NOT EVERYTHING IS LOST

KARAN RASTOGI HAD REACHED THE SEMIFINALS of the junior Australian Open and has played some inspiring tennis.-VINO JOHN

India now has to start building a team that would be ready to get into the World Group soon, writes KAMESH SRINIVASAN.

Reserve player Karan Rastogi had a better ATP ranking than the Pakistani spearhead Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. There were 29 Indian players ranked higher than Aqeel Khan who was at No. 1416.

There were only three Pakistanis on the ATP computer rankings list, while India had 35.

Yet, it was left to Davis Cup hero Leander Paes to script another epic victory to bail India out of trouble and save a near embarrassment against the neighbour in the Asia-Oceania Group `I' relegation play-off in Mumbai.

The very fact that Leander, unranked in singles, as he has not played a singles match for ages, opted to play the fifth rubber, ahead of the 231st ranked Rohan Bopanna, was a clear `no confidence motion' against Indian tennis.

Both Prakash Amritraj and Bopanna have not inspired confidence in recent times, especially in the Davis Cup arena. Prakash did well to win a key match against Aqeel Khan, but he has won only four other matches in Davis Cup, against low-ranked Uzbekistan and China on Indian grass.

Bopanna has won only two of his 11 matches, and both those matches were against New Zealand and Japan, at home in 2003.

Prakash had won only three singles matches in all, in more than six months on the Tour when he was retained to play in the first round tie this season against Korea in Korea. The selectors have apparently placed extraordinary faith on these two players, hoping that they would deliver at some stage. Honestly, they had no option.

Harsh Mankad, who has won six of his 22 matches in Davis Cup, has also not been in the best of form of late.

For sure, India has not had a Davis Cup player of quality after Mahesh Bhupathi quit singles in 2001. In fact, he played only one singles match after the 7-6 (5), 1-6, 1-6, 1-6 loss to Yong-Il Yoon in the decisive fifth rubber against Korea in 1999.

India now has to start building a team that would be ready to get into the World Group soon.

THE 18-YEAR-OLD CHANDIGARH LAD, SANAM SINGH, is ranked No. 4 in the world among the juniors now and has been the Asian and Asia-Oceania junior champion.-RAJEEV BHATT

There are two players who have the capability to do this. Both have been ranked world No. 4 in the juniors, and thus there is no question about their potential.

Karan Rastogi is one option, though he is still strengthening his game to take on the hardened professionals. He had reached the semifinals of the junior Australian Open and has played some inspiring tennis, including some entertaining matches against brilliant players like Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus, a name that has become familiar after the recent Australian Open.

Sanam Singh is the next best option. In fact, he is the most gifted player to have come on view in more than a decade, and that is saying quite a lot. The 18-year-old Chandigarh lad is ranked No. 4 in the world among the juniors now and has been the Asian and Asia-Oceania junior champion. He is ready to make a big splash in the junior Grand Slams this season so as to give a thrust to his professional career. He slackened a bit after he had caught the attention by winning a Futures tournament in Delhi last season.

Another player of considerable potential is Navdeep Singh, the best performer among the Indians in the recent Satellite circuit that had a strong field with players from more than 20 countries.

The former national junior champion, Navdeep, 20, came as a whiff of fresh air, winning the singles title in the third leg of the Satellite, after the other Indian players folded meekly, without even making the semifinals in the first two weeks.

THE DUBAI-BASED NAVDEEP SINGH has learnt most of the craft from coach John Hicks in England and seems to have benefited from a stint with coach Bob Brett at San Remo in Italy.-RAJEEV BHATT

Navdeep has always shown the hunger for success. He displays tremendous fighting qualities on court, to the extent of trying to intimidate his opponents with war cries. The Dubai-based lad learnt most of the craft from coach John Hicks in England and seems to have benefited from a stint with coach Bob Brett at San Remo in Italy.

Navdeep's performance is better highlighted by the fact that some of the best prospects like Sanam and Vivek Shokeen could not win even a solitary ATP point after three weeks of struggle from the same Satellite circuit.

J. Vishnu Vardhan of Hyderabad and Pathanjali Ravishankar are two other good players who have a sound game and just need to believe in themselves. Vishnu, trained by coach C. V. Nagaraj, has developed a big game with a strong serve and solid groundstrokes.

Ravishankar is a left-hander with an attractive game. He plays with a lot of confidence. The 23-year-old Chennai lad is working hard on his physical fitness now. He trains with coach Ilyas Hussain in Chennai and has also benefited from his stint with Bob Brett.

So, the future of Indian tennis is not that bleak. We have a clutch of players who can deliver the goods, if groomed properly.

That is the key. If they don't get competent professional guidance, Sanam and company will be quickly lost much the way a brilliant talent like Sunil Kumar faded away after promising a lot.