Mlynarik completes a dream double

AN Austrian named Zbynek Mlynarik captured the attention of the tennis lovers in Kolkata as the sinewy athlete mastered one opponent after another before lifting the International Tennis Federation's men's Futures title.


Zbynek Mlynarik, who won the singles trophy, posing with the doubles winners Vishal Uppal and Harsh Mankad.-Pic. S. PATRONOBISH

AN Austrian named Zbynek Mlynarik captured the attention of the tennis lovers in Kolkata as the sinewy athlete mastered one opponent after another before lifting the International Tennis Federation's men's Futures title. The triumph had Mlynarik completing a ``dream'' Indian tour, which saw him win back-to-back titles. Having quelled the challenge of India's Rohan Bopanna in Mumbai, he produced a more authoritative performance in his second successive final appearance blowing away the challenge of Uruguayan Marcel Felder in Kolkata.

The week-long action — sponsored by Exide Industries — set off with the inauguration of the impressive complex of the Bengal Tennis Association, which flaunted six hardcourts setting a new address for the sport in the state.

The Indian challenge began in the qualifiers but it turned out to be a disaster as none of the 13 entrants could qualify to the main draw. Three Indians — Vishal Punna, Kedar Tembe and Aditya Madkekar — progressed to the qualifying finals but all perished without resistance.

Thus the Indian number in the main draw was restricted to eight - four direct entries and four wild cards. Harsh Mankad, Vijay Kannan, Ajay Ramaswami and Manoj Mahadevan earned direct entries by virtue of their ITF rankings while four others -- Vishal Uppal, Kamala Kannan, Jacto T. Mathew and Vinod Sewa -- earned wildcards. Fred Hemmes of the Netherlands, with an ITF ranking of 310, was top seeded. In the absence of a few of his renowned compatriots, India's Davis Cupper Mankad led the charge in the main draw having earned the fifth seeding.

Kamala Kannan justified his wildcard entry beating fourth seeded Jakub Hasek of the Czech Republic in straight sets. But the surprise of the opening day was when qualifier Giuseppe Menga of Italy sent another Czech — second seeded Lukas Dlouhy — packing. Others shown the exit on the same day were seventh seeded Briton, David Sherwood and Manoj Mahadevan. As the events unfolded the eventual champion, Mlynarik, almost ensured his ticket back home taking on

the Japanese qualifier Takeshi Itoh, but a gritty fightback by the former helped him salvage the match after a battle lasting two hours and 36 minutes.

The pre-quarterfinals pruned out the rest — third seeded Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan, fifth seeded Mankad and eighth seeded Daniel Lesske of Germany — leaving top seeded Fred Hemmes of the Netherlands as the only fancied player surviving the odds. Vijay Kannan brought up a great show of endurance and tact to tame Frenchman Almagrida and remain as the only accomplished Indian progressing to the quarterfinals, while the rest of his compatriots -- Mankad and Kamala Kannan - failed. Vijay Kannan showed good temperament reading his opponent's ploy and triumphed in a marathon battle of nerves. Winning the first set easily, the Indian looked unsettled by the afternoon heat and even vomitted on court during the second set, which he conceded. He showed fighting abilities in the decider to outclass Almagrida. The latter used his powerful forehand to a great measure to prevail over Kannan in the second set. The Indian checked the pace effectively employing deep back-hand sliced returns. The strategy worked well and the Indian made no more errors holding his serve thereafter to accomplish a great win. Marcel Felder continued to cruise ahead as he beat fifth seeded Mankad in a three-set marathon. Felder's agility proved decisive yet again as he outlasted a technically accomplished Mankad showing superior court coverage.

The quarterfinals saw the departure of the last seeded player as top rated Dutchman Hemmes conceded midway against Italian Alessandro Da Col.

Indian hopes dissipated with Vijay Kannan who finished on the wrong end of a three-set duel against qualifier Naoki Arimoto. The Indian produced a variety of shots but the Japanese stole the march in the end remaining the more fitter. One man who stuck to form, working through the ruins, was Mlynarik.

Coming in as a "special exempt'', Mlynarik brought up yet another essay of technique and temperament getting the better of gritty Dutchman Jasper Smit in a two and a half hour contest while Felder made his way up into the last four stage removing the Dutchman — Matwee Middelkoop.

The semifinals too went full distance as Mlynarik overcame a shaky start to endure a three-set duel against Da Col while Felder progressed from the other end getting the better of Arimoto.

The final petered out to be a no contest as the 18-year-old Felder looked amateurish in the straight loss to Mlynarik, who was in great form. The Czech born Austrian, Mlynarik, went to prove all the predictions of a close final wrong as he evolved a stunning range of precision shooting that hardly allowed Felder any scope for recovery. Mlynarik thus achieved a great comeback following injury and pocketed the winner's purse of $1,950 and 18 ATP points.

Mlynarik said that "the two titles in India came as a pleasant surprise as he hardly expected to reach that far coming from a long lay-off". But having achieved that, he hoped "he would be able to sustain his form and return to playing Grand Slam qualifiers soon".

The doubles final saw an all-Indian contest as Uppal and Mankad re-emphasised their supremacy with a consummate win over the fourth seeded pair of Kannan and Ramaswami. The final lasted only 68 minutes while Uppal piloted the partnership with Mankad into an effective combination. Playing the lead in the final triumph Uppal came up with another interesting statistics — he did not concede a single point in his service games. The doubles semifinals saw Uppal and Mankad produce yet another straight set win beating Jasper Smit of the Netherlands and Daniel Lesske of Germany. Kannan and Ramaswami beat the Italian combine of Alessandro Da Col and Giuseppe Menga in a marathon duel that had to be completed on the morning of the final as bad light stopped play the previous evening. The seeded pairs could not bring up much crashing out in the initial rounds.

The results:

Singles: Final: Zbynek Mlynarik (Aut) bt Marcel Felder (Uru) 6-3, 6-4; Semifinals: Zbynek Mlynarik bt Alessandro Da Col (Ita) 4-6, 6-4, 6-2; Marcel Felder bt Naoki Arimoto (Jpn) 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

Doubles: Final: Harsh Mankad & Vishal Uppal (Ind) bt 4-Vijay Kannan & Ajay Ramaswami (Ind) 6-1, 6-4; Semifinals :Harsh Mankad & Vishal Uppal bt Daniel Lesske (Ger) & Jasper Smit (Ned) 7-6 (7-5), 6-0; Vijay. Kannan & Ajay Ramaswami bt Alessandro Da Col & Giuseppe Menga (Ita) 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.