HARSH MANKAD shows scant respect to the script

HIGHER the value of an ITF tournament, greater is the inflow of foreign entry, which is directly proportional to quality.

K. KEERTHIVASAN

Harsh Mankad with the trophy.-R. Ragu

HIGHER the value of an ITF tournament, greater is the inflow of foreign entry, which is directly proportional to quality. Therefore, rarely do the Indians stand a chance of making an impact in such a tournament. This was the opinion among a section of fans and players days before the Madras Gymkhana Club-ITF $15,000 Futures tournament. But, Harsh Mankad had other ideas and playing memorable tennis right through the tournament, he turned the script upside down. Nothing exemplified the dominance of Mankad than his masterly performance in the final where he brushed aside Kamil Capkovic of Slovakia.

Yet, when the draw was released only three Indians made it to the main draw by virtue of their rankings — the others sneaked in through wild cards and Vinod Sridhar got in by virtue of winning the previous leg in Kolkata. Harsh Mankad, Prakash Amritraj and Sunil Kumar got a berth in the draw of 64 while Rohan Bopanna, Karan Rastogi, Vijay Kannan and Navdeep Singh were the beneficiaries of the organisers.

Capkovic, a demonstrative player, wilted under Mankad's sustained onslaught from the back court in the final. "The heat and humidity drained me," said Capkovic. The win marks a productive year for Mankad. The 25-year-old qualified for the main draw of the Chennai ATP Open. Then he won the doubles final in the first leg of the $50,000 Britain Satellite and won the singles of the Masters leg of the same event. Mankad has now set his target on playing in the qualifying rounds of the Grand Slams.

Mankad played every match with the same level of intensity and focus that he displayed in the final. Only qualifier Jaco Mathew was able to take a set off Mankad in the tournament. The positive aspect about Mankad is his belief that he is developing into a good all-court player. When this reporter wrote that he is a clay court player, Mankad took offence and explained that when he decided to play professional tennis he had taken it upon himself to excel on all surfaces. And that's what he did on the clay courts during the Chennai event. When he played Vinod Sridhar in the quarterfinal, which was expected to be a tough one, Mankad made it look easy with his volleying abilities.

Mankad took full advantage of the opening up of the top half of the draw with the withdrawal of the top-seed from Pakistan, Aisam Qureshi. Qureshi missed the connecting flight to India and lost a wonderful opportunity to pocket precious ITF points. Fifth seed David Sherwood of Great Britain, known to Indian fans as a man capable of losing his cool on court at the drop of a hat, also withdrew at the last minute though no reasons were given for his non-arrival. Another late withdrawal — Prakash Amritraj — shocked and surprised many. The Indian cited a shoulder injury as the reason.

In the hot and humid conditions, Karan Rastogi, played with rare passion and focus. The manner in which he defeated the second seed from Germany, Simon Greul, in the second round showed his adaptability and aggression.

The 18-year-old Indian was willing to wait and fight it out with the German from the backcourt. He delivered the goods once again defeating Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. Though the humidity seemed to have drained him against Capkovic in the semi-final, Rastogi went down putting up a brave fight.

It is apparent from the event that there is a noticeable change in Rastogi's approach to a challenge. However, he knows he has to work on his serve and add more power to his shots. Fortunately, age is on his side.

Time is running out, though, for the 26-year-old Bopanna. The Bangalorean took the spectators back to the days when his service used to whiz past opponents.

Recovering from a shoulder injury, which laid him low for seven months, Bopanna seems to be slowly coming into his own, and there was some proof of it at the Madras Gymkhana courts. He threatened to reach the semi-finals after winning the first set 6-0 against Capkovic, but once the match reached the tie-break, it was not difficult to imagine who would win and how — Capkovic won by rallying from the baseline in an energy-sapping decider.

Bopanna and Vijay Kannan clinched their sixth doubles title defeating Ivan Cerovic of Croatia and Konstantin Gruber of Austria in the final. Bopanna and Kannan are good friends and they have had decent success as a pair on the ITF circuit.

The top-seeded pair of Mankad and Sunil Kumar bowed out in the second round.

The results

Singles: Final: Harsh Mankad bt Kamil Capkovic (Svk) 6-2, 6-1; Semifinals: Mankad bt Jamie Delgado (UK) 7-5, 3-0 (conceded); Capkovic bt Karan Rastogi 6-4, 6-2.

Doubles: Final: Rohan Bopanna & Vijay Kannan bt Ivan Cerovic (Croatia) & Konstantin Gruber (Austria) 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5); Semifinals: Bopanna & Kannan bt Vishal Uppal & Ajay Ramaswamy 6-3, 6-4; Cerovic & Gruber bt Karan Rastogi & Ashuthosh Singh 6-1, 6-2.