Narrow 'Indian angle'

Viktor Troicki kept his cool to win the dharwad event and claim maiden challenger title.-SAMPATH KUMAR

Danai Udomchoke won the Challenger at Chikmagalur while Viktor Troicki prevailed at Dharwad. The lone cheer for the Indian camp was the IN-THE-TRENCHES resolve exhibited by Karan Rastogi in Chikmagalur, writes K. C. VIJAYA KUMAR AND KALYAN ASHOK.

Even as the curious mix of sun and rain played each other out in the background, inside the long corridors of the Centenary Stadium in Chikmagalur, Davis Cup players Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna were indulging in some banter. When asked whether they have it in them to win an ATP Challenger, the duo chorused `yes'. "It is all about playing consistently for five matches and I think we have it in us," said Prakash. Consistency, though, was missing from their game and they crashed out of both the Challenger events at Chikmagalur and Dharwad.

The lone cheer for the Indian camp was the in-the-trenches resolve exhibited by Mumbaikar Karan Rastogi in Chikmagalur where he reached the quarterfinal before losing to Japan's Toshihide Matsui in a gripping three-setter. Rastogi, who cruised past Poland's Lukasz Kubot in the prequarters at Chikmagalur, failed to repeat the win in the north Karnataka town of Dharwad, where Kubot had his revenge sending the Indian hopes crashing. Thailand's Danai Udomchoke won the Coffee Cup Challenger at Chikmagalur quelling Matsui's challenge 7-5, 6-4 while Serbia and Montenegro's Viktor Troicki defeated Kubot 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the final and won the PVG Challenger at Dharwad.

At Chikmagalur, Prakash and Rohan registered facile victories in their opening rounds before losing steam in the pre-quarterfinals. Prakash self-destructed after leading 5-4 and serving for the first set against unseeded Jan Masik of the Czech Republic. He served a double fault, committed volleying errors and soon lost the match 5-7, 1-6. "I lost it in my head," said Prakash. A similar fate awaited Bopanna, who served well and hit powerful groundstrokes but failed to vary his pace and strategy and eventually lost to Matsui 6-7 (6-8), 4-6 in the pre-quarters.

For the local fans, anguishing at the early exit of Prakash and Rohan, Karan gave some happiness while upsetting Kubot, the fourth seed. Karan won the pre-quarters 6-4, 6-1 with a near perfect game. He served well and did not allow Kubot much leeway at the net.

Karan, however, struggled in the quarterfinal and had to use all his fighting skills to drag Matsui to a three-setter. The Indian lost 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (4-7) but he staved off three match points in the third set to test Matsui's nerve. Matsui kept his cool in the decisive tie-break. He continued his good run scalping top-seed Lee Hyung Taik of Korea in the semifinal 7-6 (8-6), 6-4. Udomchoke made the final with minimum fuss as Taipei's Lu Yen Hsun conceded the semifinal 4-6, 6-4, 2-2.

In the final, Udomchoke staved off Matsui's attempts to pin him down on his weak backhand. When Matsui's game became error-prone, the Thai switched gears to win the title and break into the top 100.

In hot Dharwad, Udomchoke was upset by big-serving Aussie Luke Bourgeois in the first round. Karan lost in the first round to Kubot, who fired winners on both flanks to win 6-2, 6-2.

After winning the first set against qualifier Phillip King, Prakash, seeded No. 6, lost the next two in a jiffy. King won the second round match 6-7 (2-7), 6-1, 6-1 and admitted his surprise at Prakash's capitulation. Rohan, seeded No. 7, found it tough to handle Troicki's serves in the first set. The Indian lifted his game in the second set, but Troicki won 6-1, 7-5.

The Indian defeats in Dharwad left a bitter taste because of the lack of spirit that was all too apparent in the body language of Prakash, Rohan and Karan. When the going got tough, it was perplexing to watch Prakash walking away to the chair after swiping a return without even bothering to look where the ball landed. Perhaps, the Indians should take a few tips from Kubot and Troicki, who enjoyed their tennis. It was refreshing to watch Kubot, after packing off the top seed Lee Hyung Taik, head for a workout with his skipping rope. "I love staying fit," said the Pole. The long-locked Troicki, 20, said, "I just love being there on the court."

Troicki played a near flawless game as he thrashed Capkovic of Slovakia in the quarterfinal and crushed the third seed Lu 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinal. In the other half, Kubot found his touch in the semifinal to out-hit the top seed, Lee Hyung Taik, in a delightful serve and volley contest 6-3, 6-2.

The final, which lasted 150 minutes in hot and humid conditions, was an engrossing contest. Kubot was the favourite, but Troicki showed maturity beyond his years as he systematically mounted his assault on his first Challenger title. Kubot, after a sizzling start, cramped midway through the second set. Though he tried to wrest the initiative, Troicki kept his cool to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 and claim his maiden Challenger title.