Indians make a clean sweep

Published : Oct 20, 2001 00:00 IST


KARAN RASTOGI and Isha Lakhani might present the image of a simple boy and girl living next door. Put them on a tennis court, and you will realise how wrong you are in your assessment. The two showed their skills in ample measure to clinch their maiden International Tennis Federation titles in the boys' and girls' sections respectively of the TNTA sponsored junior (under-18) circuit tournament held at the SDAT Nungambakkam Stadium in Chennai from September 17 to 22. They also earned 40 ITF points. Indians made a clean sweep, claiming all the four titles which included a double for Isha Lakhani.

The terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on September 11 had an impact on the championship. Top seeded Amanjot Singh was not able to make it in time as he was playing in a junior circuit at USA. Thirteen boys - inclusive of six Indians, six Nigerians and one Pakistani - pulled out of the tournament. Apart from Amanjot, seeded players like Vinod Kumar Sewa, C. S. Mohanty were among the notable absentees from the Indian point of view.

Sixteen-year-old Isha is no stranger to the circuit and in fact has been playing in the women's circuit for some time. Rastogi, on the other hand, has been showing marked improvement in his game. He has benefited a lot after having taken part in several ITF junior tournaments in Syria and Tunisia, and most of all it has instilled a lot of self-confidence in him. The triumph in Chennai would surely serve as a tonic for both in the battles ahead.

Third seed Rastogi surprised everybody including himself by overcoming the top seed Rohan Gajjar 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 in an hour and 50 minutes. And in the girls' summit clash between Dandeniya Rebecca of Great Britain and Isha Lakhani, the match had all the trappings of a keen contest when Dandeniya of Great Britain threw in the towel trailing 0-3 in the first set tiebreaker, citing fever and dehydration. The runners up, in both the section, earned 30 ITF points.

While Isha Lakhani was not really tested in the tournament at all till she met Dandeniya Rebecca, it was not an easy journey for Rastogi. He had to stave off the challenge from the quick footed Nattapong Pong Kunsub of Thailand, who had earlier ousted one of the promising youngster from India, seventh seeded Arun Prakash, and the hard hitting Dalodom Anuwat, the second seed, from Thailand, in the semifinals.

The two foreign players who impressed one and all with their power play were Dalodum Anuwat and Dominic Stoeckler of Switzerland. The way they went about their job, closing out opponents by sheer weight of their groundstrokes, it was expected that they would be a sure bet for the title.

Playing in only his second ITF circuit, Stoeckler impressed everybody with his big serves and pin point groundstrokes. He defeated the fourth seeded Jaco T. Mathew, the National under-18 champion and Britanna Amritraj Trust (BAT) trainee, in the pre-quarterfinals.

Anuwat relies heavily on his groundstrokes with forehand being his most potent weapon. He seldom goes on the defensive and is in a hurry to finish off the rallies with his imperious shots. The problem with his game is that he does not know when to rein in his aggression. Anuwat had earlier accounted for BAT trainee Somdev K. Dev Varman in the last eight stage.

When Rastogi met Anuwat in the semifinals, the latter's powerful forehands deserted him. Committing numerous unforced errors, he helped Rastogi to rally from 2-5 to take five straight games in a row to win 7-5. The Thai was totally out of sorts in the second, and third seeded Rastogi grew in confidence to emerge the winner at 6-3.

It has to be said that Rastogi and Gajjar showed enormous self-belief in getting past two of the most toughest players - Anuwat and Stoeckler.

Rohan Gajjar, the 17 year-old, who trains at the Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association, has a fluent game and has all the traits to go up the ladder in the men's circuit.

Up against Stoeckler in the semifinals, Gajjar showed his class playing the key points really well. Realising that the only way to beat the big serving Swiss was to engage him in rallies, Gajjar played accordingly to beat Stoeckler in a tough three setter.

Gajjar was confidence personified going into the final against Rastogi, given the fact that the latter has never beaten Gajjar before. In retrospect, it would be apt to say that Gajjar appeared over-confident, which resulted in his defeat. This is not to take away the credit from Rastogi who shrewdly cashed in on the unforced errors of the top seed.

Leading 6-4 in the first set tiebreaker, Gajjar committed unforced errors - three from the backcourt and one backhand volley into the net as Rastogi gleefully accepted it to take the first at 8-6. Gajjar came back strongly in the second after trailing 2-5, before Rastogi closed out of the match in his second match point in the tenth game to take it 6-4.

The 15-year-old Rastogi, who was with the BAT before moving to Pract tennis in Mumbai, does not hit the ball with as much power as Gajjar does. But he makes it up for his lack of power by his excellent retrieving skills and sound backcourt play. He volleys well when the situation demands. With age on his side, he is bound to add a few more weapons to his armoury.

The women's final had eight breaks of serves. Though Dandeniya was more aggressive than Isha, she was generous with unforced errors. Isha appeared more determined breaking back everytime the British girl went ahead. With Isha leading 3-0 in the tiebreaker, Dandeniya conceded the match.

Trained by Russian Pavel Jormsky in Miami, Dandeniya was very impressive throughout the tournament. Never afraid to go for shots, the 17-year-old born to Sri Lankan parents, routed everybody on her way to the final. Dandeniya was at her aggressive best against the top seed Megha Vakharia of India trouncing 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinals.

The left-handed Isha Lakhani too was never really tested in the tournament and she seems to be ahead of the pack. Isha had packed off the second seeded Pichaiyah Laosirichon of Thailand in straight sets in the semifinals.

Rastogi and Isha Lakhani have it in them to make it big in the international league, but whether they will make the grade or fade away like many before them, will be watched with interest.

P.W.C. Davidar, Member Secretary, Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, gave away the prizes.

The results (all finals): (Indians unless specified):

Boys' singles: 3-Karan Rastogi bt 1-Rohan Gajjar 7-6 (8-6), 6-4; Doubles: Somdev K. Dev Varman-Jaco T. Mathew bt 7-Al Imron-Immanuel Prakoso (Ina) 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-1).

Girls' singles: 11-Isha Lakhani bt 3-Dandeniya Rebecca (GBR) 6-6 (3-0) (conceded); Doubles: 3-Isha Lakhani-Megha Vakharia bt 1-Diana Julianto-Maya Rosa (Ina) 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 6-4.

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