Sanaa Bhambri alone shows out among the Indians

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

IF the Pepsodent-ONGC ITF junior tennis tournament, held in Kolkata in the third week of January, is any pointer then Sanaa Bhambri would qualify as the only Indian with the ability to match the best in the international scenario. Bhambri — a graceful southpaw — took the runner-up title both in the girls' singles and the doubles partnering local talent Priyanka Parekh to remain the only Indian to reach that level in the tournament.

Foreign participants took all the titles at stake — the boys and girls singles and doubles — while Bhambri did the best among the Indians reaching the two finals in the girls section. The boys' title went to fifth seeded Dmytri Tolok (Ukr) while the girls' crown was taken by unseeded Thassha Vitayaviroj of Thailand, who defeated third seeded Bhambri in the final.

Vitayaviroj took the doubles title partnering compariot Tangphong Montinee as the seond seeded pair. The two beat the unseeded Indian combination of Bhambri and Parekh.

The Kolkata meet was the first in the list of three centres — in the country, which earned the grade III level tournament from this year. The enhancement in the grade — from IV to III — meant an increase in points that a player will earn winning each round in the main draw. The winner in the singles section collected 60 points while the runner-up took 45. There thus was a fair sprinkling of higher ranked juniors making the draw in both boys' and girls' sections. India's Chatwinder Singh, being ranked 173 prior to the meet took the top billing in the boys' main draw. The only other Indian making the list was local boy Rupesh Roy, who was seeded seventh.

Among the players from Asian countries who made their presence felt were the ones from Korea, Thailand and Indonesia apart from the host who were pitted against those representing Ukraine, Uzbekistan — and a few from United Kingdom. The contest in the boy's section was won by the more powerful and superior built Europeans, who outlasted the otherwise technically accomplished Asians.

The battle lines became clear in the quarter-finals itself. Indian hopes were dashed in the boys' section as the top seed Singh was humbled by unheralded Nick Cavaday of Great Britain in straight sets 6-4, 6-3. Cavaday, a 16-year-old, has all the trappings of a future champion and played a flawless game shattering the prospects of the top seed. But a bout of dysentry put paid to Cavaday's hopes as he was forced to sit out in the semifinals agains third seeded Ishmatov Gafur of Uzbekistan. This was Cavaday's second ITF junior event outside his country,but his solidity placed him an overwhelming favourite against Ishmatov, who was playing his third successive semifinal after reaching the last-four stage in the two preceeding weeks at Bangladesh.

In the other semifinals Dmytri Tolok, whose best showing at clay was reaching the quarter-finals at a meet in Yugoslavia a few months ago, made short work of Jong-Suk Ho of Korea in a gruelling three setter. The Indian challenge, save for Singh, was annihilated in the pre-quarter-finals, which saw the exit of the likes of seventh seeded Rupesh Roy, Vikas Punna and some qualifiers.

In the final Tolok took 98 minutes to overcome Ishmatov in a see-saw contest that saw the action extending till the decider. In the first set Ishmatov got broken in the third and ninth games but he overtook his opponent breaking Tolok thrice to win the set 6-4. Tolok woke up in the second set and started playing better shots forcing Ishmatov make repeated unforced errors. The Ukranian won the set to level the scores. In the decider, Tolok continued his form and played some great forehands which helped in breaking Ishmatov thrice. Tolok lost his serve only once — in the fifth game — to accomplish a great turnaround and lift the title.

In the girls' section, however, the Indian flag flew high till the final stages as third seeded Bhambri and unseeded Marutha Devi — who outclassed compatriot S. Punam Reddy in the quarter-finals — booked semifinal berths with confident wins. The semifinals put up an interesting contest seeing an India-Thailand line-up in both the matches and Bhambri met Tangphong Montinee while Marutha took on Thassha Vitayaviroj.

Bhambri defeated top seeded Montinee of Thailand 6-0, 6-3 in 65 minutes in the semifinals. The highlight of the contest was the cleverly disguised returns of Bhambri that completely left Montinee defenceless during the rallies.

In the other semifinal, Marutha Devi, whose best show before the meet was reaching the quarter-finals, lost to the eventual champion Vitayaviroj, who made short work of the former in straight sets.

Bhambri was the overwhelming favourite in the final. But a gritty show by Vitayaviroj grounded the Indian in 77 minutes — 6-4, 6-2. Unlike her superior showing against Montinee, Bhambri was clearly out of form in the final as she fumbled throughout.

The Indian bowed to the superior groundstrokes of Vitayaviroj and lost the set. The 17-year-old Thai girl used her lobbing abilities well and succeeded in offsetting the rhythm of 15-year-old Bhambri, who was playing her second ITF final. The second set also started disastrously for Bhambri as she was broken in the second game.

Vitayaviroj raced to a 3-0 lead playing powerful shots on both flanks and showed nice court coverage. Bhambri was again broken in the eigth game and Vitayaviroj wrapped up the match winning the second set 6-2. Among a host of juniors playing their first ITF, was Gayathri Krishnan. The 13-year-old daughter of Davis Cup captain Ramesh Krishnan, lost in the final round of qualifiers (quarterfinals) and was even unfortunate not to find a place in the main draw — left out in the draw of lots to decide the three lucky losers, who were drafted in to fill the places left vacant by the last minute pull out by three Italian players. With the legend accompanying his daughter, the organisers requested him to inaugurate the tournament.

The results (seedings prefixed)

Boys' singles (final): 5-Dmytri Tolok (Ukr) bt 3-Ishmatov Gafur (Uzb) 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. Semifinals: Ishmatov Gafur w/o Nick Cavaday (Gbr); Dmytri Tolok bt Jong-Guk Ho (Kor) 4-6, 6-4, 6-2. Quarter-finals Nick Cavaday bt 1-Chatwinder Singh (Ind) 6-4, 6-3; Ishmatov Gafur bi Erguden Baris (Tur) 6-1, 6-2; Dmytri Tolok bt 4-Wahyu Trijatisunu (Ind) 2-6, 6-0, 6-4; Jong-Guk Ho bt Tristan Mahon Farron (Irl) 6-2, 6-3.

Doubles (final): Wahyu Trijatisunu (Ind) & Kirati Siributwong (Tha) bt 2-Nick Cavaday & Max Jones (GBR) 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. Semifinals: Wahyu Trijatisunu & Siributwong bt 1-Vikas Punna (Ind) and Tristan Farron (Irl) 6-2, 1-6, 6-1; Nick Cavaday & Max Jones bt Rupesh Dutta & A. Dutta (Ind) 6-4, 0-6, 7-5.

Girls' singles ( final ): Thassha Vitayaviroj (Thai) bt 3-Sanaa Bhambri (Ind) 6-4, 6-2. Semifinals: Sanaa Bhambri bt 1-Tangphong Montinee (Tha) 6-0, 6-3; Thassha Vitayaviroj bt Marutha Devi (Ind) 6-4, 6-3. Quarter-finals: Tangphong Montinee bt 7-Elina Arutyunova (Uzb) 6-1, 6-0; Sanaa Bhambri bt Jung-Yoon Shin (Kor) 6-1, 6-1; Thassha Vitayaviroj bt Kate Polunina (Ukr) 6-1, 7-6, (7-4); Marutha Devi bt S. Punam Reddy (Ind) 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles (final): 2-Tangphong Montinee & Thassha Vitayaviroj (Tha) bt Sanaa Bhambri & Priyanka Parekh (Ind) 5-7, 7-6, (7-5), 6-2. Semifinals: Sanaa Bhambri & Priyanka Parekh bt Marutha Devi & Vandana Murali (Ind) 6-2, 7-6 (7-5); Montinee Tangphong & Vitayaviroj bt 4-Elena Arutyunova (Uzb) & Elena Volobueva (Rus) 6-4, 6-3.