Eva Birnerova blasts her way to the title

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

TO make the transition from being a world class junior, to a good professional is a tricky affair. Not many strike the right formula. But if you have the talent, firepower and the backing of an experienced coach, it should not be difficult to hit the road of progress on the professional tour.

Eva Birnerova's all-round game saw her race to the title without dropping a set.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Eva Birnerova, the 17-year-old Czech girl, the former World junior No. 1 showed that she had everything that it takes to make a mark in women's tennis. Ranked 364, Eva had an all-round game, that saw her racing to the title without dropping a set in the $25,000 ITF women's circuit tennis tournament in Delhi.

With father, Stanislav Birner, a top-50 professional in his time, and a team-mate of Ivan Lendl, one of the finest professionals of all time, providing both the coaching and emotional support on the tour, it has not been that difficult for Eva to take the right steps. She had already won a $25,000 tournament in Scotland last year, before winning her second title in the $25,000 women's tournament in Delhi. She should be winning at the higher levels of the game soon.

After blasting her way past hard-stroking opponents with a trace of contempt, the 171-centimetre tall stockily-built girl, who had made it to both the singles and doubles semifinals of the Australian Open junior event this year, faced the crafty Shuai Peng of China in the final.

Now, the 16-year-old Chinese girl was on a high following her title triumph in the $10,000 event in Mumbai the previous week. Moreover, Shuai Peng hardly conceded any game to her opponents right from the qualifying event, as she seemed to have the athleticism to back her keen anticipation and understanding of the game.

The second-seeded Koreans Eun-Ha Kim (left) and Young-Ja Choi, who won the doubles title.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The final could have been a tussle, but for Eva taking the initiative right from the start, with a break in the first game. There was a sign of nerves, quite uncharacteristic, when Eva served two double faults to drop serve while serving for the match in the tenth game of the second set.

However, Eva recovered her composure to break back and served out the championship in style, winding up with an ace.

"I couldn't play that well today, as I had done through the tournament. But, she is a good player and mixed it up nicely", said Eva. The Czech girl had beaten the Chinese in three sets in their last meeting in the first round of the U.S. Open last year.

Even when Eva was playing compatriot Dominika Luzarova in the quarterfinals, the Indian Fed Cup team captain, Enrico Piperno, was categorical in saying that the former would win the title. The girl did play with authority, and was quick to be noticed both by the connoiseurs and the casual onlookers.

Eva could not enjoy a double, as her partner Jana Hlavackova played below par in the final, and the Czech pair lost in three sets to the second-seeded Koreans, Young-Ja Choi and Eun-Ha Kim.

In any case, it was a fruitful visit for Eva, as she collected $3000 for singles and her share of $350 from the doubles. The 29 WTA singles points should push her ranking up.

The Indian girls, with the exception of national champion, Rushmi Chakravarti, could not make a mark. Rushmi beat the 354th ranked Helen Crook of Britain 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 and the 335th ranked Elodie Lebescond of France 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 before bowing out to the fourth-seeded Young-Ja Choi of Korea in the quarterfinals.

Playing without much guidance, it has indeed been a commendable exercise by Rushmi and company to keep challenging the foreigners with varying degrees of success both at home and abroad. Rushmi had beaten the Wimbledon junior champion, Angelique Widjaja of Indonesia last year, and with the right guidance could play to potential.

Unfortunately, there is not much continuity to the efforts of the Indian women's players, because they don't get to play enough tournaments.

Sonal Phadke was the only other Indian player to win a round, and she did so at the expense of qualifier Tihana Pochobradsky of Croatia, before being humbled by Dominika Luzarova of the Czech Republic in the second round.

Manisha Malhotra had her chances but was patchy in losing in three sets to Ekaterina Kozhokina of Russia in the first round. A neck pain had hampered Manisha from serving well and playing her backhand the previous week. She took recourse to painkillers to complete her commitments.

Radhika Tulpule won two rounds in the qualifying event, and made a good fight of it as a lucky-loser in her match in the main draw against the eighth-seeded Hana Sromova of the Czech Republic.

Sania Mirza was ruthless in her qualifying round matches against Archana Venkataraman and Sai Jayalakshmy, dropping three games each, but could not face the challenge from the fourth-seeded Jing-Jing Liu of China in the final qualifying round.

Sheetal Goutham got a wild card into the main draw, like Rushmi and Sonal, but found Young-Ja Choi too hot to handle.

Overall, the Indian challenge was negligible. Unless, there is an attempt by the national association or the girls themselves to have a travelling coach, it will be difficult to improve the standard.

It has to be conceded that there is a limit to individual efforts and the Indian players seem to have hit both the saturation and stagnation point. That is a dangerous sign.

The results:

Singles (final): Eva Birnerova (Cze) bt Shuai Peng (Chn) 6-4, 7-5; Semifinals: Shuai Peng bt Young-Ja Choi (Kor) 6-1, 6-3; Eva Birnerova bt Maria Kondratieva (Rus) 6-1, 6-1; Quarterfinals: Shuai Peng bt Sybillie Bammer (Aut) 6-2, 6-0; Young-Ja Choi bt Rushmi Chakravarti 6-3, 7-6 (7-4); Maria Kondratieva bt Urska Vesenjak (Slo) 6-4, 6-0; Eva Birnerova bt Dominika Luzarova (Cze) 6-2, 6-1.

Doubles (final): Young-Ja Choi and Eun-Ha Kim (Kor) bt Eva Birnerova and Jana Hlavackova (Cze) 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 6-3; Semifinals: Eva Birnerova and Jana Hlavackova bt Shelley Stephens (Nzl) and Manisha Malhotra 6-1, 6-3; Young-Ja Choi and Eun-Ha Kim bt Sai Jayalakshmy and Rushmi Chakravarti 4-6, 6-3, 6-0.