Rohan Bopanna's ability serves him well

K. KEERTHIVASAN

WHAT is the one major difference between Rohan Bopanna and the others in the circuit? The answer is easy and there are no prizes for guessing. It is that booming serve. In the week-long third and final leg of the Clinic All Clear $10,000 ITF men's Futures tennis championship at the SDAT-Nungambakkam Stadium in Chennai recently, the 22-year-old and top-seeded Bopanna came up with big serves time and again to wriggle out of tough situations. He eventually bagged his second singles title, outlasting Harsh Mankad 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4 in the final.

After conceding his pre-quarterfinal match to Rohan Gajjar at Gulbarga citing dehydration, there was speculation whether or not Bopanna would take part in the Chennai leg. Much against his parents' wishes, who advised him rest, Bopanna made the decision to play as he was keen on getting some ATP points.

Though Bopanna started his campaign with a convincing 6-2, 6-2 win over Shivang Mishra in the first round, things weren't going easy as his free flowing backhand and forehand deserted him. He needlessly extended his second round contest against qualifier Yew Ming Si of Malaysia, before winning 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1.

The top-seeded Rohan Bopanna came up with big serves time and again to wriggle out of tough situations and outlasted Harsh Mankad in the final.-V. GANESAN

Bopanna unleashed his big serves against Ajay Ramaswamy, the sixth seed, in the quarterfinals. Whenever he was down a break point, he came up with an ace or two. A sound baseline player, all Ajay could do for the major part of the match was to get ready for the serve, turn around and move on to the other side!

Ajay displayed his talent in the first set tie-breaker with pinpoint groundstrokes, but the top seed, who won the tie-breaker at 7-4, kept pounding aces and huge first serves to finish the second set in just 18 minutes. Bopanna produced 19 aces in the match. "This is easily the best I have been serving in three legs," said Bopanna after winning 7-6 (7-4), 6-1.

If there was one player who stayed put by sheer weight of resilience, grit and determination, it was the Israeli Eliran Dooyev, the seventh seed. A tireless backcourt player, the 22-year-old Dooyev in his second visit to Chennai, ousted Ciaran Moore of South Africa, former junior National champion and BAT trainee Jaco T. Mathew and Rouslan Nourmatov of Russia.

Against Bopanna in the semifinals, Dooyev did nothing more than hitting the ball monotonously. A player, who likes to go for his shots, Bopanna committed far too many unforced errors and the match went into the third set. Again it was his serves which bailed him out. Bopanna closed out the match in style serving three aces.

Chennai has been a lucky venue for Davis Cupper Harsh Mankad. He had won the junior National title here five years ago. Exiting early in the previous legs, Harsh was under pressure to produce a decent performance. Feeling at ease with the Slazenger balls which he is used to playing in the college matches in America, Harsh improved on his serves and groundstrokes with every passing match.

In the first round face-off with Sunil Kumar Sipaeya to whom he had lost at Gulbarga, Harsh came prepared this time around. The fifth seed, winner of the Delhi leg and runner-up at Gulbarga, went down rather tamely 1-6, 4-6 in one hour and nine minutes.

Russian qualifier Alexey Ageev is a gritty customer who, despite possessing a weak serve, compensates with a strong backhand as Nitin Kirtane, the second seed, found out in the first round. Nitin lost 2-6, 4-6. The 28-year-old from Moscow then put paid to the hopes of another wild card entrant, Rohan Gajjar, in the second round 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.

With his backhand finding the lines, Ageev took the first set 6-2 against Harsh in the quarterfinals. Gradually, Harsh's tactics began to yield dividends. Realising that the Russian took advantage of his opponent's power, Harsh generated his own pace. Added to that Harsh's service too started to come good. He went on to take the next two sets with relative ease 6-2, 6-3.

The fight was not yet over for Harsh and it duly came in the form of Vinod Sridhar, the eighth seed, in the next round. Vinod troubled Harsh with his sound play from the backcourt. Serving for the match at 5-4, Harsh lost his serve and soon the second set was Vinod's.

The decider saw Harsh take a 4-1 lead and he never looked back. Earlier, the match was stopped midway due to heavy rain for close to 80 minutes, with Vinod a set point away in the second set 6-5 (40-30) on Harsh's serve. Harsh won the match 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

An employee with the Gas Authority of India Ltd., Chennai, Vinod, doing his MCA at the Madras University, can improve a lot if he decides to play in more such tourneys outside India.

A pinch of drama was also enacted during the championship. The Gulbarga leg winner Viktor Bruthans of Slovakia was disqualified for racquet abuse in the quarterfinal match against Vinod Sridhar. Having received a warning earlier from chair umpire Ali Khatebi, the third-seeded Bruthans was slapped a point penalty when he was serving for the match at 5-2. Enraged with himself for his inability to finish the match and having let Vinod off the hook from 5-2 to 5-6, Bruthans again threw his racquet down. The Slovak received a game penalty, which effectively meant that Vinod won the game and with it the match.

It was a match that showed the grit and most of all the fighting capabilities of the left-handed Vinod. With the sparse gathering rooting for the local player, Vinod staged a gallant fightback. The evening will be remembered more for Vinod's come-from-behind win rather than Bruthans' misbehaviour. Bruthans was given a code violation for 'audible obscenity' in his second round contest against fellow-Slovak Igor Branisa.

The summit clash between two Davis Cuppers promised and offered as much. After a dogged resistance from both the players, the first set got into the tie-breaker, which Bopanna won after much struggle. However, the wild card entrant Harsh showed his prowess in the second set when he came up with fine forehand winners and deft volleys. But the big serving Bopanna broke Harsh's serve in the ninth game of the decider and served out the next game on his second match point.

Though Bopanna produced some delightful winners from the backcourt, he committed as many unforced errors. With such a huge serve and free flowing strokes, if he shows more consistency, Bopanna could become a much better player than what he is now.

Added to the singles title, Bopanna clinched his third doubles crown in partnership with Vijay Kannan. The top seeded pair posted a facile 6-2, 6-3 win over Nitin Kirtane and Saurav Panja.

"I am happy with my performance here. My parents did not want me to take part in this tourney as I was recovering from dehydration. But I decided to participate to get some points," said Bopanna.

It is generally perceived that the victory in the Besant Nagar All India Tennis Association ranking tournament in Chennai a year ago gave Bopanna the much needed break and the confidence. The man from Coorg has since then been steadily climbing up the ATP ranking list and is the highest ranked Indian (405) with 62 ATP points.

The results (Indians unless specified):

Singles (final): 1-Rohan Bopanna bt Harsh Mankad 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4; semifinals: Rohan Bopanna bt 7-Eliran Dooyev (Isr) 6-2, 3-6, 6-3; Harsh Mankad bt 8-Vinod Sridhar 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

Doubles (final): 1-Vijay Kannan and Rohan Bopanna bt Saurav Panja and Nitin Kirtane 6-2, 6-3; Semifinals: Vijay Kannan and Rohan Bopanna bt 3-Sanchai Ratiwatana and Sonchat Ratiwatana (Tha) 6-3, 7-6 (7-4); Saurav Panja and Nitin Kirtane bt Vinod Sridhar and Kamala Kannan 6-4, 6-1.