and guess what he does ? .. He won two more again today, making it six pressure matches won in straight sets .. Once again he had to come back from being down breaks and at break and set points so many times .. Every single time he showed the champion in himself, pulling out aces at will when needed and winning it all for India.
We tried Fazal in the first match today, and once again we were down a match as Kutsenko (ranked at #252, much above Fazal at #572) beat him 6-3, 6-3 .. Mahesh had to resurrect India from 0-1 situation for the 3rd time in a row .. MB found himself broken by Ogorodov (ranked 209 to Mahesh's 351) in the seventh game and was serving at a set point at 3-5 in the 9th .. Out came the aces (three of them in the game), and he held .. He promptly broke Ogorodov in the 10th game and it was all tied up at 5-5 .. In the tiebreaker, Mahesh's experience at the highest levels of tennis showed .. He was once again down 0-3 in the second set .. The fist-pumping started again, and before Ogorodov realized what hit him, it was MB who was up at 5-3 .. Mahesh won it 6-4 .. Now it was time to team up with Fazal for that final match .. They went out and beat Ogorodov/Kutsenko, 6-3, 7-6(4) .. Mahesh and Fazal have become a pretty good doubles team now, with three matches won here in straight sets (and actually a pretty good doubles match against Italy in Milan, though they lost then) .. India won the whole enchilada with that, and the team shared $30K ..
This was only Asia Cup, but when it comes to playing for India, Mahesh is a different animal altogether .. Just as his pal Leander is .. Time and again .. Hats off .. Thanks Hesh.
.. Previous notes are at Weekly Notes, ending Nov 30..