Day of the underdogs

National champions... Ashutosh Singh and Ankita Raina.-S. PATRONOBISH

Ashutosh Singh entered the main draw via the qualifying rounds, while Ankita Raina was a wildcard. And against all expectations, the two emerged champions. By Amitabha Das Sharma.

Two rank outsiders upset all calculations at the National grasscourt tennis tournament which was revived after a year’s break at the famed South Club courts in Kolkata. Ashutosh Singh (Delhi) and Ankita Raina (Gujarat) were hardly expected to triumph, for the former had come through the qualifying rounds, while the latter entered the women’s main draw as a wildcard. However, both Ashutosh and Ankita quickly dispelled all doubts about their capabilities to emerge champions.

Ashutosh, who defeated P. C. Vignesh (Andhra Pradesh), seeded No. 5, in the men’s singles final, accomplished a rare feat of becoming both the hard court and grasscourt champion. He had won the National hardcourt title in 2007.

Sidelined for over five months by an injury to his Achilles tendon, Ashutosh showed his determination to get to the top. Despite being slowed down by injury, he showed remarkable resilience as he won a series of three-setters against relatively younger and fitter opponents.

Despite the calendar being dominated by hard and clay court events, the National grasscourt tournament witnessed fairly good competition. Though there were a few absentees in both the men’s and women’s sections, quite a few top-ranked players in the country took part in the tournament, making the field competitive.

Starting his campaign in the tournament as a qualifier, Ashutosh defeated three seeded players on way to the title. The first of his seeded victims was Vijayant Malik (Chandigarh, seeded No. 7), whom he beat in the pre-quarterfinals. Though this victory was laboured, it set up Ashutosh perfectly for bigger exploits higher up in the draw.

After beating Chandril Sood (Uttar Pradesh) easily in the quarterfinals, Ashutosh put his serve-and-volley game to good effect to stun second-seeded N. Vijay Sundar Prashanth (Tamil Nadu) in the semifinals. Though Ashutosh made too many errors in the first set to lose his way, he stormed back to take the next two sets to register a 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 victory.

Vignesh, Ashutosh’s rival in the final, progressed from the top half of the draw by blowing out quite a few big names, including the top-seed, V. M. Ranjeet (Tamil Nadu), whom he knocked out in the quarterfinals.

The Vignesh-Ranjeet duel was really exciting with the two players exhibiting their range of stroke-play in a bid to outlast one another. Vignesh enjoyed the initial advantage as he won the opening set. But Ranjeet came back in the second, salvaging two match-points in the tiebreaker to draw level. With the variable bounce of the centre court bothering Ranjeet, the top-seed gave away the crucial break in the second game which enabled Vignesh to post a 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3 win.

The men’s final was an interesting match-up — the exuberance of Vignesh versus the experience of Ashutosh. Ashutosh started shakily and was beaten 6-0 in the first set. But late in the second set, the Delhi player got into his rhythm. The set went on serve before Ashutosh turned it around in the tie-breaker which he won 7-3.

In the decider Ashutosh played flawlessly and broke Vignesh in the fourth and eighth games to complete a memorable victory that fetched him 60 AITA points and a cash award of Rs. 35,100. Vignesh got 45 points and a cash award of Rs. 24,300.

Doubles winners... Vijay Sundar Prashanth (left in pic) and Mithun Murali.-PTI

“I was off the courts for half the season with injury. I never thought I would come this far,” said Ashutosh after the win. “I made too many errors but thankfully found the right touch at crucial moments.”

The National grasscourt title, Ashutosh said, has given his career a new lease of life.

There was enough reason to cheer for Ankita, who won the title on debut. Playing in her first senior National tournament, Ankita dominated from the beginning, scalping third-seeded Shweta Kumari Solanki (Delhi) in the pre-quarterfinals and second-seeded Shivika Burman (West Bengal) in the semfinals.

In the final, Ankita prevailed over fourth-seeded Sheethal Gautham (Karnataka) in straight sets.

Ankita, 16, showed great maturity and the will to win as she played with accuracy and aggression. “I like to end the games fast and that has helped me in developing an attacking style,” she said.

Sheethal Goutham, making a comeback to the game after being out of it for quite some time, sprang the biggest surprise of the tournament by ending the impressive run of the defending champion and top-seed, Rushmi Chakravarthi (Tamil Nadu), in the semifinals.

The final day of the tournament turned out to be unlucky for Sheethal, who not only lost the women’s singles final but also went down in the doubles in the company of Shweta Solanki.

The top-seeded pair of Shivika Burman and Treta Bhattacharya (West Bengal) won the women’s doubles title.

N. Vijay Sundar Prashant and Mithun Murali (Tamil Nadu), seeded No. 2, won the men’s doubles title defeating the top-seeded pair of Divij Sharan and Vivek Shokeen (Delhi).

THE RESULTS Prefix denotes seeding

Men’s singles final: Ashutosh Singh (Delhi) bt 5-P. C. Vignesh (AP) 0-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. Semifinals: Vignesh bt Vivek Shokeen (Delhi) 6-4, 6-4; Ashutosh Singh bt 2-N.Vijay Sundar Prashanth (TN) 5-7, 7-5, 6-2.

Men’s doubles final: 2-Vijay Sundar Prashant & Mithun Murali (TN) bt 1-Divij Sharan & Vivek Shokeen (Delhi) 6-4, 6-7 (4-7),11-9.

Women’s singles final: Ankita Raina (Gujarat) bt 4-Sheethal Goutham (Karnataka) 7-6 (7-2), 6-2. Semifinals: Sheethal Goutham bt 1-Rushmi Chakravarthi (TN) 6-3, 1-6, 6-3; Ankita Raina bt 2-Shivika Burman (West Bengal) 3-6, 6-2, 7-5.

Women’s doubles final: 1-Shivika Burman & Treta Bhattacharyya (West Bengal) bt 4-Sheethal Goutham (Karnataka) & Shweta Solanki (Delhi) 7-6(7-2), 1-6, 10-7.