Rupesh Roy lets his racquet do the talking

RUPESH ROY of Kolkata is a tough guy to get hold of and talk to. A very media-shy person, he opens up only if you are a player. Or a Bengali. Or if you can speak Hindi. Throughout the Adidas-Madras Cricket Club junior National (under-18 & under-14) tennis championship at the Madras Cricket Club courts in Chennai (the initial rounds were held at Madras Gymkhana, UI-TNTA and TNTA courts), Rupesh made his racquet do all the talking to clinch the title in the under-18 section.

Winners all: sitting (from left): G. Arjun (boys' U-18 doubles), V. Narayanan, President, TNTA, Harish Doraiswamy, Director-Marketing, Adidas, R. S. Rajasekaran, President-MCC, Abhay Prakash (boys' U-18 doubles). Standing (from left): Navaneetha Kannan (boys' U-14 singles), Rupesh Roy (boys' U-18 singles), Vandana Murali (girls' U-18 doubles), Sandhya Nagaraj (girls' U-18 singles), Madura Ranganathan (girls' U-18 doubles), G. K. Shweta (girls' U-14 singles). — Pic. V. GANESAN-

The 15-year-old Rupesh is a frequent traveller, having represented India in the junior ITF tournaments. From April 2003, the National Tennis Academy has taken him under its wings. One of the coaches of NTA, Karthikeyan, who came along with 11 of his trainees, tipped Rupesh as one of the bright prospects along with Somdev K. Dev Varman and Karan Rastogi. The coach was hopeful that by playing regularly abroad and by making use of the facilities provided by NTA, they would become better players.

The top-seed, Rupesh, was tested only from the semifinals. Against the promising 15-year-old M. Jeevan Nedunchezian of Tamil Nadu, Rupesh wriggled out just in time. Jeevan could have easily made match of it but his double faults (nine overall) proved to be quite costly in the end.

Saurabh Kohli of Maharashtra made his mark in the Nationals. The 18-year-old, who was with the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association for around four years, fell out with the powers-that-be, and since February this year, has been without a coach. "A coach is always going to be helpful," he said. Saurabh made everybody sit up when he brushed aside the challenge of the 18-year-old local lad V. M. Ranjeet, one of the dark horses, in the semifinals.

Serving effectively and hitting some amazing winners, Saurabh seldom put a foot wrong against Ranjeet. It was the consistency of Saurabh's first serves that clinched the issue in his favour.

With the warm weather paving the way for dark clouds, heavy drizzles followed, which forced the organisers the put off the unfinished doubles final to the next day (the morning of the singles final). Incidentally, Saurabh made it to both the finals. Having lost the doubles final pairing with Vikram Aditya Menon, in the morning, Saurabh had to lock horns with Rupesh in the singles final just a couple of hours later.

The Mumbai lad, Saurabh, was on song playing a perfect all-court game in the first set. Rupesh with his trademark free flowing forehand and backhand, took the second. Trudging slowly at the end of the second set towards his seat, Saurabh started feeling his right leg constantly. There were indications that he might be suffering from cramps. That doubt turned out to be true when Saurabh promptly shook hands with Rupesh after losing the first game of the third set. "I have cramps all over my body," he said, while being escorted by his friends.

In the girls' under-18 category, Sandhya Nagaraj quietly worked her way up to the top. The 15-year-old local lass showed that consistency would surely pay dividends.

Trained by Meenakshi Sundaram, one of the popular coaches in the city, Sandhya should go a long way provided she keeps working on her fitness and mobility.

Sandhya took her time to settle down against Andhra Pradesh's Poonam Reddy in the final. But once she got into rhythm, the backhand returns and winners from the baseline flowed.

There was much speculation and drama about the top-seed Madura Ranganathan's entry. Her first round match against NTA trainee V. Poojashree was scheduled in the morning, by she came an hour late for the match. The reason cited for the delay was that Madura was having a bad stomach. However, the Coimbatore lass was determined to play, and she did a fine job to overcome the challenge from Poojashree. But Madura lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion, Sandhya.

Navaneetha Kannan of Tamil Nadu showed remarkable fighting spirit to emerge triumphant in the boys' under-14 section.

The 14-year-old clawed his way back against Agnel Gladwin of Maharashtra in the quarterfinals, after losing the first set. In the summit clash with Tariq Jacob, Navaneetha found a worthy opponent. A student of Sacred Heart (Sholinganallur, Chennai), Navaneetha battled for over two hours to outwit Tariq 5-7, 6-2, 6-3. NTA trainee G. K. Shweta had an easy time in the girls' under-14 final as she posted a 6-4, 6-3 win over Varsha Dutta of Assam.

There were some jarring notes during the girls' under-18 singles final. Shockingly, there were no linesmen throughout, giving the chair-umpire Thiyagarajan a tough time.

Sandhya was told that a linesman would be sent soon for the match, but no one turned up.

On the other court at the same time, there was only one linesman for the girls' under-14 final. In the boys' under-14 final, only one linesman was there and he too came into the match midway.

With the All India tennis Association scrapping the concept of under-16 tournaments from this year, there were more players below 16 playing in the under-18 section. As a result the quality turned out to be a mixed bag. But all welcomed the re-induction of the Advantage rule.

The results:

Boys' under-18 (final): Rupesh Roy (WB) bt Saurabh Kohli (Mah) 3-6, 6-4, 1-0 (conceded); Semifinals: Rupesh bt Jeevan Nedunchezian (TN) 6-2, 7-6, (8-6); Saurabh Kohli bt V. M. Ranjeet (TN) 6-3, 6-4.

Boys' under-18 (doubles final): Abhay Prakash/Arjun Gautam (Kar) bt Vikram Aditya Menon (TN)/Saurabh Kohli (Mah) 7-5, 4-6, 6-1.

Boys' under-14 (final): Navaneetha Kannan (TN) bt Tariq Jacob (TN) 5-7, 6-2, 6-3; Semifinals: Navaneetha bt Krishna Karsolia (UP) 6-2, 6-1; Tariq bt G. P. Prajnesh (TN) 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-2.

Girls' under-18 (final): Sandhya Nagaraj (TN) bt Poonam Reddy (AP) 3-6, 6-2, 7-5; Semifinals: Sandhya bt Madura Ranganathan (TN) 6-0, 6-3; Poonam bt Meghana Paritala (AP) 6-2, 6-1.

Girls' under-18 (doubles final): Madura Ranganathan/Vandana Murali (TN) bt Poojashree (Kar)/Parija Maloo (Mah) 6-7, (2-7), 6-4, 6-3.

Girls' under-14 (final): G. K. Shweta (Kar) bt Varsha Dutta (Asm) 6-4, 6-3; Semifinals: Shweta bt Parija Maloo (Mah) 6-4, 6-1; Varsha Dutta bt Shivika Burman (WB) 1-6, 6-4, 6-4.

K. Keerthivasan