Notes for week ending on Dec 29, 1997

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Dec 29 Note-2

A newsbit: Boris Becker has apparently agreed to play at the Gold Flake ATP Open in Chennai, April 6-12 ... Will be the first time he is playing in India .. well, well, well.. how about a Paes/Becker match out there ? .. Interesting that he has decided to airdash to India right after Germany's Davis Cup tie in South Africa during April 3-5 (Becker won't be playing there, but he is in charge of the national team).. By the way, Leander and Mahesh will also be airdashing to Chennai after playing Davis Cup at Italy.. Why the hell does it happen that they cannot avoid being jetlagged every time they play a first-round match in India (it happened last year at Chennai, when LP and MB arrived jetlagged from Puerto Vallarta, and it happened again at the Mumbai challenger last month after they came from Hartford) ..

There were 9 Indians in the 3rd and final round of the qualifiers at the ITF Futures (ATP satellite) tournament in Delhi.  Only Vikrant Chadha made it into the main draw as a qualifier and all the others lost in the 3rd round. Sailesh Dhoble and Ravikiran Bhat however qualified into the main draw as lucky losers. Our pal Vadim Kutsenko in the ATP 300s is the top seed (these Uzbeks don't want to leave India, huh ?). He plays Britain's Iain Bates on Tuesday. Ravikiran Bhat will play Marcus Hilpert. The Indian #3, Prahlad Srinath has a direct entry into the main draw and faces Anrei Youznyi (courtesy: Deccan Chronicle, Times of India). Prahlad is probably the only Indian direct entry, but with 1 qualifier, 2 lucky losers and 4 wildcards, there are 8 Indians in the draw now, which isn't too bad. The known results and some first round match-ups are in the ITF Futures Results Page.

Dec 29 Note-1

It's official .. LP does not have a wildcard into the Qatar Open next week. Here are some excerpts from an article in the Gulf-Times by Dave James, which strongly criticizes this turn of events: Leander Paes and Jim Courier may have an Olympic medal, four Grand Slam titles and numerous Davis Cup encounters to boast of, but for the Qatar Tennis and Squash Federation, all of that means nothing at all. The Qatar Mobil Open last night delivered an amazing snub to defending champion Jim Courier and Olympic bronze medallist Leander Paes. Organisers of the million dollar tournament, which gets underway next Monday, took the astonishing decision to award the last remaining wild card in the event to Morocco's Karim Alami. The other two wild cards, which give players with low rankings automatic entry into the first round proper, were handed to national number one Sultan Khalfan and German veteran Bernd Karbacher ... "We have chosen Alami because we wanted another Arab player in the tournament," said Ali al Fardan the president of the Qatar Tennis and Squash Federation. "I am also confident that Karim will attract more spectators to the event." Alami brings to three the number of Arab players in the first riound. He joins Khalfan as well as Morocan Hicham Arazi whose world ranking of 38 is good enough to give him an automatic spot in the first round ... It remains to be seen whether or not Paes will take part in the qualifiers and the doubles.

LP may have no choice but to play in the quals. Cannot blame them for taking ATP #55 Alami. Problem is that Courier and Alami did not enter early in the main draw and tied up the organizers hands, and then the organizers made it worse by commiting the crime of wasting a WC on the German journeyman, Karbacher.. Oh, blow it ! .. Leander should be able to go through the qualifiers anyway and get a couple of matches of good practice before facing someone playing the first match of the year (let's look at the positives) ...

On to the ATP Futures (Satellites) qualifiers in New Delhi: Sad to see the Indian Junior #1 Vijay Kannan ending up with a tough draw and losing to Vikrant Chadha in the first round quals (after a wildcard was sadly taken away from him in favor of Gaurav Natekar) .. but it's also nice to see Vikrant winning two quals rounds .. Here are some results .. Interesting that Ali Hamadeh of Lebanon is there. He was Mahesh Bhupathi's partner when he won the US collegiate doubles championship in 96 ! .. but he has not been able to break into the upper regions of ATP rankings .. Another curious thing here is both the Kirtanes giving walkovers in the second round of quals .. hmm ?? ..

Dec 28 Note-2

Reporting on some earlier news items missed out here during the vacation time,

The Nelson Mandela Children's Charity event in Capetown, South Africa (Jan 12-14) turned out to be not a good one for Leander Paes. He lost both his matches (2 groups of 3 players each with 2 round robin matches before the semifinals). The first one was against Todd Martin. LP started off in style, going up 2-0 in the first set against Todd before suffering an ankle sprain and losing 6-2, 6-4. He lost the next match against Richard Krajicek, 6-3, 6-4. LP said the ankle did bother him a bit, but that "it did not affect the result, as Richard played a great match anyway".. The semifinals results: Richard Krajicek (Ned) bt Todd Martin (USA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; and Boris Becker (Ger) beat Andre Agassi (USA), 5-7, 6-4, 6-2. .. Final: Richard Krajicek bt Boris Becker, 3-10, 11-9, 10-6 ( shootout best-of-three champions tie-breakers, the first to 10 points by at least a two-point margin) .. Other results I know of are: Andre Agassi beat MaliVai Wasington (US), 7-5, 6-4; .. Amanda Coetzer (RSA) beat Iva Majoli (Croatia) 6-4, 7-5 (the lone women's singles match); (doubles exhibition) Todd Martin (USA) and MaliVai Washington (USA) beat Wayne Ferreira and Marcos Ondruska (RSA), 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5)..

Hope LP's ankle injury is all healed after the Goa vacation ..

Vijay Kannan (Indian Jr No. 1) beat Hong Tae Kim (Korea) 6-3, 6-3 to win the Duncans ITF junior world ranking tennis championships at the DKS hardcourts, Calcutta. Boys' semifinals: Vijay Kannan (Ind) bt Nick Greenhouse (GB) 6-4, 6-2; Hong Tae Kim (Kor) bt Kedar Tembe (Ind) 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. The top-seed Manoj Mahadevan of India had lost in the second round to Greenhouse. Mahadevan and J.Auckland (#1 seeds) did win the doubles final against Vijay Kannan and Rohan Saikia. On the women's side, Hyderabad's Uzma Khan (who else ?..) reached the finals but lost to An-Na Lee of Korea, 6-1, 6-2. Vijay Kannan will move up a bit on the ITF world junior rankings after this. Uzma is already playing with the big girls and she need not be as concerned about the ITF rankings. Manoj Mahadevan, has had a few bad tournaments lately, though his doubles game and junior doubles ranking are staying good. Here are the Complete Results from the ITF Tourney.

Dec 28 Note-1

The latest news from Qatar Mobil Open (Jan 5-11) is not good. The Gulf-Times reports: The battle for the wild card spots is hotting up and is threatening to turn into a major embarrassment for the organisers. The award of a wild card to journeymen Karbacher smacks of commercial pressures with Mercedes one of the top sponsors and with a number of German tourists in town to watch the event. However, with a wild card already reserved for a local player, most probably Sultan Khalfan, tournament chiefs are faced with deciding between Olympic medallist Leander Paes, Jim Courier, the defending champion, and Moroccan pin-up Karim Alami as to who gets the final card. Karbacher over either Paes or Courier ? As one tennis great remarked on a number of occasions: "You cannot be serious." .. Now, the same old joker I complained about at the Singapore and Beijing tournaments in October, Mr. Courier, is at it again (He took away wildcards at both those tournaments, and at ATP #21, he will make it into any tournament if he sends an entry on time). What the holy heck is up with Jim ? .. Why can't he get his entry in on time and avoid causing trouble for organizers and the wildcard aspirants ? .. This is getting ridiculous, Jim ! .. Now, as for the suspected involvement of German sponsors, the less said, the better. Suffices to say that things seem to be stinking badly out there in the gulf. Bernt Karbacher is ranked #244, and that dude getting a wildcard does not make any sense. It's not like more German tourists visit there than the Indians already there.. Or is there more to this, as Leander has gone up against a certain German bigwig recently ?.. may be not.. Anyway, I am pretty pissed now about all this crap.. Looks like Leander will have to fly out there with Mahesh late next week and try out the qualifiers next weekend.

Marcus Hilpert (26 yr old) who won the Indian national grasscourts in Assam yesterday was indeed born in India, in Delhi where his German dad was in the embassy. He doesn't seem to be an Indian citizen, but his mother is from India and the parents own a house in Shillong.

Just as everybody (myself included) were complaining about the boneheaded planning by AITA, they did the right thing and requested a postponement of the dates for the ATP Futures (new name for the Satellites) tournament starting at Delhi. The International Tennis Federation agreed and and so the qualifiers will now extend to Monday, to accommodate late arriving players who were stranded in Dibrugarh and Calcutta after cancelled plains and missed trains. Kudos to everybody who took care of this problem.

Gaurav Natekar has been included as a wildcard into the ATP satellites now. This was a last minute change-request from AITA, as Vijay Kannan, the very promising teenager was originally a wildcard. Vijay now has to play the qualifiers. The other wildcards are Vishaal Uppal, Harsh Mankad and Vasudev Reddy. Based on how bare the Indian cupboard has looked, beyond Mahesh and Leander, with an ATP-500ish German winning the nationals without dropping even a set, we have to pin our hopes now on the teenagers like Harsh, Vishaal and Vijay. Hope they all do well in the satellites. Another kid of some promise is Manoj Mahadevan (no news on him). By the way, I have no info on where Prahlad Sreenath, the #3 Indian player is.. He doesn't appear to have played in the Assam nationals.. will report if I hear anything on him at the Satellites where he should most probably be.

A sad, sad news item: The Dawn (Pakistan) reports that three very promising teenage national tennis players, two brothers and their cousin (Kashif Sikandar, Shahzad Sikandar and Ejaz Ahmad) who had won quite a few domestic tournaments, died tragically from suffocation due to coal-fire fumes in the room where they were sleeping, in Rawalpindi, where they were at a tournament. Two were under 18 and one was under 14. May their souls rest in peace. It is sad to see this happen to Pakistan tennis, which was beginning to show some grassroots player developments recently. To lose such young talent is tough.

Dec 27 Notes

The National Grasscourts Tournament got over today at Duliajan, Assam. The men's singles was won by the German, Marcus Hilpert, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, over Gaurav Natekar. Wonder if Marcus is an Indian citizen (Indian mother and German father) .. how come he can play in this unless he is ? .. will try to find out more on that later .. He was once a doubles partner for Mahesh Bhupathi, by the way.. The woman's title went to 17 year old Uzma Khan, probably the find of the year. She defeated Manisha Malhotra in a 2.5 hour tough final, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 which went all the way down to the wire. Uzma moved up from the junior ranks only this year (actually she's stilla junior), and was in the Indian Fed Cup team against New Zealand and Thailand, where she did not lose any singles matches. This is her first national title, but she had won the Sreeram Trophy, Karnataka Open and last week's Bengal Open, this year. The winner got around Rs 42,000 and the runner-up about Rs 24,000 on the men's side. Rs. 25,000 and Rs. 18,000 on the women's side. Manisha and Uzma seem to be ready to be in the immediate plans for India, along with Nirupama Vaidyanathan who did not compete at Assam, as she is unquestionably the top woman player from India with a WTA top-200 world ranking. Manisha, as we reported here a few weeks back, is a top-ranked collegiate player in the USA in her final year at the University of Tennessee ("can't wait to join Nirupama in the pro tour after the spring academic semester", as she told me recently) ..

Also, there were some interesting articles from S.Kannan (Hindustan Times) and Nirmal Shekhar (The Hindu) on the semifinal between Vikram Venkataraghavan and Gaurav Natekar yesterday. Apparently, Vikram's sportsmanship cost him the match as he requested a call-reversal on a shot from Natekar which was called out by the linesman at a crucial juncture in the 3rd set (.. that after Natekar apparently not doing any such favors on a line call earlier that went against Vikram.. can't blame Gaurav either, as such magnanimity is often considered foolish in modern tennis).. Anyway, Natekar, who at 27 is perhaps over the hill (his last national title was in 1992) went on to win the 3rd set on a tie-breaker and reach the final. Kudos to Vikram (22 yr-old son of cricketer S. Venkataraghavan and an electrical engineering graduate from the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX) for the refreshing spirit, though.

The players are furious at the selection of the Assam site for this tournament right before the Indian ATP satellites starting in Delhi the coming week. Dulijian is not all that well-cnnected by train, plain or road ! Two cancelled Indian Airlines flights to Calcutta caused the players to be stranded in Dibrugarh, and some have missed their trains from Calcutta, and consequently the qualifiers over the weekend for the satellites. Some may even miss the satellites altogether. This is clearly terrible planning by AITA, to allot this event to Assam at this time. AITA released a statement that it was the "All Assam Tennis Association who bid for the event" (prompting The Hindu to say, "of course, they had to bid to get the event.. how silly !"). Even more funny is that they said it was in the interest of spreading tennis to every nook and corner of India.. Then, apparently not one national selector was at hand to see the premier national tournament (yes, Grass is still king in people's minds, and this IS the premier national event), after Ramesh Desai, the AITA secretary, cancelled his trip in the end. AITA needs to start learning the details of the travel realities in the tennis world and the players' concerns. It is not rocket science to figure out where the travel problems could crop up, but it certainly requires some heart and concern. These players are spending a lot of money from their own pockets to go to these events in hope of somehow building their tennis careers and the last thing they want is to deal with railway officials in Calcutta for alternate seats after missing their trains. Utterly frustrating.

Dec 26 Notes

Good to be back !.. Hope everybody had a good Christmas... Some quick notes first.. More details later.

First, Oleg Ogorodov did not reach the semifinals (or even the quarterfinals) at the Eilat challenger in Israel. So he remains comfortably behind Leander Paes in ATP points, and LP is the Asian #1.

The Indian National grasscourts tournament is on in Assam. The finals will be on Saturday between Gaurav Natekar and Marcus Hilpert... Interestingly, Marcus Hilpert (27 yrs) has a German father and an Indian mother. Vikram Venkataraghavan (always good on the grass surface) and Nitin Kirtane were the other semifinalists.. Rather disappointing to see Harsh Mankad, Vikrant Chadda and Vishal Uppal not having a good tournament here.  On the women's side, Manisha Malhotra (Univ of Tennessee) and Uzma Khan are in the finals, and both have looked terrific, with easy 2-sets wins so far in the tounrmament. 19-yr old Uzma from Hyderabad has really come on strong this year, and Manisha of course is as good as advertised ! .. Will post complete results soon.

The Indian ATP satellites start next week.

No news from the Australian Open, but Leander is safe as far as the Asian Wildcard is concerned.

No news on whether the Qatar Mobile Open (week after next, the first week of the 1998 ATP calendar) folks have given the WC to Leander yet... They most probably will.