Advantage Rastogi

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Karan Rastogi: aceing the circuit.-RAJEEV BHATT

HE is a player for the future. Karan Rastogi showed why the future of Indian tennis was in safe hands as he sprinted to a memorable finish in the ITF Satellite circuit, in New Delhi.

The Mumbai lad, who has been training at the Nick Bollettieri Centre in Florida since 2000, and more famous as the hitting partner of the likes of Maria Sharapova, celebrated his 19th birthday on October 8, with a quite resolve that he would not only add years to his career but muscle to his game as well.

He has beaten some tough players like Simon Greul of Germany, Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, Jamie Delgado and David Sherwood of Britain, Wang Yu jr. of China, Peter Clarke of Ireland, Norikazu Sugiyama of Japan, Tomas Cakl of the Czech Republic, but the quality of game that Karan demonstrated in outplaying the top-seeded Alexey Kedriouk of Kazakhstan was a revelation. Karan dismissed Kedriouk for the loss of two games in a spectacular display of explosive game in the semifinals of the Masters.

For, Karan's potential has never been in doubt in the past few years, especially after he had made it to the semifinals of the junior event at the Australian Open last season. Yet, there has always been a doubt whether he could play with intensity and punch, given his relatively small physical frame.

Obviously, Karan relished it when his opponents hit hard as he could get his timing right and ride on the pace, but the question was whether he could generate pace himself and provide the punch when required.

In a memorable final of the four-week circuit, Karan played a superlative game, as he relied on a swift pair of heels and a sharp brain in hitting past trouble against the crafty Vishaal Uppal who had outplayed him the previous week.

There is no better teacher than defeat, and Karan had learnt his lessons the hard way as he had cut a sorry figure, expressing frustration at his own inability to focus on the task on hand and come up with practical solutions then.

"Physically, it was tiring by the third week. But, after that defeat to Uppal, I sat with my coach Sanjay Poddar and studied the whole match. It helped", said Karan who was quite delighted to collect 43 ATP points out of a maximum possible 46 from the circuit.

He won the first leg when Kedriouk was slapped a point penalty while facing a matchpoint. Karan's form dipped thereafter as he lost to Kedriouk in the semifinals of the second week and to Uppal in the quarterfinals of the third week.

"Playing three weeks on the trot at the NTA in Gurgaon was taking its toll. I am glad that I started afresh for the Masters, thinking that it was a new tournament. I am surprised and thrilled to learn that I have won the circuit as I thought that Kedriouk had done it", said Karan.

For the record, Karan pipped Kedriouk by one circuit point, 68 to 67 to gain eight bonus ATP points for topping the circuit. With 85 ATP points in his account, Karan hoped to be around 360 in the ATP rankings, and be the fourth best Indian after the Davis Cup players Harsh Mankad, Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna.

"The idea was to play a lot of matches and improve my ranking", said Karan, elated about having completed a good job of jumping nearly 200 places from 553.

Satellite is a tough grind. Karan knows it. For, he had failed to make the Masters last year and went back without the consolation of even a single ATP point for three weeks of toil in exacting conditions. He opted to skip the next Satellite circuit to possibly avoid further ignominy.

The good thing is that Karan has been faring well in the Futures and the Challenger tournaments. He reached the semifinals of four Futures this season including the one in Uzbekistan. Of course, he has been busy negotiating the qualifying events of the Challengers, but the improved ranking should help him have a go straightaway at the main draw of some events from now on.

There are still a couple of Futures events left in the season and Karan vowed to come back stronger after another training stint at the Bollettieri Centre.

"I need to work on a lot of areas in my game. We are at it", he said.

For sure, the quickness of feet and improved volleying skills will help Karan take the challenge to the leading Indian players in the near future. He would also do well to add some muscle to his frame.