A memorable double for Prakash Amritraj

HE was six points away from winning the match. Up 6-3, 4-0 and 30-0 on his serve, the last thing that would have crossed Richard Crabtree's mind was defeat.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Prakash Amritraj was ruthless in the singles final and went on to bag his second straight title.-Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

HE was six points away from winning the match. Up 6-3, 4-0 and 30-0 on his serve, the last thing that would have crossed Richard Crabtree's mind was defeat.

The Briton, who had missed the singles event in the second leg as his flight hovered over Chandigarh amidst a dust-storm and returned to Delhi leaving him literally high and dry, could not capitalise on his chances the following week. He won only five more in that set and a mere eight points in the next. He was physically drained and mentally exhausted.

The man who made that dramatic recovery to eventually win that encounter 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 was the wiry athlete from Indonesia, Prima Simpatiaji, the finalist of the first leg in Mumbai.

Sunil Kumar was up two match points at 6-4, 3-6, 5-3, 40-15 on his serve against the Indonesian in the second round. He made a drop volley, and the Indonesian ran it down and put away. Thereafter, it was Simpatiaji who won that absorbing decider in the tie-break 7-2.

After such victories, if there was one thing that Simpatiaji firmly believed, it was that the match is not over till the last point is lost !

Yet, it is not that easy to enact such recoveries match after match all the way. If there is an opponent, who is ruthless, he would not give you the breathing space when you are choked.

Prakash Amritraj proved ruthless as he saved two breakpoints at 15-40 in the tenth game of the second set, in the title round of the Satellite circuit third leg in Delhi, with a quality of tennis that would put him high up in the ATP rankings soon.

Those were the only breakpoints Prakash had faced in the whole match, as he had not dropped more than two points in any of his service games to Simpatiaji.

In the event, Prakash responded to the challenge with four first serves. Two backhand volleys placed into the corner and two errors from Simpatiaji later, Prakash put his arms up in celebration of his second successive singles title in the circuit.

He just did not give his opponent any chance to dream of a recovery. That was the mark of a champion.

``It got a bit tight in the second set, but I am glad that I came out strong'', said Prakash, quite pleased that he closed out the match. Many times they do everything, except close out.

A player of considerable potential, Simpatiaji was perhaps unprepared for the final, as he had got a walkover from Daniel Kiernan of Britain in the semifinals. He had earlier beaten Brian Hung of Hong Kong, who was in any case rushing to Sri Lanka to fulfil Davis Cup commitments, rather easily. When he faced Prakash, Simpatiaji was not ready to face quality.

Quite undoubtedly, Prakash has been the best player on view in the circuit. Training systematically and with sincerity, he has been improving with every match. Though brought up in the U.S., Prakash likes the Indian conditions, and he revelled in the competitive atmosphere, beating the Indian opponents with a touch of assurance, leading to their exasperation at some stage in the match that eventually meant a meek surrender.

He did not drop a set the whole week, against Punna Vishal, Vishaal Uppal, Vinod Sridhar and Vijay Kannan before disposing of the challenge from Simpatiaji.

While his opponents in the first two rounds retired early in the second set with illness and injury, Prakash played a solid game in overpowering Vinod and Vijay in the next two rounds. In fact, he was merciless on Vijay, who had met him in the final of the previous week, as Prakash conceded only four points on his serve in the whole match against the third seed.

With a big first serve, and a dependable second delivery, Prakash has been able to dominate the net with his sharp athleticism. His groundstrokes are well grooved and he was ready for the rallies if the situation demanded so. He could nicely slice the ball on the backhand, hit through it or run around for a whipping forehand. He could also hit the forehand with varying degrees of power that bamboozled his opponents, who were looking for some rhythm.

Overall, Prakash was too much of a package to handle for the opponents, at this level. He had, of course, played some good matches against quality opponents earlier in the season, but Prakash was enjoying it all at this level, even as he kept an eye on improvement.

There was nothing much the rest could offer, in terms of entertainment. Vijay won three good rounds, beating two tough Japanese players, Katsushi Fukuda and Takeshi Itoh with his smart game. But he stuck to craft for too long to match the flawless power game of Prakash.

Rohan Gajjar had a good second round against Itoh before he threw in the towel in the climax, and the rest of the Indian players were unable to make much of an impression, though Sunil Kumar had looked good till he messed it up in that fateful second round against Simpatiaji.

It was a memorable double for Prakash as he teamed up with cousin, Stephen, for the doubles title. The duo cruised through in the final against Manoj Mahadevan and Rishi Sridhar, who had earlier ousted the champions of the second leg, the top seeds Vijay Kannan and Saurav Panja.

Earlier in the semifinals, there was some resistance from the second-seeded Daniel Kiernan of Britain and Ajay Ramaswami, the champions of the first leg, but Prakash and Stephen were able to push their level up in the third set. The duo had done well in the international junior circuit and had been causing a ripple in the Tour events in the U.S. as well.

Stephen could not make his presence felt in singles, as he lost to Vinod Sridhar, winning just two games, but he won a hard-fought play-off against Sonchat Ratiwatana of Thailand in three sets to make the Masters, as five players tied with five circuit points each, fought for three berths.

He may have been a little overshadowed, but Stephen was happy to cheer Prakash from the stands. More than being relatives, Prakash and Stephen are the best of friends and training partners. One is obviously happy with the other's success, be it in the title round or the play-off for the Masters event !

The results:

Singles (final): Prakash Amritraj bt Prima Simpatiaji (Ina) 6-2, 6-4; Semifinals: Prakash Amritraj bt Vijay Kannan 6-2, 6-1; Prima Simpatiaji w.o. Daniel Kiernan (GBR); Quarterfinals: Prakash Amritraj bt Vinod Sridhar 7-5, 6-2; Vijay Kannan bt Takeshi Itoh (Jpn) 6-3, 6-1; Prima Simpatiaji bt Brian Hung 6-3, 6-1; Daniel Kiernan bt Febi Widhiyanto 6-1, 6-3.

Doubles (final): Stephen Amritraj (U.S.) and Prakash Amritraj bt Manoj Mahadevan and Rishi Sridhar 6-3, 6-4; Semifinals: Manoj Mahadevan and Rishi Sridhar bt Vijay Kannan and Saurav Panja 6-4, 6-4; Prakash Amritraj and Stephen Amritraj bt Daniel Kiernan (GBR) and Ajay Ramaswami 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.