Double for Masheer and Shweta

Winners all (from left): Masheer Vaswani (boys' singles and doubles), Ashwin Vijayaraghavan (boys' doubles), Shivika Burman (girls' doubles) and G. K. Shwetha (girls' singles and doubles). — Pic. N. BALAJI-Winners all (from left): Masheer Vaswani (boys' singles and doubles), Ashwin Vijayaraghavan (boys' doubles), Shivika Burman (girls' doubles) and G. K. Shwetha (girls' singles and doubles). — Pic. N. BALAJI

WE have seen on innumerable occasions how the Indian juniors, who promise a lot, just fade away once they enter the senior level in the international arena. The reasons cited are manifold. Some blame it on the system, while some attribute it to the lack of clear-cut vision among the think-tank of the National Association in tapping the cream of juniors. All said and done, it is a sad fact that there is none in the horizon to replace the `ever young' Leander Paes in the Davis Cup squad. The week-long The Hindu-The Sportstar AITA junior (second super series) tournament at the Krishnan Tennis Centre, Kottivakkam, in Chennai recently, provided some cheer in the prevailing scenario.

Agnel Gladwin of Maharashtra, the top seed and No. 1 ranked in the under-14 section, was tipped to win the boys' singles title. But his opponent Masheer Vaswani of Karnataka, a sprightly 14-year-old, was equal to the task in the summit clash. The Bangalore lad pulled off a surprise 6-2, 6-3 win in an hour and 30 minutes. However, in the girls' final, there was no such surprise as the top seed G. K. Shweta of Karnataka overcame Gayatri Krishnan 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

For Masheer, his maiden AITA singles win will be a big boost to his career. Having lost to Gladwin in the semifinals of the first AITA (super series) tourney in Mumbai the week before, the victory was a sweet revenge for the Bangalore youngster. Matching shot for shot, Masheer played confidently against Gladwin, and he never let the momentum down. "I played really well and did not make any unforced errors. I was determined to win this time," said Masheer. "I made a lot of unforced errors. I did not convert the game points," remarked Gladwin. In fact, the Maharashtra player staved off three match points to beat Kaushik Das of Assam in the semifinals, which lasted two hours and 15 minutes.

Masheer overcame P. Borthakur of Assam, Siddharth Kaushik and V. Vignesh (both Tamil Nadu) and Kinshuk Sharma of Chandigarh en route to the final. Gladwin defeated Sumanth Kumar of Assam, Vikram Gautham and Ashwin Shankar (both Tamil Nadu) and Kaushik Das before making it to the title clash.

A Class VIII student of St. Agnel at Vashi, Mumbai, Gladwin is the top-ranked junior in the country. He had a good start to the year, when he won a title in the ITF South Asia junior tournament at Colombo, and later triumphed in the AITA (first super series) tourney in Mumbai. But in the final here, Gladwin, usually an attacking player, who likes to whack the ball from the baseline, was completely out of sorts. Perhaps, fatigue could have taken its toll on the 14-year-old. Masheer, also a Class VIII student of Vidya Niketan, Bangalore, was more determined since he had made it to two finals this year, before losing both — in Kolkata and in Mumbai. But this time he was ready for the occasion.

The girls' final had enough drama. The two finalists provided a perfect contrast in both style of play and in size. Gayatri is a petite 14-year-old, while Shweta is taller and plump.

Watched by the entire Krishnan family — Ramesh, his wife Priya, Ramanathan Krishnan and his wife Lalitha — Gayatri compensated for power and height by sheer weight of placements and angles, just like her father Ramesh was in his heyday, to take the first set 6-2. Shweta, a player who does not hesitate to go for the winners, did so with regularity in the next two sets to emerge a 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 winner.

Gayatri impressed the sparse gathering with her retrieving skills and her ability to find the angles for the winners even when she was at the receiving end. This was Gayatri's first final of the year. On the other hand, Shweta, a student of New English Modern School, Bijapur, had won quite a few titles before — the Adidas Masters in Mumbai, under-16 Nationals in Delhi, and the under-14 and under-16 zonals.

Masheer paired up with Ashwin Vijayaraghavan of Andhra Pradesh to defeat Navaneetha Kannan of Tamil Nadu and Debendra Das of Maharashtra 6-4, 6-3 in the boys' doubles final. Shweta, in partnership with Shivika Burman of West Bengal defeated Grace Hannah of Tamil Nadu and Pooja Shree of Andhra Pradesh 7-5, 7-5. It was a sweet double for the Bangalore youngsters.

The parents who spend a lot of money on their tennis-playing children are finding it difficult to sustain it for long. Dissatisfied by the state of affairs, Peter, father of Gladwin, has written to the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, about his son's achievements and the problems he was facing in finding a sponsorship for his son. All that Gladwin can do at the moment is to just keep the motivation going. Peter is one of the many frustrated parents, who genuinely feel that the system should do more for their `promising' sons/daughters.

The results (finals): Boys: Singles: 4-Masheer Vaswani (Kar) bt 1-Angel Gladwin (Mah) 6-2, 6-3; Doubles: Masheer/Ashwin Vijayaraghavan (AP) bt Navaneetha Kannan (TN)/Debandra Das (Mah) 6-4, 6-3. Girls: Singles: 1-G. K. Shweta (Kar) bt 2-Gayatri Krishnan (TN) 2-6, 6-2, 6-3; Doubles: Shweta/Shivika Burman (WB) bt Grace Hannah (TN)/Pooja Shree (AP) 7-5, 7-5.

K. Keerthivasan