A new high

KSLTA, the organiser of the Bangalore Open, plans to bring Serena Williams, who skipped the last championship due to ill health, and glamour girl Maria Sharapova apart from a few other big names.

The Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA) secretary, C. S. Sunder Raju loves to dream big. He believes that only by bringing world-class tournaments to the country, tennis will catch the imagination of the public and become a popular sport. It is with this vision that he strived to make Bangalore a major world tennis hub and hosted the World Doubles Championship (2000), the World Doubles Cup (2001) and the WTA Tour event for the past two years.

The 2008 edition of the Tour, the Bangalore Open, has simply got to be bigger and better, felt Sunder Raju and he worked silently to upgrade the Tier III event (prize money: $175,000) to a Tier II championship with a whopping prize money of $600,000, thus making it the biggest and the richest tennis tournament in the country. The singles winner in this upgraded tournament will take home a cheque of $95,500 and 275 ranking points.

The dates of the tournament — March 3 to 9, 2008 — has also been a big plus for the Bangalore Open as no major championships are scheduled for the period and Sunder Raju is confident of having a good crowd in Bangalore. “It is going to be a strong field with at least four of World’s top 20 players figuring in the main draw,” he said though he did not disclose their names.

The KSLTA wants to bring Serena Williams, who skipped the last championship due to ill health following her Australian Open triumph, and glamour girl Maria Sharapova apart from a few other big names.

The Association formally launched the championship on January 10 in an extravaganza marked by laser display and rap music that rocked the stadium.

Former Indian ace Vijay Amritraj along with badminton maestro Prakash Padukone and World billiards champion Pankaj Advani cheered the KSLTA team and Sunder Raju for their tremendous effort in putting together what promises to be the most spectacular women’s tennis show in the country.

* * * Perform or perish

Kolkata’s status as the Mecca of Indian football seems to be under cloud — this is true at least as regards the ongoing I-League. The two big clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, that contribute a great deal in making the city the highest seat of footballing excellence, seem to have fallen on hard times. With defeats outnumbering their wins, there are distinct signs of unhappiness among the more-than-a-million support base that East Bengal and Mohun Bagan enjoy.

The administrators of the two clubs virtually live on a razor’s edge as their team’s poor showing almost instantly sparks an uprising. And when it comes to a major tournament like the I-League, the reaction of the supporters is equally intense if not more.

Mohun Bagan’s officials had to go into hiding as the team made a disastrous start in the I-League, losing two matches and drawing one at home. In the case of East Bengal, it was a bit balmy to start with as the team managed a better showing. But it soon caught up with Bagan, running up a string of defeats in Goa and Mumbai.

As the clubs’ supporters bayed for the officials’ blood the local derby (on December 30, 2007) presented the two besieged teams with the opportunity to redeem themselves. Mohun Bagan managed to rise up, at least temporarily, holding the line with a lone goal win, while East Bengal was left to fend off angry supporters and pick up the challenge of ‘perform or perish’.

* * * Overcoming a handicap

Oscar Pistorius of South Africa is known worldwide for his ability to run fast on artificial limbs made of carbon fibre. An Indian sportsman from Rajkot, Girish Sharma, could perhaps become as renowned as the South African for he plays badminton with one leg.

Girish, aged 20, who lost his leg in an accident in his childhood, has shown remarkable courage to practise the tough game in the last few years. At the All India Pramod Mahajan Memorial Tournament in New Delhi, where Anup Sridhar and Saina Nehwal won the titles and a prize money of Rs.110,000 each, Girish lost in the qualifying rounds of both singles and doubles, but was noticed for his breathtaking ability to play with one leg. “I have played many tournaments including three international events, where I won two silver and a bronze medal. I am India No. 1 and world No. 2 in the handicapped section,” said Girish. “I want to be different and that is why I don’t want to use an artificial limb. I want to show the world it is possible. I am the only one in the world to play badminton on one leg,” said Girish.

According to Girish, more than sympathy and admiration the handicapped sportspersons in the country need better support from the government and the corporate world.

* * * Humour is his forte

Sir Henry G. Bellew, aged 75, and the microphone seem to be made for each other. For nearly 20 days, the veteran commentator from Ireland enthralled the spectators at the National, South India and International Equestrian Championships in Chennai with his insightful and humorous comments. Explaining the intricacies of each and every jump in a manner that even those not familiar with the sport could understand and enjoy, Henry, with his booming voice and immense knowledge o f the sport, was the chief attraction.

Humour is his biggest strength. Henry has been commentating for the last 45 years.

“My foray into commentating was accidental. It happened when one of the commentators for a race failed to turn up. And I was summon as a replacement,” he said.

R. SHIVAJI RAO

Henry is of the view that in equestrian the conditions should be congenial for both the horse and the rider.

He did raise his voice whenever he felt there was a violation. He also did not hesitate to criticise whenever the riders erred.

According to Henry, who last came to India to witness the National Equestrian Championship in Mysore in 1987, the civilians have improved rapidly compared with the Army, who, he thinks, have stagnated to a large extent. Henry was all praise for Nadia Haridass of the Embassy International Riding School, Bangalore. He said she was the best rider of the championship in Chennai.

By Amitabha Das Sharma, Kalyan Ashok, Kamesh Srinivasan and K. Keerthivasan