Hingis all the way

Martina Hingis breezed through to win the title, hardly ever breaking a sweat in the five matches en route.-AP

With the exception of World No. 8 Martina Hingis, the tournament suffered from the absence of top-level talent, writes Amitabha Das Sharma.

Martina Hingis is still a precious name in the world of women's tennis. The former World No. 1, who relinquished her throne and withdrew from professional tennis at a young age due to injury, is now determined to reclaim her lost position. She gave ample evidence of her resolve by winning the Sunfeast Open with a performance that typified the attitude and �lan of a true champion.

The youngest Grand Slam singles champion, Hingis, who is on a comeback trail, surprised all by including Kolkata in her itinerary.

Barring the Swiss, winner of five Grand Slam singles, apart from seven doubles and one mixed doubles titles, the tournament suffered from the absence of top-level talent. This was evident in the manner in which Hingis breezed through to win the title, hardly ever breaking a sweat in the five matches en route.

Hingis' last two opponents in the $175,000 prize money tournament, Russia's Olga Poutchkova in the final and India's own star Sania Mirza in the semi-finals, had only words of awe and admiration for her. "She is Hingis ... phew! Let's accept it that way,'' was all that Poutchkova had to say after her 6-0, 6-4 demolition in the final. And it was for the first time that the Russian had played a top-10 player. Sania Mirza, who lost 6-1, 6-0 in the semi-final, saluted the 26-year-old Swiss saying, "Sometimes it takes a lifetime to get nearer to her (Hingis).''

In the absence of any top-level talent, it was left to Sania to provide the challenge to Hingis, but she was overwhelmed by the Swiss. Sania, however, did not disappoint in the doubles.

Fortunately, Hingis, who has also won 36 doubles titles on the tour, was focussing on singles. This opened up the prospect for the other players in the doubles, and Sania and her partner Huber made the most of the opportunity. In the last edition of the tournament, Sania, playing in tandem with Virginia Ruano-Pascual of Spain, went down in the semi-finals to Russia's Anastasia Myskina and Elena Likhovtseva, who went on to lift the doubles title.

There were rumblings in the city's tennis circles about what the tournament had to offer.

Globosport, the organisers of the tournament, had mooted the idea of bringing more than one player from the top-20 in an attempt to make the tier III event an annual showpiece in the South East Asian region. But the promise is losing its credence with the organisers being able to rope in just one player from the top-20 for the second edition. A tournament of similar grade, the Wismilak International in Bali, Indonesia, a week before, saw five players from the top-20 participating. Mercifully Hingis, who had partnered India's doubles ace, Mahesh Bhupathi, to win the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open this year, chose to keep her date with India.

The main draw of the Sunfeast Open this year exposed the yawning gap in the levels of excellence. Hingis, ranked No. 8 in the world, was the top seed and there was no one in the order capable of challenging her.

Seeded No. 2 was Karolina Sprem, ranked No. 50. The Croatian was the runner-up last year when she was seeded No. 7. Her ranking then was 85.

It was the other way round in the case of Sania. With her ranking slipping to world No. 70, she was seeded No. 5 here. Last year she was seeded No. 3 and her ranking at that time was No. 35.

Getting all the three wild cards, the total number of Indian players in the tournament was six. However, barring Sania, the rest failed to get past the first round. Rushmi Chakravarthy, who came through the qualifying rounds, found that her wares were too inadequate against a merciless Sania in the first round. The Bhambri sisters failed to inspire — Sanaa losing to Indonesia's Angelique Widjaja and Ankita succumbing to the hard-hitting Iranian-French Aravane Rezai, seeded No. 4, in straight sets. Shikha Uberoi failed to shake off her injury blues and was stopped by her Czech opponent Hana Sromova. Sunitha Rao raised some hopes by winning the first set against seventh-seeded Nicole Pratt of Australia, but floundered thereafter. The first round proved to be a minefield for the seeded players with four of them falling by the way side. Sprem, seeded No. 2, made far too many errors for one's comfort and handed her Australian rival Casey Dellacqua, ranked well below 180, an easy victory. Yuliana Fedak of Ukraine, seeded No. 3, was shown the door by Italian Alberta Brianti, who later progressed to the quarterfinals where she was beaten by Poutchkova. Sixth-seeded Kaia Kanepi of Estonia and eight-seeded Anastasia Rodionova of Russia too bowed out in the first round.

The best of the quarterfinal encounters turned out to be the one between Sania and Rezai, who had hit the headlines after reaching the fourth round of the US Open. Sania picked up the gauntlet thrown by Rezai and exhibited an almost error-free performance to win in straight sets. The turmoil in the initial phase seemed to have taken the focus away from the two players — Olga Poutchkova who saw off Pratt in the pre-quarterfinals and Uzbekistan's Iroda Tulyaganova, the reigning Asian champion.

The Uzbek, who had a career-high ranking of world No. 16 in 2002, was trying to make the most of the tournament after a prolonged break from the tour due to injury. Tulyaganova, who had won the Asian title the week before the Sunfeast Open, stormed into the semi-finals for a meeting with Poutchkova.

Poutchkova, 18, showed better consistency while prevailing over Tulyaganova in a battle marked by long rallies. In the other semi-final, Hingis gave Sania a lesson on what it takes to be in the top-10.

The Swiss later congratulated Sania. Comparing her previous encounter with the Indian in Doha earlier this year, she said: "Sania has come a long way and she is playing better. Maybe I have to play point by point when I meet her next time.''

In the final, Hingis packed off Poutchkova in 57 minutes — a minute less than what she took to dismiss Sania in the semi-finals.

Sania and Huber, who is also the mentor of the former on the tour, teamed up to win the doubles title. The top-seeded pair made a short work of Yulia Beygelzimer and Yuliana Fedak (seeded No. 4) from Ukraine in the final. This was the second doubles title this year for the duo and third overall. Sania and Huber had won the doubles title at the Bangalore Open earlier in the year.

THE RESULTS

Singles final: 1-Martina Hingis (Sui) bt Olga Poutchkova (Rus) 6-0, 6-4.

Semi-finals: M. Hingis bt 5-Sania Mirza (Ind) 6-1, 6-0; O. Poutchkova bt Iroda Tulyaganova (Uzb) 6-4, 6-4. Quarter-finals: M. Hingis bt Tamarine Tanasugarn (Thai) 7-5, 6-2; S. Mirza bt 4-Aravane Rezai (Fra) 6-4, 7-5; O. Poutchkova bt Alberta Brianti (Ita) 7-5, 6-3; I. Tulyaganova bt Alla Kudryavtseva (Rus) 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Doubles final: 1-Sania Mirza (Ind) & Liezel Huber (RSA) bt 4-Yulia Beygelzimer & Yuliana Fedak (Ukr) 6-4, 6-0. Semi-finals: S. Mirza & L. Huber bt Hana Sromova (Cze) & Angelique Widjaja (Ina) 6-3, 6-2; Y. Beygelzimer & Y. Fedak bt Melinda Czink (Hun) bt Shikha Uberoi 6-3, retd.