2000: Golmard's golden moment

The setting seemed perfect. A pleasant winter night in Chennai, a goodly gathering on the serene outside court, a surprisingly spirited display by an unsung Indian pair. Then something unusual happened...

Jerome Golmard... the tall Frenchman won the second ATP title of his career,when he triumphed in Chennai.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

The setting seemed perfect. A pleasant winter night in Chennai, a goodly gathering on the serene outside court, a surprisingly spirited display by an unsung Indian pair. Then something unusual happened...

The thin, rather pale, middle-aged woman in the stands almost jumped out of her seat. "This is not fair, it is cheating," Grosheva cried out loud in broken English even as Smolensky, her husband, tried to calm her down.

Yes, Grosheva, whose visage masked years of toil, was certainly not happy with the world. It did not matter that the chair umpire turned back to look at her, that she was in the midst of a predominantly Indian crowd egging the home boys on.

All that mattered was that her son Ivanov, in partnership with Orlin Stanoytchev, had received a rough call in the all important third set, and that a loss would mean yet another set-back in his rather arduous journey on the slippery circuit.

Later on, after the Indian pair of Prahlad Srinath and Sourav Panja had clinched the nail-biting quarter-final, the Russian couple, in a quiet corner, reflected on yet another opportunity lost.

Grosheva, with tears welling in her eyes, spoke about the sacrifices they had to make for their 18-year-old son. The bearded, big-made Smolensky, who also doubles up as Ivanov's coach, enquired about the train fare to Hyderabad, where Ivanov was slated to play in a small 'Future' tournament next.

This is one side of the Tour. Let's now look at the other.

Another Russian, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, arrived in Chennai on his own private jet and then 'sleep walked' his way through to a 'spineless' defeat in the first round against an unheralded opponent.

It is not an equal world, would never be one, yet the sheer lack of effort on Kafelnikov's part and his attitude after all the hype that preceded his participation, were particularly depressing.

There was an overwhelming view that the Russian, who had received a huge amount in appearance money, had 'tanked,' though there were a handful who put it down to early-season rustiness.

Kafelnikov made pompous remarks at a press conference earlier, but the former World No. 1, and the winner of two Grand Slam titles, did not really appear too disappointed at his exit. To make matters worse for the organisers, another former World No. 1, Corlos Moya, pulled out without playing a match, citing a back problem.

Under the circumstances, Jerome Golmard, the tall, loose limbed Frenchman, who dished out entertaining stuff, was a popular winner. He played winning tennis, struck a wonderful rapport with the crowd, hugely enjoyed his little ride on an elephant, won new friends.

The swashbuckler from Dijon, on a come-back trail following a career-threatening knee injury, clinched only the second ATP title of his career, and looked forward to the future with a renewed sense of optimism.

Golmard is a blithe spirit who loves travelling and is passionate about alternate rock music bands like Nirvana. Indeed, the gangling Frenchman, with his trade-mark beard, colourful head-bands and sizzling strokes, cut a dashing figure on the court.

He is also someone who has made steady progress. When he first played in Chennai, in '97, he came in through the qualifying rounds. This time around, he was the fourth seed.

"I am hungry," he said about his desire to win more matches in 2000 and has certainly begun his quest on the right note. In fact, the left-handed Golmard had reached a career best ranking of 22 in April last year, when the injury struck.

He went through an agonising phase, self doubts began to creep in, but the one person who helped him find his feet back was girlfriend Cecile. Fittingly, she was by Golmard's side when he triumphed in Chennai.

They go back a long way. Golmard was just 13 when he first met Cecile in Dijon and what began as a friendship flowered into a long-standing relationship. "He's a very special person," Cecile said and one could easily see the close bond between the two.

After Golmard managed to hold a crucial service game in the final, he pointed his finger at Cecile suggesting, "It's for you." And her eyes were moist when Golmard finally nailed the tournament clinching point.

All through the summit clash, she had been nervous, often going out for a quick smoke during the tense situations. At the end of it all, Cecile sported a big smile as she rushed to be by Golmard's side during his hour of glory.

Markus Hantschk, the man Golmard defeated in the final, says he does not have a girlfriend, but the German won new admirers after his fine run that saw him ambushing the second seed Cedric Pioline in a gripping semi-final.

Hantschk came across as a refreshingly positive young man. His inspiration in tennis is not the German idol, Boris Becker, but Austrian Thomas Muster. "Muster is a fighter. He never gives up," Hantschk said and proceeded to show fighting qualities himself.

The young German, who has beaten the likes of Goran Ivanisevic in the past, gave it his all, as he chased down almost everything. Basically a baseliner, Hantschk came to Chennai ranked around 120 and, bucking the odds, was within a whisker of his first Tour title. A lot more should be heard of this 22-year-old from east of Munich.

The final promised to be a fascinating contrast in styles with the aggressive Golmard pitted against the slugger from Germany. But, for most part, Golmard seemed to play right Into Hantschk's hands by not heeding his attacking instincts. It was only when he decided to volley more in the third set that Golmard managed to quell Hantschk's challenge.

The win over Pioline was indeed a big one for the German, who incidentally started with table tennis, before switching over to tennis. He certainly seems to have made the right decision.

To his credit, Pioline made a whole-hearted effort. At the Player's Party during the week, Pioline had been fascinated by bird prophecy. He had waited with bated breath even as the parrot slowly made its way out of the cage and picked out a card from the several stacked, one above the other.

The card said, "wealth and prosperity, " and the Frenchman seemed very pleased. He lost out in Chennai, but maybe better things are in store. But can you always trust the parrot?

Pioline is the Long Distance man of the Tour. He started his career in '87 and is still around, even as much younger men have come and gone. He finished '93 as the No. 10 player in the world, and ended '99 as the No. 13. Further proof of his consistency.

The striking aspect of the Frenchman's play is his fluent style; he is one of those rare one-handed players on the circuit and has that ease about strokes. An all-court player, Pioline has a huge serve, can volley well, and rally from the baseline too.

A pragmatic, introverted personality, Pioline has received the best of French and Balkan cultures. His mother was a member of the Romanian volleyball team and father played for a Paris club. Their son became a sportsperson all right, but chose a more lucrative sport!

Pioline's best moment in Chennai came when he raised his game in the nick of time to get past Davide Sanguinetti in the quarterfinal. The Italian seemed to possess all the answers, but Pioline, normally a slow starter, turned the tables.

It did not happen in the semifinal though as Hanstchk, managed to hold his nerve in the business end of a pulsating contest. Pioline has bigger challenges ahead and wants a Grand Slam title before he winds up (he has been a finalist at, both, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open). When asked what is his biggest allay in big matches, the Frenchman smiled, and remarked pointing towards his head, "it's all there."

Among the others, journeyman professional Martin Damm, made the most of a weakened field, reaching the semi-final. The Czech is a player who has seen and endured a lot in his career. He served big against Golmard, even taking the first set, but the Frenchman clawed his way back. The highly motivated Damm certainly added a lot to the tournament in terms of intensity.

The dates for this year's edition were changed, putting the tournament right at the beginning of the year. April was considered 'very hot' by most players and hence the shift. But this also meant that there would be quite a few wanting to shake off the early season blues.

The absence of the World No 1 doubles pair, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, undoubtedly took some gloss away. With Mahesh undergoing shoulder surgery putting him out of action till May, Leander played with Byron Black. The combination stumbled in the second round.

Black, the defending champion, also made an early exit in singles. And Paes found Pioline too hot to handle, going down in straight sets to the Frenchman in a second round clash.

Just when the home fans had very little to cheer about, came the unexpected progress of Srinath and Panja, the two had never teamed up before, in the doubles. The soft-spoken Srinath, who has a fine serve and a lovely back-hand, was obviously the leader, though the spirited Panja had his moments.

Their stirring run came to a conclusion in the final, where the 'long and short' French-Belgian duo of Julian Bouter and Christophe Rochus, packed too much fire-power for them. But the Indians had reasons to be happy; apart from winning their biggest pay cheque, they had got the feel of a 'big match.' The gritty display of the 16-year-old Sunil Kumar, who received a wild card for singles, was also heart-warming.

Finally, a word about the auction of tennis memorabilia, that has become a regular feature during the tournament. The money generated is used for a good cause and it is for things like these that we all should be striving for.

The results:

Singles: Semi-finals: Jerome Glolmard beat Martin Damm 3-6, 6-3, 6-3; Markus Hantschk beat Cedric Pioline 6-4, 3-6, 7-6.

Final: Golmard beat Hantschk 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.

Doubles: Semi-finals: Prahlad Srinath & Sourav Panja beat Oleg Ogorodov & Thomas Ketola 6-3, 2-6, 7-6; Julien Bouter & Christophe Rochus beat Golmard & Jan Kroslak 6-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Final: Bouter & Rochus beat Srinath & Panja 7-5, 6-1.

(As appeared in The Sportstar on January 22, 2000)