THERE are two ways to look at the way Indian juniors are shaping up, especially in the girls' section.
Last year Isha Lakhani swept all but one title on the sub-continental tour of ITF Junior tennis circuit. This year, Sanaa Bhambri had three chances but struck only one trophy. Has the standard of Indian juniors come down? Certainly not. They are improving by the day, as it is India, as a tennis destination, has gained a lot. More and more better ranked foreign juniors are making their way in here to earn a good chunk of ITF points on offer.
On its last stop in India, the ITF junior tennis caravan was in Chandigarh. The weather was perfect throughout the week and so was the Indian camp as Sanaa Bhambri and Somdev Dev Varman swept the singles titles.
The Chennai-based Somdev Dev Varman had already tasted success in the previous week in Delhi, and he repeated it in Chandigarh though his win in the final came without much of a toil.
There are a few issues over which none has control. When on a seven-week-long tour and that too in three different countries, it is imperative that the players keep strict diet regimen. Then there is a lure to participate in better-rated tournaments which are posted immediately. Owing to a few such issues, there were three matches which could not lead to the logical end. Also, there were two walkovers, including the girls doubles final.
For the second seeded Somdev Dev Varman, the route to the final was strewn with tough hurdles. First he overcame Tristan Mahon-Farron of Israel and then edged past an interesting Uzbek talent, qualifier Eduard Khan, to make it to the quarterfinals. Somdev had a tough first set against Briton Nicholas Cavaday before he made it look so easy.
Playing against a local favourite is always a tough job. The third seeded Chatwinder Singh gave enough jitters to Somdev as he breezed through the first set 6-2 in the semifinal contest. Drawing from his recent international exposure, Somdev made brilliant rally evened the scores and won the decider in which both played some excellent tennis. If Somdev was good in his groundstrokes, Chatwinder showed equal ability in retrieving balls from hopeless situations.
In the top half, no. 1 seeded Karan Rastogi, despite having a relatively easy draw, struggled. After a 6-3, 6-2, win over Barbash Lior of Israel, fellow Indian Divij Sharan took him to task in the second round. This season had been difficult for Karan in many ways. Besides failing to win any title, Karan has had to labour hard for his wins in the initial rounds too.
Divij gave a wake up call to Karan by snatching the first set 6-4, and then after a long-drawn battle lasting two hours and 26 minutes, Karan won the next two sets, 6-3, 6-4. The Indian then got a reprieve as his quarterfinal opponent, Max Jones of Britain, conceded the match due to `injury'. But the fourth seeded Dmytri Tolok of Ukraine was a different customer altogether.
Firing aces at will, Tolok gave Karan very little leeway and won 6-4, 6-1 in a jiffy. But Tolok was not up to the mark, `healthwise', to play the final against Somdev. He conceded the match while being 2-1 up, bringing a dour end to the boys' event.
The girls' event was equally competitive, and thankfully, no matches were conceded but for one stage-managed act.
The good part of it was that Sanaa finally broke the jinx of remaining runner-up. And, like Somdev, Sanaa also had to toil throughout to earn her maiden ITF trophy. Elena Volobueva of Russia had almost given Sanaa a scare by stretching her to 6-4, 6-7(5-7), 6-3 in the first round.
This title should give her immense confidence as she met no Indians on her way to the trophy. It was Polish Klaudyna Kasztelaniec in the second round, fifth seeded Taiwanese Hsu Wen-Hsin in the quarterfinals and Israeli Yana Nemerovski in the semis.
In the final against Thassha Vitayaviroj, Sanaa derived from experience to beat the powerful Thai girl. Sanaa had suffered a loss against the same opponent in the Kolkata final. Initially, Thassha gave an impression that her powerful returns would carry her through. But Sanaa was prepared, rallying soon after Thassha would take the lead. The first set went to the tie-breaker, which Sanaa won 7-5.
Eventually, it boiled down to who had the cool nerves. Sanaa showed no outbursts even when a few line calls went against her, while Thassha took it otherwise. Silly mistakes crept into her game and Thassha lost the second rather too easily.The results:
Boys singles (final): 2-Somdev Dev Varman bt 4-Dmytri Tolok (Ukr) 1-2 conceded. Semifinals: Somdev Dev Varman bt 3-Chatwinder Singh 2-6, 6-3, 6-4; Dmytri Tolok bt 1-Karan Rastogi 6-4, 6-1. Quarterfinals: Somdev Dev Varman bt Nicholas Cavaday (Gbr) 7-5, 6-0; Dmytri Tolok bt Sanam K. Singh 4-6, 6-1, 6-1; Chatwinder Singh bt Vijay Sunder Natarajan 6-3, 6-3; Karan Rastogi bt Max Jones (Gbr) 3-2 conceded.
Doubles (final): 3-Jamie Murray (Gbr) and Vikas Punna bt Chatwinder Singh and Dominic Inglot (Gbr) 7-5, 2-6, 6-3. Semifinals: Jamie Murray and Vikas Punna w.o. 1-Nicholas Cavaday (Gbr) and Max Jones (Gbr); Chatwinder Singh and Dominic Inglot bt Hezi Ravid (Isr) and Amir Weintaub (Isr) 6-3, 6-3.
Girls singles (final): 3-Sanaa Bhambri bt 4-Thassha Vitayaviroj (Tha) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. Semifinals: Sanaa Bhambri bt 7-Yana Nemerovski (Isr) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (12-10); Thassha Vitayaviroj bt 1-Montineee Tangphong (Tha) 6-4, 6-4. Quarterfinals: Sanaa Bhambri bt 5-Hsu Wen-Hsin (Tpe) 6-1, 6-0; Thassha Vitayaviroj bt Parul Goswami 6-2, 6-0; Montinee Tangphong bt 8-Anastasia Zhukova (Rus) 6-2, 6-1; Yana Nemerovski bt Iryana Tsymbal (Ukr) 6-0, 6-1.
Doubles (final): Efrat Zlotikman (Isr) and Yana Nemerovski (Isr) w.o 4-Shin Jung-Yoon (Kor) and Anastasia Zhukova (Rus). Semifinals: Efrat Zlotikman and Yana Nemerovski bt Hsu Wen-Hsin (Tpe) and Hwang I-Husan (Tpe) 6-4, 6-4; Shin Jung-Yoon and Anastasia Zhukova bt 2-Jennifer Debodt (Bel) and Danniela Cohan (Isr) 6-1, 3-0 (40-40) conceded.