Sekac's admirable show

K. KEERTHIVASAN

IN a country where sports such as ice-hockey and soccer are more than a passion, where tennis comes a distant third, the achievement of Slovakia's Branislav Sekac may not even get scant attention back home. But that is no reason for undermining the 22-year-old's performance. Displaying admirable staying power, Sekac masked his shortcomings smartly and braved the weather conditions to clinch his second ITF singles title, defeating David Sherwood of Great Britain 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 in the final of the $10000 Rexona-Deo ITF men's Futures tennis championship at the SDAT-Tennis Stadium in Chennai recently.

Branislav Sekac of Slovakia braved the heat of Chennai to win his second ITF singles title.-R. RAGU

The heat, combined with the humidity, took its toll on the foreigners from day one. As Prahlad Srinath observed, "it is not the heat, but the humidity" which makes one tired." They shifted the Gold Flake Open (now Tata Open) to January because of the humidity," he added. "In Slovakia it is winter time now." wailed Sekac, for whom it was the first visit to Chennai.

The first casualty to the heat was Lee Childs, the fifth seed, ranked 484 on the ATP list. Up against the reigning Asian junior champion, and wild card Sunil Kumar Sipaeya of India in the first round, Childs overpowered Sunil in the first set, only to lose the second. The Briton began to feel the heat, literally. His movements started to slacken, even late in the second set. Down 0-3 in the decider, Childs received treatment for dehydration and is packed off easily in no time by Sunil after the treatment.

Wild card entrant Sunil did not last long as he lost in the next round to Mohammed Dakki, a Morocco player, residing in France. National grasscourt champion Mustafa Ghouse cited fever and conceded the match against Yu Jr. Wang (China) in the first round. Lucky loser Kamala Kannan went down fighting to Czech's Jakub Hasek 6-7 (12-14), 6-7 (2-7).

Dutchman Fred Jr. Hemmes, the fourth seed, also conceded his first round encounter against Prahlad Srinath midway, possibly due to dehydration, after losing the first set 5-7.

By the time, the tournament reached the semifinals, the seedings went for a toss. The event received a jolt when the top seed Roberto Alvarez of Argentina, and Frenchman Jordanne Doble, the champion in the $10,000 tourney in Colombo, and the second seed here, opted out of the race citing shoulder and hamstring problems respectively.

Then it was the turn of Israel's Nir Welgreen, the third seed, to play hide and seek. He failed to turn up for his first round encounter against National hardcourt champion Vijay Kannan, who went down fighting to the eventual winner Sekac in the second round. Welgreen's place was taken by lucky loser Febi Widhiyanto of Indonesia. That is all about the withdrawals.

Jonathan Marray and David Sherwood (left) in action in the doubles final. The British pair managed to beat Rohan Bopanna and Vijay Kannan of India.-R. RAGU

None of the Indians, except Srinath, made it to the last four, which goes to show how difficult it is for the Indians to make a mark even in the 'small league'. It is just another example of where Indian tennis stands in the scheme of things. "At this stage, it is important to convert the break points," India's Davis Cup captain, Ramesh Krishnan pointed out, after seeing Rohan Bopanna, the eighth seed, bowing out to the hard-hitting qualifier Meir Deri of Israel in the pre-quarterfinals. Ramesh should have been really disappointed with the Indian's display.

But one Indian who was pleased with his display was Vishaal Uppal. Resuming after one year hiatus due to a knee injury he suffered in a tourney in Pune, Uppal said he was happy just to be there. "I am happy playing. Reaching this far is a bonus," said the 25-year-old, who lost to Sherwood in the quarterfinals. Nitin Kirtane, the only Indian to qualify for the main draw, was trounced by Meir Deri in the first round.

David Sherwood accounted for two Indians - Vishaal Uppal in the quarterfinals and Prahlad Srinath in the semifinals. The 22-year-old from Sheffield earned the tag of a whiner for his 'unsportsmanlike behaviour.' He was given a code violation for throwing the racquet in his semifinal encounter against Srinath. In fact, he was successful in changing the linesman against Uppal.

In the doubles final, Sherwood was so upset with a line call that he asked "call the referee." The ITF supervisor commented, "don't be a whiner," to which Sherwood responded, "don't be a liar."

But for all his boorish behaviour, Sherwood excelled with his serve and volley game. For reasons unknown, he did not approach the net as often as he would have loved to in the singles final. Playing well from the baseline, and serving deep, Sekac ran to a 5-3 lead in the first set tiebreaker, and the first set was his. And with a crucial break in the eighth game, Sekac served out comfortably in the next game to wrap up the contest in 100 minutes.

Sekac, a baseliner by nature, has been working with his coach Herbert Bende, who took over this January, on a variety of things. "He needs to volley more often, which is very important," said Bende. Sekac had a tough semifinal match against Jakub Hasek of Czech Republic. Those who saw the Czech play in the earlier rounds were surprised at the meek submission. His serve, his forte, let him down on crucial points.

Sekac admires Miloslav Mecir and Karol Kucera, two players who have brought laurels to Slovakia by their exploits. "Did you see Kucera play here in the Tata Open. How did he play? Did he play in the same court?," asked Sekac with all curiosity after his semifinal victory over Jakub Hasek in one of the outside courts. "Mecir was an Olympic gold medalist, and Kucera was in the top 10. They are both great players, their achievements speak for themselves. I get to practice with Kucera sometimes. I think he is one of my good friends," said Sekac. The 681-ranked Slovak dedicated the title to his father Jozef Sekac who turned 52, the next day. Sekac received $1300 and 12 ATP points, while Sherwood got $900 and 8 ATP points.

In the doubles summit clash, the Briton pair of Jonathan Marray and David Sherwood huffed and puffed to a 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (10-8) victory over the Indian pair of Rohan Bopanna and Vijay Kannan. The Indian pair was unable to convert six match points. They had three match points in the second set on Marray's serve at (5-6), and three in the third set tiebreaker at 6-4. Marray and Sherwood won their fourth title, the other three coming in Germany this year. The winner received $630, while the runner-up $330.

V. Subramanian, Regional Manager, Hindustan Lever Limited, gave away the prizes.

The results:

Singles (final): Branislav Sekac (Svk) bt David Sherwood (GBR) 7-6 (7-3), 6-3; (semifinals): Branislav Sekac bt Jakub Hasek (Cze) 7-6 (7-3), 6-4; David Sherwood bt Prahlad Srinath (Ind) 3-6, 6-1, 7-5.

Doubles (final): Jonathan Marray/ David Sherwood (G.Br) bt Rohan Bopanna and Vijay Kannan (Ind) 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (10-8); (semifinals): Jonathan Marray/Sherwood bt Hendri-Susilo Pramono/Febi Widhiyanto (Ina) 6-4, 6-4; Rohan Bopanna/Vijay Kannan bt Manoj Mahadevan/Vishal Uppal (Ind) 6-3, 6-4.