Lior Dahan wins a thriller

Published : Nov 17, 2001 00:00 IST


IF it was an all-Indian final in Mumbai and Indore, two Israelis battled it out in the summit clash of the third event at Pune's Deccan Gymkhana tennis courts.

Nevertheless, it was a profitable period for the Indians in the three ITF Futures, spread over mid-October and early November. They picked up valuable points and handy money.

None more so than Prahlad Srinath, who scooped up five - two singles and three doubles - of the six titles at stake. In the process, he had made a welcome return to form following a stress fracture of the ankle, that kept him out of the game for nearly six months.

The smooth-stroking Mysore player scored 25 points in singles, and 36 in doubles, partnering the spunky Ajay Ramaswamy, apart from earning nearly $4000. "It feels good for sure," said Srinath.

And big-serving Bangalore lad Rohan Bopanna too had a splendid run, making the finals in Mumbai and Indore, and following that up with a semifinal performance at Pune.

At the hard court of the Deccan Gymkhana, the lanky Bopanna also won a rather significant quarterfinals battle, defeating third seeded Syed Fazaluddin, a member of the Indian Davis Cup squad, 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Yet, at the end of it all, top-seed Israeli Lior Dahan carried the day. And he did it at the expense of countryman Eyal Erlich, seeded second, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7) in a gripping final. Both these players had interesting stories to tell coming into the tournament.

Dahan was keen to take part in the Indore Futures, but ended up breaking all his racquets during a tournament in Uzbekistan. He went back to Israel to fetch some new ones, and could not get his Indian visa through in time. He made up for that miss with a title triumph in Pune.

Erlich's story is an engaging one. The man said goodbye to tennis early this year, having lost all motivation. During the period he was away, he gave the move a rethink, and finally decided to make another attempt at the rather elusive stardom.

The Israeli is a fairly accomplished player, having taken Michael Chang to five sets in an ATP tour event, and being ranked inside the top 150 in the late 90s, before a shoulder injury and the subsequent drop in form, drove him to a state of despair. "I just stopped enjoying the game," he says.

Well, the final was a contest between players of contrasting styles. Dahan, essentially a baseliner, does the basics right. He has a useful swerving left-hander's serve, is solid from the back of the court, and returns adequately if not spectacularly.

Erlich plays his best tennis when he decides to volleys. The Israeli has a 'heavy' serve and presents an attractive sight when he poaches at the net.

The bigger-built Erlich did come up with some sparkling tennis in the final, but Dahan was more consistent, playing the big points better. "I knew it would be a tough match, I had to take my chances," said Dahan later. Erlich suffered from sudden lapses in concentration too like when leading 40-0 in the fourth game of the second set and then going on to lose his serve. And in a final that was desperately close, these points proved crucial.

The first set saw two breaks of serve with Dahan breaking Erlich in the fifth game, and the latter returning the compliment in the eighth. During the tie-breaker, Dahan played tighter tennis to clinch it 7-4.

In the second, Dahan broke Erlich in the fourth, and had two match points on his opponent's serve in the eighth. The contest looked set for an early finish. Erlich though had other ideas.

He threw caution to the winds, decided to attack, and came roaring back in the process. Erlich saved the match-points, and then broke Dahan when he served for the title in the ninth.

Indeed, Dahan came under increasing pressure, and he lost his serve again in the eleventh, with Erlich producing a couple of sizzling forehand returns. It was now Erlich's turn to serve for the second set.

The match witnessed another twist here with Dahan, using the lob to counter Erlich's net-rushing tactics, breaking, to level the set at 6-6. And he again displayed better nerves to nail a dramatic tie-breaker 9-7.

In the semifinals, Dahan had quelled a spirited challenge from Slovakia's Michal Varsanyi 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2. The tall Varsanyi, who possesses a stinging left-hander's serve and a reasonable volley, had ambushed fourth seed Uzbekistan's Abdul-Hamid Makhkamov 6-4, 7-5 in the quarterfinals.

In the other half of the draw, Erlich knocked out Srinath 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the second round, and although this was not an upset in terms of seedings - Erlich was second while Srinath was unseeded - it certainly was a surprising result since the Indian was running hot at that stage.

Then, in the semifinals, Erlich eliminated the hard-hitting Bopanna 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in a duel where the Indian's inexperience let him down. Bopanna served 16 aces in the contest, pulled off some spectacular winners, but could not string together enough points during key moments.

In other mentionable matches, the serve and volleyer from Chennai, Rishi Sridhar, downed sixth seeded Mustafa Ghouse 6-4, 6-3 in the first round, while the promising Sunil Kumar got the better of the seasoned Nitin Kirtane, the fifth seed, 7-6 (2), 6-2 in a second round battle between two sluggers.

Manoj Mahadevan's 7-6 (6), 6-2 first round victory over Ajay Ramaswamy was creditable too. The serve and volleying Chennai lad then lost an agonising second round duel 6-3, 6-7 (6), 5-7 to Poland's Jurek Stasiak, the eighth seed.

Coming to the doubles, Srinath's experience and Ramaswamy's dash complemented each other well. In the final, against Erlich and Dahan, the Indians found the right answers after going down in the first set 6-7 (1).

The Indian duo stepped up the tempo in the second set, winning it 6-4, and then, after the match was suspended at one-set all on November 2 due bad light, clinched the contest the next day, taking the decider 6-2.

Ramaswamy was particularly impressive in the third set, returning and serving well during crucial moments. And Srinath, an employee of the Indian Oil Corporation, was his usual calm self, while winning points at the net.

The tournament, conducted by the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association, was a well organised one. It witnessed some good tennis too.

The results: Singles: Final: 1-Lior Dahan (Isr) bt 2-Eyal Erlich (Isr) 7-6 (4), 7-6 (7): Semifinals: Erlich bt Rohan Bopanna (Ind) 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2; Dahan bt Michal Varsanyi (Svk) 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2.

Doubles: Final: Prahlad Srinath & Ajay Ramaswamy (Ind) bt Dahan & Erlich (Isr) 6-7 (1), 6-4, 6-2.

More stories from this issue

Sign in to unlock all user benefits
  • Get notified on top games and events
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign up / manage to our newsletters with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early bird access to discounts & offers to our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment