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Indian-Tennis: Daily News for the week ending on Dec 26, 2005
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Dec 26 Notes

Some bad news today for the Chennai Open .. The long-awaited withdrawal of Rafael Nadal finally happened today .. We all knew  all along that he was injured and would not take the risk of coming back too early befgore the Australian Open .. Rafa pulled out today .. But, for good news, Chennai Open managed to replace him with another top-10 players, Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia, ranked 9  .. Of course, with the appearance money that they would have had to pay Rafael, I would think Ivan would have been easy .. The only b ad thing is that he would use up a wildcard spot, bcause he was not in the initial entry list .. Considering that the tournament would probably really lose all respectability with just 3 top-60 players and no top-20 players in the field, I think that is small price to pay for Ljubicic, who is a really good player ..

I do find a clause in the ATP rulebook that allows a straight replacement of a player in an "emergency situation," in the case of a late withdrawal of a "seeded player and/or player important to the viability of the tournament" .. I guess Nadal's withdrawal does qualify for that .. I am not sure if the tournament will try to save a wildcard that way though .. The PTI report today seems to say that Ljubicic will be a wildcard entry.

As it stands two wildcards should be going to Ljubicic, Vishal Uppal .. One WC remains, which I think will go to either Prakash or Karan ..

Harsh Mankad left from California this morning and is on his way to Chennai where he will get by thursday, as the qualifying sign-in is friday night .. Rohan should be going to Chennai by then too .. Karan Rastogi plays his first round at the Doha challenger tomorrow.

There were some articles this week with Sania Mirza's comments on how well her training has gone, with the legendary Tony Roche in Australia .. It is difficult to even find 3 or 4 weks of his tyime and it was quite fortunate that Sania managed to get the old man to work with her one on one for three weeks (along with Sophie Fergusson, a top upcoming player from Australia) .. Federer has just landed in Melbourne, looking for a few days of help from Roche too .. Sania gets down with coaching this week and fwill be focusing on a bit more of physical trainaing, getting ready for the prestigious Hong Kong exhibition before the Australian tournaments.

Dec 25 Notes

The National grasscourt title, Rs.80K in cash, and a wildcard to the Chennai ATP went to Vishal Uppal today, as he beat Rohan Bopanna 76(4) 76(4) .. 29 year old Vishal once again showed showed that he is a totally different nut to crack on Indian grasscourts .. He served well, moved well and played drop shots and lobs to perfection in getting past Rohan, who was did in by his own second serve problems (8 double faults coming in with 8 aces) .. Lately, it seems that Rohan's game revolves mostly around the numbers and ratio of aces and double faults .. He probably need to work on that second serve accuracy - or he is going for too much on his second serve .. Anyway, Vishal deserves all credit for playing his very best this week and showing everybody how intricate and intriguing grasscourt tennis can be, on Indian courts with low and uneven bounce ..  See  all the results at the National Grasscourts page.

The women's title, Rs. 60K and a wildcard to the Bangalore WTA went to our most experienced woman player, also probably our best grasscourt player  - Rushmi Chakravarthi .. Rushmi, whose unbeaten grasscourt win streak has now gone to three years and 15 matches in India (the other two being the $10K ITF titles the last two years) beat Isha Lakhani in easy straight sets .. Isha was reportedly just not in her best form either in the 36 26 loss  - but that may have something to do with the way Rushmi can dominate on grasscourts.  Unlike on the men's side where everybody talks about who the best grasscourt player etc, we hardly talk about grass tennis on the women's side, and so Rushmi's grasscourt prowess is probably not all that well-known .. Congratulations to Rushmi -- I can never stop admiring the perseverance and determination that 28 year old Rushmi shows by appearing in all these events and playing with prupose .. And Why not? - she is winning the events too, though the younger brigade gets a lot more ink, as one would expect.

Some good news from the $50K Doha challenger in Qatar, starting on Monday .. Karan Rastogi has got a wildcard to the main draw , where he is drawn to play a tough guy 19 year old Sergiy Stakhovsky (RUS,185) .. Stakhovsky has a win over Karan about 2 years back at the Australin Hardcourt junior Grade-1 ITF, and is one of the youngsters who has come up in a hurry in the ATP ranks this year with three challenger semifinals and an ATP main draw win .. This will be a tough test for Karan there ..

Dec 24 Notes

After  some 7 main draw withdrawals, Rohan Bopanna had made the main draw entry cut for the $50K challenger in Doha (Qatar) next week), but he took his name out of consideration today ..  I assume that he is planning to get to Chennai early and get ready for the qualifying next weekend.

The National grasscourts finalists were decided yesterday .. Vishal Uppal versus Rohan Bopanna in the men's final and Rushmi Chakravarthi versus Isha Lakhani in the women's side .. The big win was by the third seed Vishal today, as he got past the second seed Karan Rastogi in a 76(5) 63 match .. Karan triued to start the game with a changed strategy, rushing the next .. Reportedly he did that a couple of times in the first game itself and got lobbed by Vishal .. Karan was in a losing battle from then own, even though he showed that he was quickly learning a bit of grass tennis .. Vishal is a handful for anybody to beat on grass, which is rather well-known from the style of tennis he plays even on hard courts .. So this was not a huge surprise .. Rohan had to hardly break a sweat against J. Vishnnu Vardhan who was all at sea against his aces .. RB needs to cuit down on his double faults though .. On the women's side, the match of the day was, as expected, between Isha and Sanaa, where Isha finally came through in three sets to show that she is pretty much back to her erstwhile form .. She will have to tackle our best grasscourt player - Rushmi Chakravarthi, who is on a 14 match unbrewaten streak on Indian grasscourts (Rushmi had won the Muzaffarnagar $10K in Apr 2003 and the Lucknow grass $10K in May 2004) ..

Only doubles finals were on schedule today - and the titles went to Ashutosh Singh and Vishal Uppal on the men's side and Sanaa Bhambri and Sandhya nagaraj on the women's side .. See all the scores in the National Grasscourts page for scores  ..

Dec 22 Notes

No surprises but there were a couple of good matches today at the National grasscourts, as the top 4 seeds on the women's side and 4 of the top 5 seeds on the men's side reached the SFs .. The match of the day was between Karan and Sanam, which Karan won by a 75 63 score .. Sanam "won the hearts" as Hindustan Times put it .. He did put up an even fight against Karan who is just too good these days .. The quiet performer, 19 year old Vishnu Vardhan made the semifinal with a win over 4th seed Ashutosh Singh .. He will run into Rohan who threw in 19 aces and 11 double faults (yeek!) in a 76 64 win over young Divij Sharan, who too showed some good tennis today .. Vishal Uppal had no problems .. Karan against Vishal on Friday - should be a good match .. On the women's side, Isha versus Sanam and Rushmi versus Punam should both be good matches tomorrow too .. See the scores at the National Grasscourts page .. They move the event now to the DLTA grasscourts for the final two rounds ..Though the bounce may be slighhtly more even than at the DSOI complex where they have been playing, the bounce may be lower there and that might help Vishal and Rohan more .. Just a wild guess from me .. Let us see how the semis go tomorrow ..

Meanwhile, Rohan Bopanna has made the main draw for the Doha challenger next week .. He was 7 out initially but made the cut today after some withdrawals ..  Not sure if he is planning to go there before heading to Chennai ..

As for the comments on Mahesh and Chennai Open, I have put in some details at the forum after I contacted Hesh .. Would like drop the topic, as it sounds like a bit of a mix-up, the way things turned out .. Anyway, Mahesh did not want this to become a big issue, and I assume so does the tournament .. Let us hope for Hesh and Moodie to get some good results at Doha and some good preparation for the Australian Open ..

Dec 21 Notes

The second round matches got done at the National Grasscourts today and 14 of the 16 seeds have reached the QFs in the two draws .. All eight of the women seeds reached the QFs .. The two unseeded players to reach the QF are 17 yr old Sanam Singh, who had upset the 7th seed Kamala Kannan yesterday and 19 yr old Divij Sharan, who upset the 6th seed Vijay Kannan today .. Good to see Divij back in the limelight - you may recall Divij reaching the DSCL hartdcourts men's final as a 17 yr old in 2003 and also reaching inside the junior top-30 in the world in early 2004, helped by a top-5 ranking in doubles .. A series of injuries and a poor decision (in my view!) not to go to US college tennis in 2004 despite a full scholarship from an excellent place (the Univ of Texas) saw Divij essentially disappearing from view for over a year with hardly much  of good results .. Nice to see him show that he is still there and is not to be forgotten, even though other 19-and-under juniors like Karan, Sanam, Vivek, Jeevan and Rupesh have been much more in the news .. He will have the tough job of facing the top seed Rohan on Thursday though .. The match of the day was between Vivek Shokeen and Karan Rastogi, the latter nearly withdrawing in the morning due to a heater-related fire in his room Tuesday night that burnt his clothes, some paperwork, money etc when he was away .. Karan had to borrow some clothes from his friend Purav Raja to play today! .. KR showed his focus in still pulling off a 63 75 win over Vivek Shokeen who reportedly showed some better grasscourt strokes at times but was not mentally ready to get past Karan who has grown leaps and bounds during the last 18 months in his mental focus and maturity (many newspaper reports point, I think correctly, to some very good work by his coach Sanjay Poddar in this aspect!) .. Karan will continue to have the highlight matches, as he takes on the super-confident Sanam Singh next .. Vishal Uppal, among the top couple of contenders for the title thanks to his grasscourt style, has had a very easy draw so far and has a relatively easy match tomorrow as well .. Another interesting match today was between the big-serving sixth seed Vishnu Vardhan (also only 18 year old, and another one that people often overlook) and Jeevan, which went to three sets with Vishnu advancing .. On the women's side, absolutely nothing muich of interest has happened so far but now that the seeds are all in the QFsthe matrches should be somewhat more competitive! .. See the National Grasscourts page for all the scores.

There was a report today in the Hindustan Times that Mahesh may not be playing at Chennai in two weeks .. It is based on unnamed sources, and so I am not sure if this is the final word .. I had actually wondered myself whether it was best for Mahesh to play Chennai, considering that his doubles partner, #63 Wesley Moodie, was playing that week in Doha .. In fact this was one of the things I noticed immediately after the entry lists came out 4 weeks back for Chennai and Doha .. I was surprised why the tournament folks could not do what it took to bring Moodie to Chennai where he would have been a 5th seed rather than be among the last entries at the $1M Doha event .. I thought that was a mistake by Chennai to miss out on him, and I wonder if that was part of Mahesh's reason .. The newspaper did mention that Chennai did not offer Mahesh any appearance money either - while Nadal, Moya, Stepanek and Leander were all getting appearance money - and gave that as the reason .. As for me, I have never been against appearance money, and was only against it being unnecessarily made to look immoral or something by ATP/WTA while secretly encouraging it .. The way I look at it, if a player who can play at a higher prize money event needs to come to a lower event (Chennai pays nearly 1/3rd of what Doha does!), apperance money often had to be offerred .. Why the heck else should the player take the trouble otherwise? .. This is why Chennai only has FOUR players who could have made the entry at other events coming there .. I am not sure if people realize this .. The Spaniards have not come in the past because they liked Masala Dosai! .. Anyway, I have absolutely no inside info on any of the money details this time .. I hope Mahesh somehow ends up playing in Chennai, though I would really like him to get two events with Moodie before Australian Open rather than just one, which would be the case if MB goes to Chennai.

Meanwhile, there is some big discussion going on in our forum about this topic .. My personal take is that, unlike how I would have felt in the earlier LP-MB years, it is not the end of the world if MB does not play in Chennai .. That is, MB or LP wouldn't be committing a crime on Indian tennis if either decides not to play .. They have done enough of their part for Indian tennis, in terms of keeping the tennis enthusiasm going for many years till Sania happened .. Chennai folks have seen MB many many times and while they would be disappointed in his not being there, the sky won't come down for them ..  But if it happens that way, I would blame the tournament for messing things up, though -  of course I have never missed a chance to go after the Chennai organizers, as everybody here knows, for historical reasons dating back to April 1998 when they did not give Sri or Fazal a wildcard - so, my criticism of Chennai tournament at the drop of a hat, is to be expected.

Dec 20 Notes

The National grasscourts is in full swing at Delhi now .. The event is returning to the Indian calendar for the first time since March of 2002, nearly 4 years .. The last edition in Kolkata was a Rs 600K event, which is now upgraded to a Rs. 832K event, making it the highest prize money event in the domestic calendar, even going past the Rs. 760K DSCL-National hardcourts .. Does anybody remember who won the last edition titles? ... Well, it was a 6th seeded Manoj Mahadevan (whereto did he disappear?) who had his career-best event, beating an unseeded 18 year old Sunil Kumar in the men's final and a 3rd seeded Sai Jayalakshmy beating the top seed Radhika Tulpule in the women's final .. Sunil had upset the top seed Bopanna in the R2 .. Feels like that was all donkey's years back .. We have a come a long way, and a whole new set of promising young kids have appeared who have hardly played on grass .. All that happened in just about 4 years .. I am glad that the event is back on the calendar .. I have never been a supporter of the idea that we should consider nothing but grass for Davis Cup etc, but I do like the idea of keeping a little advantage on grass that we may have against some countries who don't even have any grasscourts, just in case an odd Davis Cup tie comes around when we need to throw grass at them .. Currently on the men's side there are only about 5-6 players who have much of a clue on grass .. Harsh, Rohan, Prakash, Sunil, Vishal Uppal and Vijay Kannan .. The younger kids - the Sanams, Jeevans, Viveks, and even Karan, Somdev etc have hardly played on any grass in India, except if they were called in for Davis Cup practice .. It will be good for everyone to play against some of the better grasscourt players and file away a clue or two in their mind on Indian-style helter-skelter grasscourt tennis .. That is the stuff they don't pick up when they play the two or three obligatory grass events on true grasscourts in the ITF junior circuit against baseliner kids from other countries .. Of course, one event is not going to make everybody world-beaters on Indian grass, but this is a step in the right direction.  Of coure, these are all my opinions - and not necessarily the calculations of AITA who may have been just annoyed at the criticism that this event had been in the freezer for ever.

Another thing AITA did was to cut some sort of a deal with the Chennai Open (or twist their arms, if that was possible :)) to organize a wildcard to the men's champion .. That helped in giving a higher-profile for this event and also in making sure that those like Rohan, Karan, etc would play .. Unfortunately, Harsh Mankad, who had already broken his training schedule for a trip to the ABN Amro invitational 2 weeks back, could not go there, as that would mean he would not be able to do even the 2.5 week training he is doing now at a top athletic training center in Lake Forest, California (the same place where Lindsey Davenport, Justin Gimelstob, etc train) ..  The WC thing was announced too late for HM to do anything; Harsh is staying with me right now, and so I know that he was quite disappointed about this .. Sunil Kumar seems to be injured and is on a break too ..
Prakash, who is also doing injury rehab and training now in California, is not there at Delhi .. Hopefully this event will be done before November 20th next year, so that everybody can take part - we should be encouraging all our players to go through off-seasson training rather than confuse their schedules with events in December .. I won't complain all that much just this time though, because, after all, we need to be glad that the national grasscourts is back, after those like myself have cried for it for nearly 4 years .. On the women's side, but for Ankita Bhambri having to withdraw due to a back problem (and Sania/Shikha/Neha who are all doing offseason training), everybody is there.

Today was doubles day, except for a singles match between Bopanna and Liberhan .. See the first round results at our National Grasscourts page .. Only one seed got upset in the first round - 7th seed Kamala Kannan .. His loss was to - you guessed it - the roaring youing lion from Chandigarh - Sanam Singh .. He won 63 64 in a match which reportedly was not even as close as the scorelines suggest .. Sanam is not a grasscourt player (alas, grasscourts have all gone away from Chandigarh, I think - there was a time when you could count any Chandigarh player as a grass exponent) - but he is way too confident and solid these days; so the upset was not a surprise .. Youngsters Vivek, Jeevan, etc also have advanced, as did Rohan, Karan, Vijay and Vishal.

Dec 19 Notes

The big event this week is at Delhi - the National Grasscourts that has returned to the Indian calendar after 4 long years .. More on that later, but first a quick two-month update of important items ---

1. The biggest news -- 17 year old Sanam Singh, a wildcard,  won the Delhi $10K+H futures (hardly dropping a set and upsetting many seeds) last week, becoming the youngest Indian to win a futures, ever.  Big congrats kiddo!!!! .. He debuts in the ATP rankings, straight to top-750 this week - unbelievable!!! .. 18 yr old Vivek Shokeen upset the 2nd seed and reached the semi too, where he only lost in a third set tiebreaker .. The youngsters are doing great!

2. The same Sanam Singh won the inaugural Asia/Oceania junior title (Asia plus Australia/NewZealand), without dropping set in 6 matches, moving up to #12 in the ITF junior world rankings, which means he will start in January as the #5 ranked junior in the world, the second highest ranking of any Indian since Leander (Karan Rastogi was #4 once in 2004) .. Sanam had won the Asian Juniors ITF also in April this year (dropping a set only to Vivek Shokeen in 6 matches there too) .. Sanam is the undisputed best junior east of Europe! .. Not too far behind is Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, 17 year old and about 8 months younger than Sanam, who will be ranked about #8 in the world too.

3. Speaking of 19 year old Karan Rastogi, he stamped his class as the best youngster knocking on national team duty soon, by defending his title at the ABN Amro invitational in November, effectively the unofficial men's national championships .. He upset both the India #2 Rohan Bopanna and #1 Harsh Mankad, the latter in the final .. Karan is ranked #356 in ATP and is expected to break into big time in a year or two ..

5. Leander Paes and Nenad Zimonjic reached the final of the year-end world doubles masters cup in Shanghai last month .. It was LP's third time in the final, but they could not pull off a title, just like the previous two times with Mahesh .. LP has split up with Nenad, and will be playing with Martin Damm (CZE) for 2006, as Mahesh will be pairing up with Wesley Moodie (RSA) ..

4. Isha Lakhani, 20 yrs, returned to top-level tennis on the women's side, winning the Mumbai $10K and finishing runner-up at the Pune $10K .. She is back inside top-500 now, after missing something like a year and half due to some injuries etc.  Watch out for Isha again.

5. Ankita Bhambri, 19 yrs, reached a challenger QF and SF in late October and then won the Pune $10K in November to move inside top-400 after a poor year earlier.  She too is back, joining Sania, Shikha, Neha, Isha, Sanaa as the young and hungry brigade in Indian women's tennis .. Unfortunately, she withdrew from the National grasscourts today with a bad back though :( .. .

6. Sanaa Bhambri, 17 yrs, finished runner-up at the Asia/Oceania juniors in a quickly-successful return to the junior tour (she was ranked inside top-40 as a 15 yr old in 2004 but did not play juniors for 18 months, buit focussed on the pro events, reaching inside top-450 in WTA)

7. On the girls' junior side, we finally (!) have some good news after nearly 3 years, as 15 year old Poojashree Venkatesh is finally emerging as the next big hope since the above group.  She has won 3 of the 4 Indian ITF junior events since September (grade-5 in Chennai and Hyderbad in Sep, and Grade-4 in Gugaon this month - the only loss was in the QF at the Mumbai Gr-4 3 weeks back to an Ukranian player whom she beat the next week 62 60! .. Her biggest win was at Gurgaon over the current #1 player in the European u14 rankings, Goloborodko!) .. Remember that she also won the u16 and u18 girls titles at the DSCL Hardcourt Nationals two months back .. Also noteworthy is that Sandhya Nagaraj, 17 yrs, had reached the Asia/Oceania juniors semifinal - she will be the highest ranked Indian junior next month, at about #75 .. I hope Sanaa, Sandhya and Poojashree would play some early year junior events and move up inside top-50 to make junior grand slam draws (not too critical in Sanaa's case, but she is even capable of winning one and making some news which can't hurt!)

8. The India #1 Harsh Mankad who just turned 26, is at a career high ranking of #222 this week.  He had a less-then-satisfying end of year, somewhat surprisingly out of form during the 6-challenger US swing.  Arguably the toughest hardcourt challenger circuit to play in, and his losses were to some really good players, but I think he expected more out of himslf.  Harsh is doing some hard training.

9. The constantly injured Prakash Amritraj basically had a very poor 6 month period. Since reaching the Forest Hills grass challenger in June, he hardly picked up a point, but he is still at #268, finally falling a spot behind #267 Rohan Bopanna who is now the India #2 .. Prakash has had a good break at the end of the year, and I hope he comes back wityhout injuries to play a whole year in 2006 .. Rohan, who started back on the tour only in latre March this year, has had his best year so far, and is at a career-high rank this week .. He will play his first grand slam qualies in Australia.

10. Harsh is assured of an entry into the Australian Open qualies next month, but Rohan and Prakash are virtual certianties to make the cut in the end, though they may be some 10-15 out at first.  On the girls' side, Sannia Mirzxa (now #34 in WTA) could even be a seed, and our #2 Shikha Uberoi, 22 yrs , ranked #155, will be in the qualies.

11. Shikha Uberoi and Neha Uberoi were generally in off-season training lately, though they were in India for some exhibition matches with Sania, etc.

12. Sania Mirza is away in Australia now, getting coached for three weeks by the legendary Tony Roche, and undergoing a few weeks of physical training under Jade Hotte, who is a trainer with some experience in Australin football at Melbourne, etc.

I may have missed a couple of other items but all in all, I would say that we have had a couple of months of a lot of good news that point to a great 2006 .. I am excited!

[I was basically away for two months before this - and so the previous notes are from late October]

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the weeks ending on Oct 24, 2005 ..

I am getting some inquiries from US college coaches who are interested in Indian junior players .. I would like to be able to contact Indian players (some of the coaches are inquiring about specific names) .. If any of the junior players are reading this, please contact me .. Or if any of the other readers know the contact emails/address for any junior playera, let me know .. Please email me - R.Jayakrishnan