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LP/MB/NV/Indian-Tennis: Notes for the week ending on Dec 27, 1999

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Dec 28 Note-1

At the satellites in Chandigarh, two seeds fell today - unfortunately both were Indians - 7th seed Archana Venkatraman fell to Masa Vesenjak in three sets and 3rd seed Sai Jayalakshmi lost to unseeded 15 year old, Antonia Matic of Croatia, 46 61 26 .. What can I say ? ..  Disappointing .. I hope the Indian players won't lose heart at most of them not having a great time at these futures thanks to some of these talented young girls who have come there .. 2nd seed Manisha and 4th seed Rushmi advanced to the quarterfinals, however, beating Radhika Tulpule and Shalini Thakur .. Rushmi and Sai are in the doubles semifinal .. See the Chandigrah satellites page.

Still not much news from the the Indian Oil Servo Invitational 16-draw tournament at the Krishnan Tennis Center in Chennai .. Top seed Nitin Kirtane and 3rd seed Vijay Kannan advanced to the semis, beating R Arun Prakash (62 62) and Vijendra Laad (61 61) today [source: Indian Express] .. No news on who else is in the semis.

Dec 27 Notes

Leander announced yesterday that Sebastien Lareau (CAN,#4) will be his doubles partner at the Australian Open and for a few months after that till Mahesh gets back .. He will still be playing with Byron Black at Chennai, however .. Lareau became available as Nestor (his Canadian partner for this year) is undergoing surgery too .. Lareau and Nestor will be playing Olympics together later.

Lareau has played with Leander in the past and they have had good success together .. Here is some history -- The first time they played together, they reached the semifinal at the US Open in 1993, with upsets over seeded teams like Keil/Kruger and Nijssen/Suk, before losing to Damm/Novacek .. That helped both crack the top-100 for the first time (Lareau moving up from 135 to 80 and LP from 144 to 90) .. LP stayed at that plateau (between #75 and #125 in doubles) for the next 4 years, till making the next move up to #50 in Mahesh's company in mid 1997, and then into the top-10 by the year end .. Interestingly Lareau did not play with Leander after the USO-93 till the Wimbledon 94, where they again had good results reaching the final-16 beating seeded teams (P.McEnroe-Reneberh and O'Brien-Stolle) .. The next time they played together was at USO 94 where they advanced only one round after an upset over Ondruska/Talbot ..  The next event Leander played was a challenger in Jakarta in 94 which is hisorically important, because he reached the final with a guy called Mahesh Bhupathi he was partnering for the first time .. Though Bhupathi was in the US college and did not become LP's regular partner till 1996, LP never played with Lareau again, and went throgh about 15 different partners, of which only Don Johnson, Kevin Ullyett, Laurence Tieleman and Wayne Arthurs may be known to most people .. One reason why LP and SL have not played together much, may be that Leander would have to play the AD court while playing with Lareau (which he said he will do at the AO this time again) .. They have played together only three times, and all were at Grand Slams .. Lareau moved up the rankings faster after 93, playing with Nestor and later with O'Brien, reaching top-30 in 94 itself .. Somehow their paths cross again after 5 years - and once again it will be a grand slam where they will go in with no matches together for preparation, interestingly ..  Leander said yesterday that he hopes that Mahesh will be back healthy in time for Davis Cup and Olympics later .. It is still doubtful if he will be there for the Davis Cup second round (after Lebanon), but Hesh should be playing again at least by April or May with enough time for Olympics.  It appears that Leander will be with Lareau till then as somewhat of a long term partner, and both will adjust their schedules accordingly later.  They will be seeded #1 in doubles at the Australian ..

Paes commented on the switch to the backhand court - The Telegraph (Calcutta) reports: "I'll also play in the new position when I team up with Byron,” said Paes at a Press conference here today. "Earlier, I used to play at the back, and you know what fantastic success I and Mahesh had as a pair. I look forward to playing in the new position as a challenge. I love challenges, and I am sure that I can adjust my game.” Paes said , "Of course, I hope to be back in harness with Mahesh in the Olympics and win a doubles medal this time round. If Mahesh hasn't recovered by that time, I'll just have to find another Indian partner. I played with Fazal a couple of times, but it will be up to our new Davis Cup captain, Mr Ramesh Krishnan, to decide whom I will partner in the next Davis Cup tie against Lebanon in February, and subsequently in the Olympics" ... Regarding the new Davis Cup captain, Mr Ramesh Krishnan, Paes said: "I'll miss Mr Jaidip Mukerjea, but I am sure that Ramesh and I will get along very well” .. Nice to see Leander thinking of RK as his Olympics captain, etc.

At the Chandigarh satellites, the 5th seed Keiko Tameishi, who was upset by Sheetal Gautham last week, got upset again this week, by Isha Chopra who was a lucky loser entry .. Once again, Tameishi had to concede the match down 1-5 in the final set .. All other seeds advanced .. Urska Vesenjak added Arthi Venkatraman to the list of top Indian players she has beaten .. Eight Indians are in the second round, and we will have at least 2 in the QFs, as Rushmi plays Radhika Tulpule and Manisha plays Shaklini Thakur .. See the Chandigarh satellites page for the scores.

I have only seen one result from the Krishnan Tennis Center invitation tournament which got underway this week in Chennai .. In the first round, Vijendra Laad beat Sunil Kumar 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-2 .. Sunil Kumar will hopefully gain experience from playing such close matches and will improve .. Once again I hope that people will get off his back, stop putting pressure on a 16 year old, skip all the Davis Cup talk and all that, give him time to play ITF junior events mixing it with higher level events, get that winning feeling going again, get him to put on height/ weight/ stamina, help him fine-tune his arsenal, etc, etc --- he will be there in the future, so let us give him time).

Dec 26 Notes

AITA announced the big news today - Ramesh Krishnan is the new Davis Cup non-playing captain, selected unanimously by the executive committee of the AITA today! .. Here is the PTI report - Ramesh, who piloted India to the Davis Cup semis with a memorable away win on clay at Frejus over France in the quarter-finals with the then in-experienced Leander Paes in 1993 before retiring from the game, would replace Jaidip Mukherjea, who recently resigned from the job. "Mukherjea would be one of the members of the selection committee to be headed by Shyam Minotra", R K Khanna said and added that Ramesh will be in charge for India's first Davis Cup tie in 2000, the February 4-6 Asia-Oceania Group I encounter against Lebanon on grass at Lucknow .... However, there would be no coach for the tie against Lebanon as the AITA is yet to take a decision whether a man is needed at all for the job following feedbacks from players and officials, Khanna said .... "We would take a final decision on it (coach for Indian Davis Cup team) at a later stage. There would be no coach for the tie against Lebanon", he reiterated which means that current coach Enrico Piperno's job is also on the line. The team for the tie at Lucknow would be selected at Kochi on January 15 by the selectors and Ramesh Krishnan, Khanna  added ..  There is the news folks! .. Best wishes go out to RK from all of us.

In case you didn't see, I have added the saturday qualies scores from Chandigarh at the Chandigarh satellites page .. There was a report today in The Tribune, Chandigarh, that the 4th seed Ka-Po Tong may not be playing this week .. Not sure who Manisha will play doubles with, if so .. This futures, by the way, is the only pro circuit tennis event being conducted anywhere in the world this week! .. No other event giving ATP or WTA points anywhere else ..

Dec 25 Notes

Merry Christmas to everybody, and prayers for those who are stuck in the Indian Airlines plane ..

It looks like everyone expected the 17 year-old unseeded Russian Urska Vesenjak to win the title, and she did exactly that today at the Lucknow satellites, beating the top seed #285 Katarina Daskovic 46 62 61, almost exactly the score she beat Sai Jayalakshmi with last week at Delhi .. She had beaten Manisha 62 62, and Ka-Po Tong 63 62 in the QFs .. That means she has beaten all four of the top seeds in this week's satellites over a 2 weeks period .. Add in the 8th seed Archana Venkatraman also to the mix, as she lost 36 26 to Urska too .. She also beat Sheetal Gautham in the challenger qualies last week, to add to the list of those who are all left licking their wounds .. Quite an impressive run where she has made life miserable for everybody, Indians and foreigners alike, over two weeks so far .. We will need to watch out for this girl in the future .. Including 2 bonus for beating top 500 players in the semi and final, Urska gets 7 WTA points for a two week total of 12.5 points.

The good news is that Manisha and Ka-Po Tong finally got some measure of revenge on the Vesenjak sisters, beating them in three sets 63 57 61 for doubles title .. Manisha will pick up 5 WTA points and will move up from #487 to about #430 in doubles and in the process will move ahead of Sai and Rushmi to become the #2 Indian in doubles as well, behind Nirupama .. See the Lucknow satellites page for all the scores .. The Chandigarh satellites qualifying rounds must be starting today or tomorrow.

Some last minute rumors on the Davis Cup captain/coach situation [see Dec 18 and Dec 19 Notes last week, for more on this] .. I think AITA is supposed to announce the names on Sunday .. The Telegraph reports this today - With Jaidip Mukerjea having resigned and Enrico Piperno set to be sidelined, a new non-playing captain as well as a fresh coach will be picked tomorrow to nurture Team India .... The selection of the captain seems to be a mere formality. Though Anand Amritraj had also ‘applied’, Ramesh Krishnan seems to have already pipped him to the post ... The focus will, thus, be on the choice of coach. For a change, the AITA top brass is anything but convinced on who should be the right man to replace Piperno ... If president R.K. Khanna has his way, the AITA could well do away with a separate coach — the logic being Krishnan junior is capable and young enough to perform a dual role. But that is unlikely to find favour with the majority ... There is one school which favours a young coach still active with the game. Asif Ismail is a contender in this category .. There is a third theory doing the rounds — that Anand should be drafted in as coach. But that is quite surely out of the realms of possibility right now. . Others favour experienced Nandan Bal, who was joint coach with Piperno for a couple of years .. Hmmm .. So Ramesh is a "done deal" ?? .. As for coach, I think it's fair to expect that somebody more senior like Anand cannot be a coach with RK .. Anyway, why not some "pure" coach out there, perhaps somebody not necessarily a former Davis Cupper or even a big player ? .. Wouldn't there be more respect from successful current players towards somebody like that than players of recent past (arguably of relatively lesser success), especially when they have not had experience as coaches for all that long [actually Nandan Bal has been coaching for a while though - and has had some good success with some players (Bopanna?) and also with the Indian Fed Cup team, I believe] .. Anyway, is there somebody who could fit the bill as a successful "pure" coach, perhaps more of a "technical" kind of person? .. Actually Hindustan Times had suggested names like Chandrasekhar from Chennai in a couple of articles last week, but I know nothing much about all that and don't know who else are out there like that .. Hey, by the way, here is another of uneducated suggestions from me, though it's pretty late for new ideas -- why not a foreign guy purely for coaching and technical help ? .. It's an option which would upset many good coach candidates from India - but may be "cleaner" in the long-run if the selected person is an apolitical guy, preferably not associated with any of the current players [I know .. "yeah right!" is probably the response to any such suggestion! :-) ..  Just me thinking aloud] .. For now, let us wait till tomorrow to hear from AITA.

Dec 24 Notes

The speculations on Leanders partner at Chennai has ended with Dr. Vece Paes announcuing yesterday that Byron Black of Zimbabwe ranked #10 in the doubles ranking .. We will need to wait and see if he will be playing with LP at the Australian Open also .. By the way just 9 days to go till qualies start for the Chennai tournament .. It seems ATP announced that they would allow the three tournaments starting on the 3rd of January (Chennai, Adelaide and Doha) to delay the qualifying sign-in deadline to Saturday (Jan 1) rather than the normal Friday night, to avoid any travel problems due to Y2K, etc .. The hoopla at Chennai is just about a week away!

At Lucknow today, Urska Vesenjak of Slovenia pulled off another one of her many many upsets over two weeks in India - she beat second seed Manisha Malhotra too .. Wow! .. This is one of the interesting things that happen in these satellites --  somebody coming up in the rankings hitting a stride and causing problems for everybody .. Urska is only 17 years old and has been playing pro tennis only during the last few months along with her identical twin sister Masa, but is showing signs of bigger things .. Today's win gave Urska a bonus point for beating a top-500 player too, and that takes her total points in two weeks to 10.5 which more than doubles her current total .. Here is an article about the twin sisters in the Lucknow edition of the Times of India (actually the talent of these two girls has been obvious to the observers - those like S.Kannan of the Hindustan Times, and Kamesh Srinivasan of The Hindu have been mentioning a lot about Urska, even before she had all these wins!)  .. Sai lost the other semifinal to the top seed Daskovic, and that ends the Indian run in the singles .. Yesterday, Manisha and Ka-Po-Tong had reached the final of doubles, beating Katarina Daskovic and Antonia Matic 64 64 after a nice comeback winning 10 of 14 sets since being down 2-4 in the first .. They were to play (who else?) Masa and Urska Vesenjak in the doubles final after the twins upset the top seeds Rushmi and Sai in the semis in straight sets! .. Not sure if it was played today .. See the Lucknow satellites page.

Dec 23 Notes

At the Lucknow satellites, the India #2 and #3, Manisha and Sai reached the semifinals today with easy wins .. Sai had no trouble with Sheetal Gautham, and Manisha beat 754th ranked Maria Kondratieva .. Both will face tough opponents in the semifinals though - Sai goes up against #282 Katarina Daskovic and Manisha faces #664 Urska Vesenjak .. Urska upset the 4th seed Ka-Po Tong easily 63 62 today .. Urska is the same young Slovenian who upset Sai 46 61 61 at the Delhi challenger first round last week .. There she had to qualify in, before advancing a round ..  She has already picked up about 7.5 points from India, enough to bring her up closer to #550 .. She has easily shown top-500 form so far, and so Manisha will need to be at her best to reach the final .. See the QF results at the Lucknow satellite page.

A couple of interesting items from last weekend .. The "Dynamic Duo" were selected as the Sportstar sportspersons of the year, for 1999 .. Here is the article from The Hindu on Dec 19th .. The previous ones were SRT (1994), Vishwanathan Anand (95), Leander Paes (96), Saurav Ganguly (97), and M.Azharuddin (98) .. LP is the first repeat winner, I guess - this time in the company of Mahesh .. LP-MB will be the featured ones on the poster in The Sportstar's Century of Sport special issue dated December 25 .. Century of Sport Commemorative Edition that follows on Jan 1st, will feature Gavaskar and Kapil Dev on the poster.

Another interesting article from The Hindu, on Dec 18th: Their deeds speak louder than words - featuring answers to a questionnaire to the three Indians who are right at the top in the world in what they do - Vishwanathan Anand, SRT and Leander Paes .. Same questions to all three .. There are a lot of good questions and terrific answers from these three guys in there (great reading!), but one particular Q and A caught my eye -- Q: How does it feel when you become a victim of expectations, largely of your own making? .. Leander: Well, to start with, that's one thing which I find very strange and can't relate that to myself. Our society is really strange that way because they expect things for no reason. Really. What's the reason to expect anything? As far as I am concerned, I don't even deal with what people think. I just try to be the best. I make mistakes. I am not perfect. But again, I strive to be the best, try to do the best I can. I think that is all one can expect of me, or any athlete, or any person .. I think this answer shows one of the things that Leander has been quite aware of, and it seems to affect him to a certain extent  - note that LP seemed to be relatively more frank in his answer than the other two, also .. I think all those Leander-bashers who type things in our bulletin board about what they expect of LP (or MB, or Srinath, or Fazal, or others) and what he has *not* achieved, should read this .. I mentioned once that all those who bash our players as not being at the top of the world in everything, should also see where we stand with respect to our sports tradition and what we have a right to expect .. We should expect our sportspersons to put in their best effort, but not bash them because they have not become the Samprases or Peles or Mohammed Alis .. A lot of Indian sports fans look down on whatever achievements our sportspersons have, forgetting that we never really had all that much of better results from former sportspersons, never really had given our players much support or facilities or coaching, and that they all have mostly had to work harder than those from the rest of the world to achieve whatever they have accomplished .. We can of course criticize mistakes by our sportpersons, but we should still support them.  In other words, nobody should feel like apologizing for Leander not having won a claycourt ATP match in over two years or Mahesh having not won a main draw ATP match in over two years, or Srinath not having a top-200 win .. And we should not feel muted in giving them credit when they win a challenger or a satellite or whatever - not just when LP and MB win grand slam doubles titles! .. And this should go simultaneously with our own introspections into what could have helped any of them to do better too, the cerebral part of sports which we should all do quietly when we are done with celebrating our sportspersons .. One of those pet topics I have wanted to talk about for a while - LP's line made me think about it.

Not much tennis going on - this is Christmas break, you know .. Hence all my freewheeling commentary  worth many two-paisas :-)

Dec 22 Note-2

The doubles scene keeps getting interesting .. An article at the Pat Rafter website says that Pat will be playing with Wayne Arthurs at the Australian Open (thanks go to Raghu Arunachalam for alerting me) .. Now I wonder who Bjorkman will be playing with .. If he sticks with Byron Black, then we don't know who LP can look at as a potential partner .. www.patrafter.com also says that Sandon Stolle will be partnering Lleyton Hewitt for a few tournaments including the AO to see if it would work out .. I don't know whom Stolle's last year's partner, Wayne Black, will be playing with ..

I have put up the latest AITA ranks (men, women, u18, u16, u14 singles and doubles) in our archives .. See links at the Ranking/ Calendar/ results page .. Some changes in the rankings from last month .. Mohammed Ali Salman of Calcutta came up from nowhere to #33 in the boys-16 rankings, after he surprised everybody by reaching the semifinal at the Calcutta ITF junior international .. Shivang Mishra has come up from #10 to #2 behind AV Rao in the u-18 ranks, solely with ITF points, including the title in Pakistan and some points from Thailand and other places .. Vinod Sewa who won the title at Calcutta has come up from #23 to #13 .. Actually, AITA gives same weights for ITF international points and the India junior domestic tournaments, which may not be fair especially to those who play at some of the tougher ITF events .. At the senior level, AITA multiplies the ATP or WTA points by 5 and adds them to the domestic points to calculate the rankings ..

Dec 22 Note-1

Another instalment in my never-ending cry for Sunil Kumar follows (please read carefully, if you read, or skip to the bottom of this note - I don't want to be misunderstood in what I say here! .. I will probably just refer back to these comments in the future when I feel like "venting" on this issue).

Sometimes sad stuff happen to such a ridiculous extent that one can only laugh it off .. Just saw such a news -- The Times of India reports that the ATP Goldflake Open *main draw* wildcard has been given to Sunil Kumar, a 16 year old kid .. What can I say ? .. I have talked about this matter of pushing Sunil too hard so many times, that my fingers hurt .. It is the same IMG that runs the Goldflake that we complained so much on, about the wildcard fiascos the last two years .. Now they have gone and done this (and I have no idea under whose insistence)! .. I feel like crying, but I will just laugh and leave it there .. And feel sorry for Srinath or Fazal or both who will miss out a chance once again (Leander has one wildcard .. Not sure who will get the 3rd one - probably some foreigner, based on past record) .. I get the nagging feeling that somebody or other (or eveybody) wants a piece of this boy Sunil, and wants to show him that they are all for him and care for him .. Nobody seems to be there to put a stop to it ..  But I am just an opinionated tennis fan with no tennis credentials, and I hope I am wrong in what I feel.

At least Sunil won't be missing any junior tournaments due to this, and that's a saving grace, but I wish he could just play the qualies with at least a chance to win a match (not that there is much of a chance for that even in the qualies .. and I say that fully aware of his tremendous talent that everyone talks about - it's just based on observing how other super-talents from around the world did in even ATP satellites before they have played top level junior events) .. Well, then again, if he is to lose in the qualies or main draw anyway, then main draw is better - as he makes some good money at least! .. It will become really bad only if he misses the junior internationals in Sri Lanka and India during the three weeks that follow Chennai, though .. But I am sure we will see him getting wildcards to the three Indian futures during that time and missing those too .. Actually, for all we know, he could be the 4th member or the alternate for the Davis Cup that comes up during that period too .. It will be bye-bye to any chance at the junior grand slams next year if he does not start with some points at the subcontinental ITF events .. Prepare for the worst .. I personally have a sinking feeling .. The only positive side to this latest wildcard episode is that the kid will get some $4K for playing the first round which is good money to use for some travel, etc (though I am told that sponsorship may possibly not be a problem for him in the end, but I am reluctant to believe too much of rosy scenarios) ..

In case I should repeat, the real problem is that he has just 40 points and a #400 ranking in ITF juniors now .. If he wins all 5 of the subcontinental ITF events in Jan-Feb, he will still not qualify for a grand slam junior draw (most talented players play them at age 16 or 17 to get the experience and then go for the kill and try to win one of those at age 18 when they also start playing some ATP events - Sunil is eligible for the next two years only and has not even played a grade-3 event yet and that is about 4 levels below a grand slam) .. Sunil also has to defend the only points he now has, during the first week of February .. If he pickes up no ITF points, he cannot even easily get into the better ITF events in the far east that he will need to play in April and May to get anywhere in the junior rankings .. If not, all he will have will be wildcards into Indian ATP events - more and more losses and nothing else .. So on and so on ..  I am not kidding when I say that it's already a critical situation for him, and this is not time for people to think "arre, chalta hai - he has a lot of time" .. I am sure he and his coach are aware of it and would do the right things if people would not put them in tough situations (or give them offers they can't refuse) .. How can anybody say no to an honour like a wildcard to an ATP event and upset those who are offering them ? .. Of course he can't .. Unless people show some understanding and back off, this could all get ugly .. Again, I am sitting in the US and saying all this .. Perhaps I am over-reracting .. I sincerely hope so!

It's funny that one tournament (DSCL nationals) where he caught a few decent Indian players (none of them really of even ATP top-600 caliber, by the way) on the way to a men's title, was what caused everybody to jump on the Sunil bandwagon .. A great achievement, but we should take it only as a start to greater things from him, not as an end!.. I have seen newspaper reports on only Bhupathi Sr, Ramesh Krishnan and Rajan Kashyap of CLTA (Chandigarh) talk much about him before that - and AITA had given him Rs 1 lakh for travel earlier too .. Now the whole world acts like they all knew all along that Sunil was the next big fish (or worst, like Sunil is already the fish ready to swim) .. One tournament doesn't a career make .. By the way, it was Sunil himself who was very reluctant to make a big deal of his DSCL title - he said "but those like Fazal and Srinath didn't play or I wouldn't be the national champion" .. Others should listen to the kid ..  Anyway, I went back and checked what I said before a junior ITF internationals in Delhi in February .. I said "watch for Sunil" (Feb 4 Note-1), and he went and won the title there, as an unseeded player .. I remember reports then about "unseeded" Sunil "shocking" the top seed Tembe, etc .. Unfortunately, I believe that was the last official ITF junior event he played - 10 months back, unbelievable as it seems (he played a couple as part of the ITF junior team in Europe, but perhaps they were the lower age group events, and are not registered in the ITF ranking) .. Now you know why I am going nuts over this issue .. It seems like now everybody is going overboard - like he is ready to beat Sampras .. This kind of thinking without following things closely, and without long-term calculations, is what concerns me .. I am sorry, but I cannot see how *anybody* could become good in modern tennis without playing many many more matches than Sunil has .. I say all that to say that so much more needs to be done - and I say that with  no doubts in my mind, from all I have heard, that he is one of those phenoms that comes along only in a dacade or so in India.

It's not that he shouldn't play the bigger events - the problem is that he is unable to play the smaller events, like the case when Asia Cup and the challengers forced him to miss two ITF events in the subcontinent recently -- all he could do was to waste three weeks with three matches, and before that he had 4 weeks at the ATP satellites with 4 matches! .. Anyway, this is all my two cents .. I hope I haven't upset anybody with my constant whining on this matter .. Disregard what I said above if so .. But it would be a sad sad thing for me, if I have to say "I told you so" in the future .. Once again, sorry for another long piece on this.

At Lucknow today, Manisha, Sai and Sheetal became the only three Indians to reach the quarterfinals of the women's satellites .. 4th seeded Rushmi and 8th seeded Archana got upset, as did Arthi Venkatraman .. Sai and Sheetal will meet in one of the QF .. Hopefully Manisha will take care of 7th seeded Kondratieva (Manisha is reportedly still not showing her best form, though) and we will have 2 Indians in the SF .. Glad to see Sheetal finally getting some good results after a few months of trouble with her injured wrist (which is apparently still not fully fine) .. See the results at the Lucknow satellites page.

Dec 21 Note-2

Aha, it looks like my guess that the PTI report earlier today (about Kafelnikov playing with Paes) doesn't mean much, was probably a good one .. Here is the news from the Statesman that came up later - Initially, Paes got in touch with Martin Damm of the Czech Republic but he was told that Damm already had an agreement with Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov to partner him in most of the ATP tournaments in the coming year. An agency report from Chennai, earlier in the day, had created some confusion by stating that world No. 2 Kafelnikov had expressed his desire to team up with Paes. "No, the information is wrong,” said Leander's father, Dr Vece Paes, reacting to the said agency story. Dr Paes, who looks after the tennis star's itinerary, added that yesterday Kafelnikov had said in an interview in London that he might play with Paes in the Gold Flake Open. "It was a just a passing reference. Leander is still looking for a partner. Not just for Chennai but for other tournaments as well,” Dr Paes clarified. Paes is trying to have Byron Black of Zimbabwe, the winner in Chennai last year, as his partner in the Gold Flake Open .. So, that was all there was .. Yevgeny would have just made some comment to satisfy the press people, probably .. Actually, come to think of it, Kafelnikov and Leander play the same court in doubles and they wouldn't fit anyway, right ? .. Or I would think LP would think of him first -- by the way, based on my chats with LP in the past, I know that LP is very much "up" on info about a lot of doubles players - who plays which court, etc - and has pretty good judgment on who would match him .. If Kafelnikov was Mahesh's partner earlier, then he has to be a deuce court player -- I am not sure of that stuff though, since I have never seen him play doubles on TV to know .. Anyway, if Damm said he is already set to play with Kafelnikov, then why is Kafelnikov saying he has not teamed up with anybody for Chennai (Damm is in the entry list at Chennai) ? ..  I guess it's just Kafelnikov being a bit flaky here (he enjoys doubles but I doubt if he takes doubles all that seriously, though he is a great doubles player with grand slam titles) .. LP playing with Byron Black was a guess I had made earlier, mostly because of the news that Rafter may be playing doubles at the Australian, which would mean that Bjorkman will have to drop Byron Black, who could thus be available for AO as well .. Except that I can't remember if Byron Black plays the Ad court either (since Bjorkman has played with LP and BB, Byron has to be a deuce court player too like LP, right ?) .. In summary, I have no earthly idea! :-) :-) .. Let us see how it all shakes out.

Dec 21 Note-1

18 yr old Sheetal Gautham, who had been coming on nicely in the juniors the last 18 months or so, pulled off one of her nicer wins today, upsetting the 6th seed Keiko Tameishi (JPN,628) in the $10K satellites at Lucknow today in a comeback three-setter .. Having trained on clay and hardcourts in Bangalore at Bhupathis' academy, grass has not been considered her surface, and that makes it particularly impressive .. It's certainly good to see that 8 Indians have reached the second round (#2 Manisha, #3 Sai, #5 Rushmi, #8 Archana, Sheetal, Arthi, Geeta Manohar and Nikita Bhardwaj) with Sheetal being the only one to face a foreign opponent so far ..  See the early results at the Lucknow satellites page - I will add more scores later today.

I have to comment on something about some of the newspaper reports (mostly those based on the PTI agency news from Lucknow) that keeps mentioning everyday that this satellites has had some "spate of withdrawals", etc, etc -- They keep mentioning that the top players like Nirupama, Garbin, Marosi, etc who played last week at the challenger have all "withdrawn" from this event .. PTI needs to learn a bit more about international tennis and see if any of those players ever play satellites .. It's extremely rare to find anybody inside the top-300 ever participating in a women's satellite event anywhere .. With players like Daskovic and Manisha in the top-350, and Sai who was in the top-450 till last week, this tournament is about as tough as any $10K satellite out there in the tour! .. I am extremely surprised that 13 foreign players came to play on a grass surface that women players almost never play on, during the week of Christmas .. But no reports mention that! .. Rather than talk about a  tournament with successful participation, the Indian news reports keep bringing up silly lines like "spate of withdrawals" .. None of those above-players ever entered the tournament in the first place! .. Last week's event was a challenger, one that gives more points for two wins than a title here in this satellites (5 pts for a winner here, 6 pts for two wins at a $25K challenger) .. It is funny if we start saying any tournament has a "weak draw" because of all the players who never entered it and didn't play -- like saying a challenger has had a "spate of withdrawals" as players like Sampras and Agassi decided not to play .. Give us a break .. This is a matter of publicity for tennis events (something I talked about in the Dec 17 Notes last week) and I thought I would mention it again .. Better publicity work with the press is needed for these events, and everyone needs to get a bit more professional in that .. This is the first women's $10K satellites we are conducting since March of 1998 -- I have not seen that mentioned by anybody either .. I don't know if the tournament office itself were the culprit for bringing up a non-issue and saying "Nirupama is not playing" - it is ridiculous, as she hasn't played a satellite in close to 4 years! .. I thought I would let it go when I saw it three days back .. I see that PTI continues to misinform people for a 3rd day in a row, dropping that line in their report today too .. Bad journalism or bad PR work by the tournament.

There is also a PTI report today titled "Kafelnikov is likely to pair with Paes at Chennai" -- this is based on a telephonic interview with Yevgeny organized by the Chennai Goldflake tournament .. Kafelnikov said that he would suely be playing doubles also at Chennai and that he would be glad to play with Paes, but that he has not talked about it with Paes (he must have been asked if he was considering doubles) .. That does not necessarily make it "likely" till Paes and Yevgeny communicate, though .. Leander is quite picky in his doubles partners sometimes and may have talked to somebody else too (and he may prefer somebody who is seriously considering playing the AO together with him too, as that follows immediately) .. It would be fun to have these two play together, but I wouldn't take this seriously till LP says it .. Kafelnikov also said he was sad that Mahesh wouldn't be playing at Chennai - those two have actually played doubles together once.

Dec 20 Note-2

Late report on our junior #1 girl's exploits -- 17 yr old Sonal Phadke has been on a good tear, picking up some more points from a trip to Africa (I believe she was there earlier once too) .. She reached the final at the grade-5 event in Tanzania on Dec 5th, losing to Alima Mohammed (GHA) ranked 96 in the juniors, 4-6 0-6 .. Next week she was at the Grade-4 event at Kenya and won the title, beating Elizabeth Bahn of Austria, 6-1 6-0 .. The wins, and the title she had at Calcutta four weeks back, have brought her ranking up to #70 now .. Actually, once the current 18 year old players leave the rank list at the beginning of 2000, this should place Sonal at around #55, which may be the highest ranking by any Indian since Nirupama was at #35 in the world juniors .. Sonal also picked up a doubles title at the Kenya ITF tournament, partnering Nida Wassem of Pakistan .. I believe Sonal will have no difficulty in making the draw at the Australian Open juniors.

Dec 20 Note-1

The $10K women's satellites started with no big fireworks today at the Lucknow Avadh Gymkhana grasscourts .. Manisha Malhotra started slow against SK Tara but warmed up and won in straight sets .. National junior champion Radhika Tulpule could not get past experienced Archana Venkatraman, somebody she has had trouble beating in the past too .. See all the results in the Lucknow satellites page.

Manisha must be happy with the win today, and must have got some confidence back .. After the 9 match win streak with the Sunderland satallites (Sep 20, UK) title that ended in an injury walkover in the Glasgow satellites final the next week, Manisha had lost quite a few matches as she tried to get back from that shoulder injury .. At the Llewellyn challenger (Oct 11, UK) she lost in the first round of qualies to Yvonne Doyle (IRL,256) 67(7) 46 .. At the Southampton challenger (Oct 18, UK) first round, she lost to Emilie Loit (FRA,102) 36 26, though she had won three rounds of qualies there .. At the Hull challenger (Nov 1, UK) qualifiers, Manisha was the top seed but lost to Natalia Egorova (RUS,421), 36 67(3) in first round .. In the first round at the $10K Deauville satellites (Nov 22, France) she lost 67(4) 36 to Veronica Riznik (ESP,619) .. Then at the Delhi challenger last week, she lost a close one, 64 46 67(4) to Eun Young Ha (KOR,442) .. I may be missing one of her tournaments, but that shows the bad streak she has had, which unfortunately followed such a good streak of wins, just about the best results that any Indian woman not named Nirupama has had .. It's good to see her win one over a talented youngster, 19 year old SK Tara.

.. Previous notes are at Notes for the week ending on Dec 20 ..