Scent of a successful pair

K. KEERTHIVASAN

Petr Pala and Michal Mertinak won the doubles title.-R. RAGU

THEY are only three tournaments old as a pair, and comparisons are already being made, opinions aired, and judgements given. Entering the 2006 Chennai Open doubles championship on a wildcard, Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj captured the hearts and minds of the spectators by reaching the final, and in the process they reminded romantics of the days of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, whose exploits at the Nungambakkam Stadium need no reminding.

Even as Rohan and Prakash reached the final, they were bombarded by questions, mostly related to Leander and Mahesh. Level-headed players that they are, Rohan and Prakash fended off such queries in a mature manner. They know how difficult it is to jell as a pair and produce results over a period of time. With singles taking up most of their time, it's difficult to expect them to win in doubles, nay even continue as a pair. Prakash says that it was not easy teaming up with Bopanna earlier because their rankings were lower. "Now with our current rankings, we can discuss and schedule," he said.

Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj finished runner-up.-VINO JOHN

The Chennai Open doubles draw was, no doubt, a weak one — Mahesh did not take part, Jonas Bjorkman skipped the event and Todd Woodbridge has retired. This is not downplaying the Indian duo's good show, but merely pointing out the facts. Moreover, the Rohan-Prakash pair received a walkover from Paradorn Srichaphan and Radek Stepanek in the quarterfinals as Srichaphan pulled out due to an injured thigh.

Nevertheless, Rohan's serve and Prakash's quickness at the net give a ray of hope that if they continue to compete as a pair they can challenge the established pairs. That's exactly what happened in the semifinal. Against second seeds Rainer Schuettler and Alexander Waske of Germany, the Indians were simply unstoppable. After losing the first set, they roared back to take the second. And in the deciding set, which is now called a match tie-break of 10 points, the German pair was leading 9-5 on Waske's serve. In a quick turnaround of fortunes, the Indians rallied splendidly and went on to win the tie-break, 11-9.

Second-seeded Rainer Schuettler (right) and Alexander Waske were shocked by Amritraj and Bopanna in the semifinal. Leading 9-5 in the match tie-break, the Germans had no idea of what hit them as the Indians won, 11-9.-R. RAGU

The Indian pair was charged up for the final as Rohan's overhead smashes and Prakash's dominance at the net initially showed. Slowly, the old habits began to creep in. Rohan's serves misfired, his free-flowing backhands and forehands sailed long, and Prakash kept dumping the volleys into the net. Soon they lost the first set winning just two games. The Indians were all set to pocket the second. Leading 5-0, the Indians didn't appear like throwing away the match. Rohan double-faulted at crucial stages of the match, and Petr Pala (Czech Republic) and Michal Mertinak (Slovakia) won the next seven games to win their maiden title.

Of course, being wildcard entrants, coming this far was a bonus for the Indian combination. But to lose from 5-0 is unpardonable. At this level, the opportunities one gets are few and far between, and one needs to capitalise on the few chances. "It has been a learning experience for us," said Rohan. "Leading 5-0, I was already thinking of the match-tiebreak," said Prakash.

Leander Paes (left) and partner Martin Damm disappointed, losing in the second round.-VINO JOHN

Leander, who was critical of the new rule changes in doubles saying it's a lottery, lost in the second round. Paes partnered Martin Damm of Czech Republic, and the top-seeds lost to eventual champions Pala and Mertinak.

The result: Final: Petr Pala (Czech Republic) and Michal Mertinak (Slovakia) bt Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna (India) 6-2, 7-5.