Pinned down by Camille

A successful Sania doubles act with Liezel Huber, though not as crowd-pleasing as a Sania solo-act, was better than a Sania vanishing act, writes NANDITA SRIDHAR.

When Camille Pin sculpted a miniature version of what Martina Hingis eventually built, albeit not exactly a pretty one, in Dubai, to destroy Sania Mirza, it was followed by deep groans sensing a casualty. Pin quickly wrapped up the third set, signalling Sania's Bangalore Open singles swansong, almost threatening a permanent public exodus from the stadium. A successful Sania doubles act with Liezel Huber, though not as crowd-pleasing as a Sania solo-act, was better than a Sania vanishing act.

After the world doubles and legends tournaments, it was time to grab a piece of WTA action for the Bangalore crowd. Sania offered them just a few crumbs, but Huber made sure that the curtains did not come down in front of empty stands.

For a daily visitor to the KSLTA Kingfisher Stadium, it would have felt like two different tournaments. Sometimes, the din at a Sania match might have caused a few cochlear displacements, while the other matches resembled a meditation centre.

Singles champion Mara Santangelo was fortunate enough to experience the two extremes in her first WTA visit to Bangalore.

She started off in the side courts, after which she leapfrogged into the Centre Court. On her first-time experience in the city, the 25-year-old spoke like she served, belonging to a different time-zone as the words slowly seeped out. "Well, it is really nice here. A bit noisy, but nice. There are big crowds in the stadium crazy about Sania. But I really want to get back home. It's been quite a long time. I have been away right from the Australian Open," said the Italian, who spent a portion of her title winning night freeze-framing a few unforgettable crowd moments.

The crowds were either blissfully unaware or gleefully aware, that this was not a cricket tournament, and required wild celebrations to be interspersed by moments of silence during service actions. The chair-umpires' pleas for silence sounded like helpless yelps, and one specially creative plea to each individual to keep his neighbour quiet was met with equally creative cold shoulders, with the celebrations, chants and marriage proposals pouring in from all quarters at all times.

Shahar Peer will easily grab the most annoyed expression award rackets down. In the doubles semifinal against Sania and Huber, the Israeli's service action was repeatedly halted at the toss with some unbearable hooting. To make matters worse, the chair umpires turned into part-time teachers, correcting line-calls with annoying regularity and running their own parallel tournament with replayed points.

MARA SANTANGELO, the Bangalore Open winner said, "Well, it is really nice here. A bit noisy, but nice."-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Sania and Huber were the sole cause and the beneficiaries of the bulging attendance. Almost qualifying for Indian citizenship, Huber expressed high-pitched delight at her first Bangalore experience. She shielded her decade younger partner with some deft volleying, and sometimes made sure that the ball did not kiss her partner's strings by doing some splendid retrieving. "I don't think I have seen anything like this before, and I don't think I ever will. I would like to thank the people of Bangalore for supporting us," said the 29-year-old, with similar thoughts echoed by Sania.

It was not a smooth shot-making affair for the other Indians. Rushmi Chakravarthi had to make-do with enjoying the weather in Bangalore, after Melinda Czink, whose name inspires a barrage of clich�s, exposed the larger-than-life `czinks' in her armour on the way to `czinking' her. Ankita Bhambri's only moment of glory was a fan mistaking her for Sania, as the 19-year-old with an almost 360 degree racket swing went down to Kaia Kanepi in straight sets.

Isha Lakhani was the most successful of these three, and entered the second round beating an exhausted qualifier, Katarina Kachlikova. But a bit of hot-headed tennis halted her run and the 20-year-old's Bangalore escapade came to a tearful end.

By then, Bangalore had mastered the simple strategy to promote its first ever WTA event. Sania, Sania and a little more of Sania. By the end of the week-long event, the only place sans Sania was in Centre Court during the singles final. She smiled out of hoardings, took over the stalls, warmed up with Vijay Amritraj in his `second home', and had her elbow analysed by physicians in the garb of journalists.

With the on-court action following a slow hypnosis tempo after the top-seeded upset, stomach upsets came next in the line of interest. "I had some real trouble with the food for three days. I am quite surprised that I could manage to play and enter the final," said finalist Jelena Kostanic of Croatia. Promising talent Vania King was another digestive system casualty, pulling out of both the singles and the doubles semifinals with gastroenteritis.

Finally, what did Bangalore mean to the girl who was almost single-handedly responsible for a gateless LB Stadium, in Hyderabad? Her response was typically simple and straightforward. "It is hard playing at home, but where at home makes no difference. Whether I play in Hyderabad, Bangalore or Delhi, it's all the same." It might have been the same for her, but after a guillotined draw with the top seed's exit, the doubles draw was the lone attraction (read money making source) and thankfully, the duo, for their own separate reasons made sure that the third day headlines did not read, R. I. P. — the Bangalore Open.

THE RESULTS

Singles: Mara Santangelo (Ita) beat Jelena Kostanic (Cro) 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3.

Doubles: Sania Mirza (Ind)/Liezel Huber (RSA) beat Anastassia Rodionova (Rus)/Elena Vesnina (Rus) 6-3, 6-3.

Prize money: Singles: $28,000. Doubles: $8200.