Day of the underdog

THE CHAMPIONS... Purav Raja and Isha Lakhani (below).-Pics. V.V. KRISHNAN THE CHAMPIONS... Purav Raja and Isha Lakhani (below).

Against all expectations, Purav Raja capped a fine double in the tournament bereft of the top Indian players. Kamesh Srinivasan reports.

For a player aspiring to become the National champion, this was the best chance. In the absence of the top players, who had decided to keep date with their international schedule, one only had to win two good rounds to capture the men's crown. And the moment the former champion, Vinod Sridhar, retired in the first round, it was clear that a new champion would be crowned at the National Championship.

Purav Raja, 20, beat all odds to cap a fine double in the men's section where Divij Sharan, who had won the third leg and the Masters titles in the last Satellite circuit, was seeded No. 1. The field also had the talented Sanam Singh, the winner of a $15,000 event at the same venue in New Delhi.

To be fair to the young Purav, he fought his way to the title from the tough half of the draw though he was lucky in the quarterfinals where Divij conceded the match without even getting on court owing to a shoulder strain.

Purav, however, showed his ability in the semi-final match against Sanam Singh. Down 1-4 in the deciding set, he clawed his way back by reeling off five games in a row.

In the final, Vishnu Vardhan, the strong young lad from Hyderabad, was the favourite. In the earlier rounds, he displayed his explosive game while getting the better of a much-improved Arjun Goutham and Ashutosh Singh, who showed all-round fluency. And he was expected to have it easy against Purav.

Vishnu got off to a rousing start, but soon got trapped in the web of Purav's crafty game. "I have a great coach in Sandeep Kirtane. He tells me what to do,'' said Purav, acknowledging the role of his coach. Kirtane also helped Purav win the doubles title as his partner.

In the women's section, the focus was on Sandhya Nagaraj who had recently won a $10,000 tournament in Spain. Training with coaches Jonathan Stubbs and M. Balanchandran in Bangalore, Sandhya has developed an attacking style of play. However, she often suffers from lapses in concentration. During such spells, Sandhya plays her shots carelessly or without getting into the right position.

Therefore it was no surprise that the top-seeded Isha Lakhani turned the final around to add a third National title to the ones she won in 2002 and 2005.

Sriram Balaji, a talented 16-year-old who has played some good matches in the ITF men's circuit in recent months, had to be content with the under-18 title.

Sandeep Kirtane said before the tournament that Kyra Shroff would be the player to watch. Just as he had predicted, Kyra made her 14th birthday memorable by winning the National junior crown. She, however, has to improve her attack and not get bogged down in defence.

The under-16 and under-14 events were a torture for most as a cramped schedule in the abridged second week, owing to the impending Deepavali, forced the organisers to conduct matches well past midnight. Under the circumstances, credit should go to the top seed, Vijayant Malik for having dominated the field. He cruised through without dropping a set in a draw of 64 in the under-16 section. The Chandigarh lad was in command against Yuki Bhambri in the final. Bhambri, however, did well to defend his under-14 crown.

Rashmi Teltumbe provided a fitting finale to the championship as she bagged the under-16 and under-14 titles, beating Nova Patel in both the finals. A trainee of coach Kedar Tembe, but assisted by the former national champion Radhika Tulpule during the championship, Rashmi played a sensible game and was quite smart in bouncing back from the brink of defeat in the under-16 final after being down by a set and 2-5 in the second set.

THE RESULTS

Finals: Men: Purav Raja bt Vishnu Vardhan 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-3. Doubles: Purav Raja and Sandeep Kirtane bt Saurav Sukul and Yannick Nelord 6-0, 7-6(6).

Women: Isha Lakhani bt Sandhya Nagaraj 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Doubles: Isha Lakhani and Sandhya Nagaraj bt Poojashree Venkatesh and Parija Maloo 6-3, 6-4.

Under-18 boys: Sriram Balaji bt Fariz Mohammad 0-6, 6-4, 6-0. Doubles: Prajnesh Gunneswaan and Akash Gujarathi bt Sumit Prakash Gupta and Kinshuk Sharma 6-3, 7-6(5).

Under-18 girls: Kyra Shroff bt Kelsey Sundaram 7-5, 6-4. Doubles: Kelsey Sundaram and Kyra Shroff bt Shalini Sahoo and Vishaka Sheoran 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Under-16 boys: Vijayant Malik bt Yuki Bhambri 6-3, 6-3. Doubles: Karunuday Singh and Abhijeet Tiwari bt Vijayant Malik and Shiva Sangwan 6-7(9), 6-4, 10-4.

Under-16 girls: Rashmi Teltumbe bt Nova Patel 6-7(2), 7-6(4), 6-3. Doubles: Prachi Nadkarni and Tanvi Shah bt Ratnika Batra and Garima Vatwani 6-2, 6-4.

Under-14 boys: Yuki Bhambri bt Sumeet Shinde 6-3, 6-3. Doubles: S. Siddharth and Aniket Wakankar bt Jugal Marfatia and Sumeet Shinde 6-7(2), 6-1, 10-5.

Under-14 girls: Rashmi Teltumbe bt Nova Patel 6-4, 6-2. Doubles: Divija Mandava and Rishika Sunkara bt Anushka Bhargav and Nikkie Gargi 6-3, 7-5.