Gruelling time for Greul's rivals

SIMON GREUL loves playing in India. And why not, when each trip turns out to be as fruitful as the other?

KALYAN ASHOK

Simon Greul romped through the final.-K. Gopinathan

SIMON GREUL loves playing in India. And why not, when each trip turns out to be as fruitful as the other? The methodical German, ranked 226, won two Futures in Mumbai and Delhi when he came last to the country in January. And he was back again this time to bag the title at the $15,000 Bangalore event.

Greul aims for a top 100 spot soon. Three years ago, he was ranked as high as 148, but he slid down the rankings following an appendicitis surgery and a long lay off. But the 23-year-old from Stuttgart hopes that he will be back in the big league soon.

What is impressive about the 6ft 3inch German is his consistency and temperament. He carries a whiplash of a forehand and a strong first serve. Typically, like most Europeans, he plays hard from the back court. Greul took the title at Bangalore with a 6-2, 6-4 romp against unseeded Croatian Ivan Cerovic, who failed to capture the form and fire he had displayed against top-seeded Aisam Qureshi in the semifinal. Cerovic, ranked 345, ended up being a two-stroke wonder in the title clash — there was nothing more to his game than a huge forehand and a booming serve. In his maiden Futures final, Cerovic groped in the dark with his returns against a steady Greul, who pounded solid groundstrokes from the back court and kept pushing Cerovic back, allowing very little leeway at the net.

A 4-0 lead for Greul sealed the first set in his favour. Cerovic came up with a more inspired display in the second set in spite of Greul breaking serve in the third and fifth games for a 4-1 lead. The Croatian struck back in the sixth game and raised hopes of a fight back, but it never came. Greul, still up by a break, held serve in the 10th game with a scorching ace to take set, match and title.

"It was easier than expected, but Cerovic was not getting anything right in the first set after a tough semi-final match. I guess he must have been tired. But then I am very pleased with my game. I didn't make many mistakes and was right on the job," said Greul, who picked up 25 ATP points while Cerovic gained 19. The champion was also richer by $1,950 while Cerovic won $1,350.

Cerovic, however, can take consolation from his big win in the semi-final over the top seed, Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan. He won in a 127-minute marathon, which saw neither dropping serve. In an even battle, the two serve and volley exponents traded some lusty shots. Cerovic virtually wore down his Pakistani rival with his relentless returns and Qureshi, who packed quite a punch with his serve, persistently had a problem with his backhand, especially when he went for low volleys at the net.

Of all the Indians on view at Bangalore, Davis Cupper Prakash Amritraj was the most impressive. Ever since the Davis Cup tie against China, Prakash Amritraj seems to have matured. "I have been getting the right advice from my dad (Vijay) and Leander, who have helped me to stay more focussed and take matches point by point," said Amritraj. The 21-year old Indian, ranked 325, brought crowds to the otherwise empty stands at the KSLTA Stadium, but he fell to Greul in the semi-final. Prakash did hit some superb forehand winners, fired some blistering aces and unleashed some stunning volleys, but Greul stonewalled the Indian's persistent efforts to overpower him from the back court. Amritraj broke Greul in the second game of the first set for a 3-0 lead and he had five break points in the sixth game. But the tenacious Greul grimly hung on and saved the crucial game. Greul broke Amritraj in the seventh game, later held for 4-4, and then wrapped up the set on a tie-break. In the second set, there was a total change in the attitude of the players. A pumped up Greul pounced on every return of serve even as Amritraj looked out of depth and slumped to an easy 1-6 defeat with a spate of unforced errors. Earlier, Prakash beat a temperamental Dutchman, Jasper Smit, in 67 minutes to enter the last eight. The Indian Davis Cupper — who reached the quarterfinal at a Challenger in Ho Chi Minh City before the Bangalore event — did not flinch before his tall and big serving rival, who belted the ball as hard as he could. But, Amritraj kept his returns consistently in and kept varying his shots and had his rival on the run. Prakash Amritraj had also accounted for the Pakistan No. 2 Aqueel Khan in his opening match and defeated American Nick Monroe in the second round.

The other Indian challengers faded away in the early rounds. Harsh Mankad, the champion in Chennai, lost to Uzbek qualifier, Denis Istomin 6-3,7-6 (7-5). The other first round losers included Sunil Kumar Sipaeya, Karan Rastogi and Vijay Kannan.

Rohan Bopanna, playing his first match in his home city after a seven-month lay off following a shoulder injury, defeated higher ranked American, Eric Taino. Bopanna won 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 but he had the misfortune of running into Greul in the second round. Vishal Uppal and Vinod Sridhar also made their exits in the second round — Uppal lost to Aisam Qureshi and Sridhar lost to Cerovic.

The Indians, however, fared impressively in the doubles. The second seeded pair, Harsh and Sunil Sipaeya, justified their billing, before losing in the final to the top Dutch pair of Fred Hemmes and Jasper Smit.

Karan Rastogi and Ashutosh Singh defeated third seeds Nick Monroe and Sebastian Fitz in the quarter-final before losing to Hemmes and Smit in the semi-final.

The results

Singles: Final: Simon Greul (Ger) bt Ivan Cerovic (Cro) 6-1, 6-4; Semifinals: Simon Greul bt Prakash Amritraj 7-6 ( 7-4), 6-1; Ivan Cerovic bt Aisam Qureshi (Pak) 7-6 (8-6),7-6 (7-4).

Doubles: Final: Fred Hemmes & Jasper Smit (Ned) bt Harsh Mankad & Sunil Kumar Sipaeya 6-1, 6-3; Semi-finals: Fred Hemmes & Jasper Smit bt Karan Rastogi & Ashutosh Singh 6-3,7-6 (7-4); Harsh Mankad & Sunil Kumar Sipaeya bt Simon Greul & Peter Mayer Ticher (Ger) 7-5 (conceded).