Bruthans shatters Sunil Kumar's dreams

KALYAN ASHOK

THE rising star of Indian tennis, Sunil Kumar's dreams of a double delight after his triumph at Delhi, were shattered by a consistent journeyman from Slovakia, Viktor Bruthans in the second $10,000 ITF Futures Championship held in Gulbarga.

The third seeded Bruthans deserved his maiden triumph which came after four Futures appearances for he beat back the odds, trailing 2-5, 0-40 in the first set to win at 7-6 (8-6),6-4 in 106 minutes.It was a testimony to the Slovakian grit and of course, his experience.

The 23-year-old Bruthans is an old hand and unlike few other foreign contenders, he was quick to adapt to the conditions and clearly enjoyed playing in the presence of huge, but at times very noisy crowd and the newly laid synthetic surface, which was slow, suited him. Bruthans doesn't carry big weapons but the left hander, has a steady serve and consistent groundstrokes and he can really play on and on at the baseline frustrating his rival. He was in great form at Gulbarga and he did not drop a single set while on course to the title. The typically bland East European style, which was very deceptive proved to be a big plus point for Bruthans. Every rival on the other side of the net always thought he had a chance, when there was actually none.

The final of the second leg, was played before a packed audience at the M. Chandrashekar Patil Stadium. The hype was heightened by the fact that the southpaw Sunil Kumar, the 19-year-old former National champion and 2001 junior Asian champion who is a member of the Indian Davis Cup squad, was gunning for his second successive title. The sixth seeded Sunil looked very much on target for the most part of the first set as he whipped into a 5-2 lead with double break. With three set points in his pocket, there was no way he could lose. But such situation often induces a sense of complacency and that's what snared Sunil Kumar, as he mishit a few and was forced to a deuce . The match, turned from that moment as a determined Bruthans looking for that small gap in the door, pushed it wide and with resolve and resilience.

He went on to break Sunil in the game and firmly laid the foundation of his recovery with another break in the 10th game. The tie-breaker, could have swung either way, after Sunil Kumar frittered away another set point at 6-4, Bruthans levelled at 6 all, Sunil Kumar under pressure slammed two forehands wide to drop the set.

The loss of the set was a devastating blow not only to his game but to his confidence. Sunil was still serving well and his big forehand was very much intact, but he was error prone and there was lack of consistency while Bruthans slugging steadily from the baseline kept the ball in and let his rival do all the running and make mistakes. Bruthans forced a decisive break in the third game of the second set and from then onwards there was no looking back.

The loss should have certainly chastened Sunil Kumar and he would have realised that a match is not won, till he has won the last point.He blamed the defeat to loss of focus and vowed that he wouldn't repeat that mistake.

Earlier in the semi-finals, Sunil Kumar defeated the eighth seeded Israeli, Eliran Dooyev 6-3, 7-5 with his typical serve and volley stuff. Sunil blasted eight aces and hit some huge forehand winners. Bruthans on the other hand, showed the young pretender, Rohan Gajjar his place, disposing him off at 6-3,6-2.

The wild card Gajjar might have lost to a superior rival, but the 18-year youngster, a trainee with Sandeep Kirtane, made most of the chances. After getting a walk over from the indisposed top seed, Rohan Bopanna, he made a good impact with creditable victory over the seventh seed, Ajay Ramaswamy in the quarter-finals at 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

In the other quarter-finals, Sunil Kumar, who did struggle against a temperamental Israeli, Roy Sichel, prevailed 7-5, 2-0 as Sichel conceded, complaining of cramps after a moody display. Bruthans beat Russian qualifier, Alexy Ageev 6-3, 6-1 and Dooyev rallied to down the Indian qualifier, Punna Vishal 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-0.

The 18-year-old Vishal too had his moment of glory in the event as he upset fourth seed Nitin Kirtane 6-4, 6-4 in the second round after playing a marathon 190 minute opening match against Kedar Tembe, which he won at 6-4, 6-7 (2-7), 7-5.

The second round saw Vijay Kannan, the finalist at Delhi, playing much below par and lose to qualifier, Sean Cooper of Ireland 6-7 (1-7), 1-6. Harsh Mankad, who got a wild card, ran into a tough opener against Sunil Kumar. The much awaited battle of Davis Cuppers, however failed to materialise as Mankad who struggled with his first serve, was outgunned by Sunil Kumar at 6-3, 6-3. It was a pity that Rohan Bopanna, the highest ranking player in the field with 432 points, had to pull out. But Bopanna, who won a gruelling opener against Vinod Sridhar at 7-6 (7-3), 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5, preferred to concede his second round tie against Rohan Gajjar than put his health at risk. The top seed suffered from dehydration and general weakness, The price that he had to pay for a non-stop 13 weeks of tennis. Sure it is an occupational hazard, but Bopanna was dismayed that he couldn't play where there was a good fan following for the Karnataka star.

There were spate of walk-overs in the doubles first round which forced the ITF Supervisor, Puneet Gupta to field alternate teams. Harsh Mankad and Ajay Ramaswamy bagged their second successive title (after the one at Delhi) beating the Slovakian pair, Bruthans and Varsanyi 6-4, 6-4.

The results:

Singles final: Viktor Bruthans (Svk) bt Sunil Kumar (Ind) 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Semi-finals: Bruthans bt Rohan Gajjar (Ind) 6-3, 6-2; Sunil Kumar (Ind) bt Eliran Dooyev (Isr) 6-3, 7-5.

Quarter-finals: Rohan Gajjar bt Ajay Ramaswamy 3-6, 6-3, 6-2; Viktor Bruthans bt Alexy Ageev 6-3, 6-1; Sunil Kumar bt Roy Sichel 7-5, 2-0 (conceded); Eliran Dooyev bt Punna Vishal (Ind ) 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-0.

Doubles final: Harsh Mankad & Ajay Ramaswamy bt Viktor Bruthans and Michal Varsanyi 6-4, 6-4. Semi-finals: Harsh Mankad & Ajay Ramaswamy w/o Sean Cooper & Stephen Nugent (Irl); Viktor Bruthans & Michal Varsanyi bt Nitin Kirtane & Saurav Panja 7-6 (7-2), 7-5.