A glorious hat-trick

Prakash Amritraj-SANDEEP SAXENA

The confidence Prakash Amritraj displayed on court was remarkable. From Chandigarh to Dehradun to Delhi, he marched on relentlessly, capturing three titles. Over to Kamesh Srinivasan.

In the ITF Futures circuit recently, Prakash Amritraj accomplished a lot more than what he actually set out to do. Returning from a wrist injury, he won more matches — 20 singles matches, including 15 in a row — during the six weeks than he had the whole of 2006. This run of success enabled Prakash to bag his first three Futures titles.

For a player who has been busy in the big league, trying his hand in the Challenger and Tour events, it was a disciplined approach by Prakash in the ITF Futures circuit.

Prakash, 23, son of former Indian tennis star Vijay Amritraj and based in California, gave hints of his form when he entered the quarterfinals twice in the Futures in Uzbekistan besides beating the wily old fox, Gouichi Motomura of Japan, in the Fergana Challenger. In one of the Futures quarterfinals, Prakash lost to Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic after missing a match-point in a three-setter. The Czech went on to win the title.

"I knew that I was getting close to my best form. I was rejuvenated after the three tournaments in Uzbekistan,'' said Prakash in Chandigarh.

Opting out of the doubles in order to preserve his energy for the singles, especially since the weather was hot and humid in this part of the world, Prakash marched on relentlessly from Chandigarh to Dehradun to Delhi, capturing three titles. He dropped only three sets in the 15 matches — two to Sunil Kumar and one to Vishnu Vardhan.

"I have always believed that Sunil is a better player than his ranking,'' observed Prakash after beating the talented left-hander from Chandigarh in the semifinals of the third tournament. He came back from a set down to outwit Sunil.

"It was a test of my character. I was low on energy. Glad that I found a way to win that match,'' recalled Prakash.

Quite interestingly, in his professional career that started in May 2001, Prakash has only lost to three Indians in singles. The first was to Syed Fazaluddin in a Satellite in May 2001, the second to Harsh Mankad in the Granby Challenger in July 2004 and the third to Ashutosh Singh in the Futures in Delhi in December 2006.

Stephen Amritraj and Sunil Kumar whon won the double final in Chandigarh.-AKHILESH KUMAR

The first round defeat to Ashutosh in the Futures made Prakash realise that he needed to work on his fitness to play his best game. "I worked hard back home before coming for this six-week tournament. I am happy with my fitness and the maturity that I have shown on court,'' said Prakash.

Yes, maturity was a notable feature of his game. Of course, Prakash served big and hit his ground strokes with a lot of weight. He also volleyed with usual flair, but what was really remarkable was the confidence he displayed on court. He was quick on his feet and played very sensibly.

Prakash had entered the finals of the Challenger tournaments at Forest Hills and Fergana, but not reached the final of a Futures event before the one in Chandigarh. "I put very little pressure on myself. Winning or losing did not bother me. I just focused on playing my game. It worked,'' said Prakash.

Prakash won all the three finals, defeating the top-seeded Karan Rastogi. Karan, who won two Futures singles titles last year, had no answer to the high quality game of Prakash. To make matters worse for him, his serve deserted him in all three finals.

In the final in Chandigarh, once Karan failed to drive home the advantage while serving for the first set at 5-4 and later at 6-5, he perhaps lost his self-belief. He managed to win just eight games in all in the next five sets against Prakash.

Prakash, who had won three titles in the Satellite Circuit in 2003, said he was a lot more satisfied with his latest effort. "The idea was to get a lot of matches and some points to push up my ranking. Am glad that I stayed focused throughout,'' said Prakash. He added that he was very confident of carrying on the good form in the Challengers and the Tour events.

From around 800 in the ATP ranking, Prakash moved closer to 400 after picking up 59 ATP points from the six-week Futures circuit. He now seems capable of breaking into the top 200 by the end of the year.

"I will come back for the Challengers in November,'' said Prakash. He could be an automatic choice for the Indian Davis Cup team if he carries on with his good form.

IN NEW DELHI

Singles final: Prakash Amritraj bt Karan Rastogi 6-3, 6-1.

Semifinals: Karan Rastogi bt Vishnu Vardhan 6-4, 6-1; Prakash Amritraj bt Sunil Kumar 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Doubles final: Tushar Liberhan & Sanam Singh bt Hsin-Han Lee & Tsung-Hua Yang (Taipei) 6-4, 7-5.

IN DEHRADUN

Singles final: Prakash Amritraj bt Karan Rastogi 6-1, 6-2.

Semifinals: Karan Rastogi bt Sunil Kumar 6-2, 2-6, 6-2; Prakash Amritraj bt Tsung-Hua Yang 7-5, 6-4.

Doubles final: Stephen Amritraj & Mustafa Ghouse bt Vijay Kannan & Vinod Sridhar 6-2, 6-1.

IN CHANDIGARH

Singles final: Prakash Amritraj bt Karan Rastogi 7-6 (5), 6-1.

Semifinals: Karan Rastogi bt Vijay Kannan 6-2, 6-2; Prakash Amritraj bt Punna Vishal 6-2, 6-1.

Doubles final: Stephen Amritraj & Sunil Kumar bt Tushar Liberhan & Navdeep Singh 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4).