Bangalore Open diary

On court coaching

The Bangalore Open witnessed the new experiment of the Tour, on court coaching. It went well with some while it was not welcomed by others, especially those who did not have a travelling coach with them. The Williams sisters, for instance, never needed one but Patty Schnyder and Agnes Szavay sought help from their coaches when it mattered. As Schnyder put it later, “it really helps if my coach’s (her husband Rainer Hoffman) ideas prove to be better than mine, I would certainly play along.”

Schnyder magic

One of Patty Schnyder’s great qualities is her never-say-die spirit. A former World No. 7, she proved that by slugging her way to the final. Off the court, she was gracious and spoke to all — fans, media, ball boys and girls.

After the final, while she was addressing the media, a child called out for her through the window. And after the press conference, Schnyder went up to the child, shook hands and signed autographs.

During the final, we had a surprising spectacle of the announcer calling out for cricketer Sreesanth and asking for his opinion on the match! Schnyder took the intrusion in her stride. She later said: “I did not know who he was, but he seemed to be a handsome guy!”.

* * * Insipid Indian show

Nobody expected the Indians to cause a flutter in the star-studded field of the Bangalore Open, but then it was disappointing to the fans that both Isha Lakhani and Shikha Uberoi, who were in the main draw as wild cards, failed miserably. There is a huge gulf between Sania and the rest in terms of quality, and one coach rightly observed: “Sania made her points by playing the ITF circuits abroad and made the most of the break she got in 2003 as a wild card at the Australian Open.”

K. GOPINATHAN

The inability to capitalise on such half chances and the lack of sufficient number of ITF tournaments at home has hampered the progress of other girls. Unlike Spain or France, which have 30 ITF tournaments in a year, the AITA hardly conducts eight tournaments.

On the sidelines, there was an unsavoury drama with Sunitha Rao (in pic) blasting the organisers for not giving her a wild card, which she, as the highest ranked Indian player after Sania, “deserved”. But the KSLTA said that it was “AITA’s decision” and a peeved Sunitha lost in the final qualifying round.

* * * Missing Sania

Sania Mirza may have skipped the tournament but at every media conference the most asked question was “what do you think of Sania?”

“She is the best thing to have happened to Indian tennis,” said the Williams sisters.

Jankovic asked: “How come she is not here?”

Patty Schnyder commented, “such a nice girl and fun to be with.”

* * * The day of the underdog

K. GOPINATHAN

The crowd loves an underdog and, quite understandably, Akgul Amanmuradova had full support from the spectators at the KSLTA. The 24-year-old Uzbek girl, who is 6ft. 3in. tall, stormed into the quarterfinals with two big wins, against last year’s champion Yaraslova Shvedova of Russia and the fifth-seeded Agnes Szavay of Hungary, before being stopped by Patty Schnyder.

Amanmuradova from Tashkent is a strong baseliner who packs a big first serve. Coming from a predominantly Muslim nation where tennis certainly is not a popular game for girls, she has come a long way in tennis. “I hope this sends a positive message to many back home and I hope to see a lot more come up and play tennis out there,” said Amanmuradova, who loves Bollywood tunes.

* * * Spotlight on Richard in pic

Richards was also disturbed by the gulf between the rich and the poor in the country. “Even as we drove down, I saw people sleeping on sidewalks. We do a bit of charity at home and I want to extend it here also,” he said.

* * * The Chinese are here

Ever since Ting Li and Tian Tian Sun won the women’s doubles gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, the Chinese Tennis Association has focussed on the game’s development and invited foreign coaches to train its players. The move paid off with players such as Li Na, Shuai Peng and Zi Yan progressing well. In Bangalore, Zi Yan stormed into the semifinals after defeating top-seeded Jelena Jankovic. And the doubles team of Shuai Peng and Tiantian Sun emerged champions.

The Czech coach, Martin Fassati, who trains Chunmei Ji and Shengnan Sun — the duo made the semifinals at the Bangalore Open — predicted a Chinese encore at the Beijing Olympics. “It is their biggest goal to win an Olympic medal at home and I won’t be surprised if they do it,” he said.

* * * The girls have fun

Off the court the players had fun. There was a fashion parade at the Leela, where the stars tried wearing a saree. Anastasia Rodinova of Russia was so taken up by the dress that she visited a local saree outlet to see how it's worn. Jankovic admitted she was scared that she would trip and fall.

The players also took part in a clinic for children and interacted with the under-privileged children with the help of an NGO. Schnyder played an exhibition game with businessmen, who supported the WTA event. On Women's Day, Jankovic visited Canara Bank as its chief guest.