Sania to the fore

Egged on by a huge Indian presence, Sania Mirza overpowered top seed Julie Coin of France 7-6 (5), 6-4 to win the $50,000 International Tennis Federation (ITF) Lexington Challenger.

It was second-seeded Sania’s only second Challenger tournament in six years as she prepares for the year’s last Grand Slam, the U.S. Open, in August. Sania’s last Challenger was way back in 2003.

The boisterous Indian fans, in the largest paid attendance for the Challenger here, encouraged the 22-year-old Hyderabadi in coming good on big points to edge past her 62nd-ranked opponent.

“For the record turn-out, we owe in no small measure to Mirza’s talent, her celebrity status and the passionate fans from her homeland — students from the University of Kentucky and fans from central Kentucky — who came out to cheer her on,” said the organisers.

The two former top 30-players traded breaks twice to force a first set tie-breaker with Coin racing to a 5-2 lead. But Sania fought back to reel off four points to take the first set. The 83rd-ranked Indian began the second set by dropping her serve in the very first game, but broke back in the fourth and was serving for the match in the ninth. But Coin rallied from 0-30 to break Sania’s serve again. However, Sania broke back immediately to win the set and the match.

* * * Massa shows signs of improvement

Injured Formula One driver Felipe Massa can now communicate “actively” and is able to move his hands and legs, a Hungarian Defence Ministry spokesman said.

The Brazilian, who fractured his skull in an accident during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix on July 25, is waking up from sedation more and more frequently. Spokesman Istvan Bocskai told Hungarian television that Massa, whose wife is expectin g their first child, spent the night calmly and an ultrasound examination carried out in the past hours was “reassuring”.

Massa would also have another brain scan, Bocskai added.

“He’s woken up (from sedation) more and more often now and he’s able to communicate actively, that is, he reacts when he’s talked to. We are optimistic, in our hope a slow recovery is beginning.”

Bocskai said Massa could move his hands and legs, signs that his brain likely suffered no particular damage, but doctors were not at the stage where they could be totally sure of that.

Last year’s championship runner-up was flown to hospital after being hit on the head by a bouncing spring, weighing almost a kilo, that broke free from compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car.

A Defence Ministry official had said on July 25 the driver had been in a “serious, life-threatening condition” before an emergency operation.

The accident, which is likely to rule Massa out of the next few races, brought back grim memories of the crash that killed compatriot and triple world champion Ayrton Senna at Imola in 1994 and led to renewed concerns about safety in Formula One.

Earlier, Formula One’s commercial ring-master Bernie Ecclestone also visited the hospital to see Massa. Afterwards, he said: “We thought we had gone through all of these kinds of problems. I have spoken to Sid Watkins (the sport’s chief safety consultant and former chief medical officer) and he’s looking into it.”

The sport’s ruling body, the FIA, confirmed they will launch an investigation into the accident together with the Brawn team.