Chuang Chia-Jung justifies top billing

SOME very ordinary fare was on offer in the Bank of Baroda-sponsored $10,000 ITF women's tournament in New Delhi.

RAKESH RAO

SOME very ordinary fare was on offer in the Bank of Baroda-sponsored $10,000 ITF women's tournament in New Delhi. Though top seed Chuang Chia-Jung went on to justify the favourite's tag, there were too many matches conceded due to injuries and indisposition. In fact, the final, too, turned out to be a no-contest with Hao Jie, the unseeded Chinese, suffering from fever and going through the motions before surrendering in straight sets.

Chuang Chia-Jung went on to win the title without dropping a set. -- Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

From the sultry weather of Mumbai, the players had travelled to the Capital where dry heat awaited them. It did not come as a surprise as every day, there were withdrawals citing health reasons. With the world ranking of the players ranging from 305 to 1014, lop-sided matches were bound to be there. But then, at this level, inconsistency of the players is one of the consistent factors. For example, the preceding leg of the circuit in Mumbai saw two unseeded finalists. However, in New Delhi, the campaigns of winner Melanie South and runner-up Chen Yanchong ended in the first round itself.

Another example of the indifferent form of the players could be gauged by the fact that Melanie and Chen lost to players whom they had beaten in Mumbai. Similarly, Hao Jie avenged the loss suffered at the hands of Montinee Tangphong in Mumbai with a straight-set semi-final victory.

Therefore, it was never easy to predict the result of any match based on the form and rankings of the players concerned. On a given day, any result was possible.

It was in this background that Chuang started her campaign and gradually gave enough evidence to believe that she was indeed the one to beat. The 19-year-old right-hander from Kaoshiung City had lost to Melanie South in the quarter-final in Mumbai and was understandably keen to make amends. Eventually, she went the distance without dropping a set.

Chuang was particularly impressive in the semi-finals against seventh seed Ankita Bhambri. Though the scoreline of 7-6(3), 6-4 gives the impression of it being a close contest, Chuang never allowed Ankita come even remotely close to breaking her serve. More so in the second set where Chuang held four out of five service games at love. The only point she dropped while serving was at 40-0 in the third game. On the other hand, Ankita had to fight hard to survive breakpoints on several occasions. The only break of serve in the match came when Ankita served in what turned out to be the final game.

Hao had looked equally impressive until a bout of fever on the final morning laid her low. She had packed off eighth seed Sonal Phadke and beat Wilawan Choptang, the conqueror of third seed Khoo-Chin Bee. Hao was ruthless against Montinee Tangphong in the `grudge' match in the semi-final. In the final, too, the Chinese girl came to fight it out but lacked the movement to match a fitter and stronger rival. As the match progressed, Hao was completely drained and almost waited for Chuang to finish off the match. Chuang won the last six games to put an end to Hao's agony on the court.

Yu Ying and Yang Shu-Jing with the doubles trophies. - Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

From the host's point of view, Rushmi Chakravarthy, seeded two, was the best bet. But injury to her playing arm led her to a straight-set defeat at the hands of Montinee. Despite injury restricting her play, Rushmi had her chances against the Thai girl but given her painful state, a victory of the Indian would have been too much to ask for. Shikha Uberoi, representing USA, won a well contested three-setter against South African qualifier Lizaan Du Plessis in the first round. However, in the very next match, she had to withdraw owing to stiffening of the back muscles when down 0-4 against Ankita. Meanwhile, efforts were on to get Shikha to represent India in the Fed Cup.

Sixth seed Sai Jayalakshmi made a first-round exit against Japan's Shizu Katsumi losing 3-6, 4-6. This match was most unlike any other for the simple reason it had 13 service breaks, with Sai dropping her serve as many as nine times. Holding serve never looked so difficult in any other match in the weeklong competition.

In the doubles, Rushmi's injury forced her to withdraw midway through the semi-final match. At that stage, Rushmi and Sai had dropped the first set to eventual champion Yang and Yu.

The final, too, turned out to be a truncated affair when Chuang Chia-Jung's Malaysian partner Khoo Chin-Bee withdrew in the second set due to an upset stomach. Earlier, the final was put off to the next morning following a spell of thunderstorm. But Khoo requested the organising committee to hold the match under lights since she was due to take a late-night flight for an event starting two days later in Vietnam. Though Khoo's request was accepted, ironically, she could not last the distance.

The results Singles:

Final: Chuang Chia-Jung (Tpe) bt Hao Jie (Chn) 6-3, 6-1.

Semi-finals: Chuang bt Ankita Bhambri (Ind) 7-6 (3), 6-4; Hao bt Montinee Tangphong (Tha) 6-4, 6-2.

Quarter-finals: Chuang bt Yang Shu-Jing (Chn) 6-3, 7-5; Ankita bt Shikha Uberoi (USA) 4-0 (conceded); Hao bt Wilawan Choptang (Tha) 6-0, 7-5; Montinee bt Rushmi Chakravarthy (Ind) 6-1, 6-2.

Doubles:

Final: Yang Shu-Jing and Yu Ying (Chn) bt Chuang Chia-Jung (Tpe) and Khoo Chin-Bee (Mas) 7-6 (10-8), 2-1 (conceded).

Semi-finals: Chuang and Khoo bt Wilawan Choptang (Tha) and Diana Julianto (Ina) 6-2, 6-4; Yang and Yu bt Rushmi Chakravarthi and Sai Jayalakshmy (Ind) 6-1 (conceded).