Impressive haul for India

A. VINOD

THE slow courts at the Geumjong Stadium were certainly not to his liking. But then, there was no doubting the class of Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan as he expectedly took the men's singles title of the 14th Asian Games with a 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over home-town favourite Lee Hyung-Taik in the final.

Paradorn Srichaphan kisses the gold medal. He won in straight sets against Lee Hyung-Talk in the final.-AFP

Fresh from scalping the Australian World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in the Japanese Open, the 23-year-old Srichaphan won in 105 minutes as he battled his rival and a 4,000-strong local crowd who ignored the etiquette of the game and repeated appeals from the chair umpire and kept on screaming and howling all the way. It was the Thai's second Asian Games gold medal, having won the men's doubles with brother Narathorn Srichaphan in Bangkok four years ago.

That medal, this time around, was won by the top-seeded Indian pair of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, who came together forgetting personal differences that had forced them to split as partners earlier this year (for a second time) and as such drew attention from many quarters. The media seemed obsessed with the former World No. 1 pair, making an attempt at every other turn to find out whether the partnership will survive the Busan Asian Games.

The sad news was that both of them remained non-committal about the future saying that their immediate priority was to win the doubles gold for India. This, they did easing their way past the South Korean combine of Chung Hee-Seok and Lee Hyung-Taik 6-2, 6-3, while exhibiting the same class which had helped them win three Grand Slam doubles titles.

Iroda Tulyaganova is all smiles after winning the women's singles gold.-AFP

Bhupathi, later, had the chance for a golden double but was stopped from achieving it by the Chinese Taipei pair of Lu Yen-Hsun and Janet Lee as he and Manisha Malhotra failed at the final hurdle, losing the mixed doubles final 6-4, 3-6, 7-9. India, besides the gold in the men's doubles and the silver in the mixed doubles, had a bronze each from these two events as it wound up its campaign on a happy note and with a better tally than the four bronzes it had won in Bangkok in 1998.

The two bronzes for India came from the second doubles pair of Vishal Uppal and Mustafa Ghouse, who were beaten by the Korean finalists in the second semifinal, and Paes and young Sania Mirza, who had lost to Lu Yen and Janet in the mixed doubles semis. Vishal and Mustafa failed to rework the magic that had seen them oust the strong Uzbek pair of Vadim Kutsenko and Dmitriy Tomashevich 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 6-2 in the quarters. But they lost to Chung and Lee 4-6, 4-6. Paes and Mirza despite fighting back, down 2-5, in the first set to equalise, were beaten by their Chinese Taipei rivals 7-6 (3), 7-5.

Wading through the first two rounds with ease, Paes and Bhupathi themselves were in trouble before they made it past Kim Dong-Hyun and Kwon Oh-Hee, also of South Korea, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in the semifinals. The top-seeded pair seemed to be well on course to another easy win as they made the most of the many unforced errors committed by their Korean rivals in the first set.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, the winners of the men's doubles gold.-V. SUDERSHAN

But having opened a one-set lead with a break in the first and ninth games (both of Kim's serve), the Indian pair was straightaway pushed into their backfoot as Bhupathi failed to hold serve in the opening game of the second. Buoyed by this success, Kim and Kwon were to thwart every effort by Paes and Bhupathi for a break-back before pushing the encounter into the decider.

A 3-0 lead for the Indians in the third set, after Paes and Bhupathi had broken Kim in the second game, suggested a stroll for the top-seeded pair. But here again, the Koreans had a surprise for the Indians. Paes was broken in the fifth as Kwon came up with three dashing winners down the line and Kim with a beauty of a drop volley. At 3-all, the Indians looked shaky and were forced often to dig up deep before a lucky break, again off Kim's serve in the tenth game, helped Paes and Bhupathi to close out the match.

The summit-clash, in contrast, was comparatively easier for the Indian pair as Lee, having played the singles semifinals against Takao Suzuki (Japan) and won the tough three-setter at 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 earlier, looked tired and could provide little help to his partner, Chung Hee-Seok. The formidable Indian pair required just a little over 64 minutes to wrap the tie.

Janet Lee and Lu Yen-Hsun, the mixed doubles winners.-V. SUDERSHAN

The Indian duo got an early breakthrough when they broke Chung in the third game when Bhupathi twice intercepted at the net and Paes brought off a great volley. The top-seeds were to enjoy another break, again of Chung's serve, in the seventh with Paes coming up with a well-executed drop and Bhupathi setting up winners on either side of the court.

Serving for the set, Paes was in trouble in the eighth and was down a breakpoint before he and Bhupathi rallied well to take the first set in exactly 27 minutes. The Indians began the second set with another break, this time off Lee, but found themselves heading for trouble as the Koreans suddenly moved up to gain a break point and then held advantage twice. However, much to the relief of the Indian camp, Paes and Bhupathi never gave up and holding serve broke Lee again in the ninth to pocket the match. But only on their fourth match-point when a lucky net chord saw both Chung and Lee stranded in mid-court.

In the mixed doubles final, Bhupathi and Malhotra were down a break before they got back into the picture and equalled the scores at 4-all. Once into attacking mode, the Indians also did require very little time to take the first set with another break of serve in the ninth. Lu and Janet fought their way back into the match to take the second set at 6-3, but still the tide seemed to be in favour of the Indians who jumped up to gain a 3-0 lead in the decider.

However, with Bhupathi, who was earlier treated on court for back spasms, suddenly slowing down, the Chinese Taipei combine was again successful in staging another come back before breaking Manisha, for the first time in the match, in the seventh game. Another break of Manisha's serve, in the fifteenth, was enough for the Taipei pair to win the final.

Though much was expected from Oleg Ogorodov in his semifinal match against Srichaphan, the Uzbek was nowhere near his known form as he caved in meekly 6-3, 6-3.

Troubled by a shoulder injury that he carried from Japan, Srichaphan, playing against Lee, was certainly not in great form. Yet, for all the mistakes he committed at the net, the Thai's class was quite evident as he held off the challenge from the second-seeded South Korean rival in an hour and twelve minutes. Lee, taking advantage of the three double-faults by the eventual champion in the second game, was able to negate the loss of his own serve in the first but as the set wore on he could not match the superiority of the Thai star.

Only the second Asian to win an ATP title (after Paes in 1998), Srichaphan was up again in the second set with a break of Lee's serve in the second game. However, as he remained unable to cut down on his unforced errors, Lee took full advantage and was successful in levelling the scores at 4-all after a break in the seventh.

Mahesh Bhupathi and Manisha Malhotra won the silver in the mixed doubles event.-V. SUDERSHAN

The Thai top-seed was lucky not to lose his serve for a second time in the ninth but having held on, Srichaphan looked a different man as he launched himself with a determined effort. He was up 40-0 soon and though Lee did save two match points, Srichaphan was not be denied as he completed his triumph with a classy forehand cross-court shot. However, the Thai hopes of the women's singles title through Tamarine Tanasugarn failed to materialise as the top-seed was toppled by Iroda Tulyaganova of Uzbekistan 6-1, 6-3 in a one-sided final. The 20-year-old Uzbek, ranked 40th in the WTA Tour, won nine of the first ten games before she was broken in the fourth game of the second set. Tamarine who failed to hold until then took the fifth and seventh games as well, but the Uzbek was in no mood to give anything away before closing out the match with an overhead put-away after being in court for just 69 minutes.

Earlier in the semifinals, Tamarine had defeated Shinobu Asagoe (Japan) easily at 6-3, 6-2, while Tulyaganova had to really work hard before overcoming a stiff challenge from South Korea's Cho Yoon-Jeong 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. For the South Koreans the loss of Cho was a big disappointment but they did find some consolation later on as Kim Mi-Ok and Choi-Young-Ja struck gold in the women's doubles with a 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-3 upset win over Adiati Prakusya Wynne and Angelique Widjaja of Indonesia.

Incidentally, it was Adiati and Angelique who were instrumental behind the gold-medal triumph of Indonesia in the women's team event final against Japan.

The Japanese, however, took the men's team title with a crushing 2-0 win over defending champion South Korea. It was Japan's first gold medal in the event after 1974. The Indian teams were knocked out in the quarterfinals in both the sections, the men being beaten by Uzbekistan and the women by Chinese Taipei.