Srinath brimming with confidence

Published : Nov 17, 2001 00:00 IST


PRAHLAD SRINATH does not read too much into his haul of titles in the first two legs of the $10,000 International Tennis Federation's men's Futures circuit in India. He views the achievement as a sign that his body is ready for more competitive play after being forced to skip a major chunk of last season due to a leg injury, - stress fracture of his right foot. The 28-year-old Mysore native, now looking at Cleveland in the United States as a tennis base, worked his way up after starting out as an unseeded player in both Mumbai and Indore legs. "I can now go back to the States, go back to my coach Arun Jetley and try to get into bigger tournaments. The competition there is so high, even training partners at club level are so good, that my tennis can only get better."

He won the men's singles and doubles in the first leg played on the hard courts of Dr. G. A. Ranade courts, repeated the feat a week later on clay at Yeshwant Club. "I am not bothered not been given a seeding, nor do I think too much about the fact that I have won tournaments from that point. It is just that I have not played enough to gain the ATP points needed for a ranking," observed Srinath, expressing relief that his healed right leg withstood the strain of two weeks of constant tennis on hardcourt and clay. "Winning is not such a great thing, the standard in this Futures is not as tough as before when I was playing. The cutoff for rankings then was in the range of 480-500. I am more relieved than happy that the pain in my leg is gone, which over the last few months would usually get worse the more I trained."

The Indian owes his recovery to an unconventional treatment method called 'Jag therapy' under Dr. Jagdish in Mysore. "I was lucky to be in Mysore when Dr. Jagdish was around, he is very busy flying all over the world in response to calls from affected people. His treatment is manipulative, he did not touch the injured part but worked on the nerves linked to that area, massaging with ayurvedic oils. The pain went away after five days, amazing considering that I had tried all sorts of normal treatment, including expert medical advice and scans in the United States," said Srinath, an Indian Oil employee who follows diet regulation and has been off milk and diary products as per Dr. Jagdish's advice.

Israel's Eyal Erlich (ranked 720th) and Uzbeki Anton Kokurin (520th) were the top seeds respectively in the Mumbai and Indore tournaments. The Israeli was outclassed in the first leg semifinals. "Erlich was my toughest opponent in the first leg," said Srinath (1053), then going on to outclass young Rohan Bopanna, noted for his serving ability, in a rather one-sided singles final. "I like playing the big servers because they get rattled once you start returning well. I am also working at making my game more attacking, especially my serving." The singles champion had already won the doubles, with Ajay Ramaswamy as partner.

The Indore leg saw him defeating the 893rd ranked Mustafa Ghouse (the fourth-seed and a member of India's Davis Cup squad which played the United States in a World Cup tie) in the semifinal and Bopanna again in the final over two sets of tie-breakers. Four titles out of four final matches (the Srinath/Ramaswamy pair repeated their doubles triumph at Indore) is an impressive record for a 28-year-old looking to extend a pro career. The 48 ATP points (12 points per win) in his collection after two legs, plus 3230 dollars (singles $1300, doubles $ 315 per tournament) will come in handy.

Bopanna, admitting to suffering the 'first final' jitters at Mumbai, is just learning to cope with the demands of international circuit. The 21-year-old from Bangalore, clearly overawed by the occasion when playing the first Futures final of his career at Mumbai, is getting a feel of pressure in big-match situations. Gaining a headstart over the others due to size and natural serving ability, the manner in which he analysed his shortcomings and adjusted to the surface switch from hard court to clay is a sign of a stayer, not a meteor. "I was not mentally ready for a Futures final at Mumbai. The second week at Indore was tougher, a pulled stomach muscle giving me pain when tossing up. I was content on just playing out this week without worsening the problem, so was under no pressure to perform."

A tough first round opponent in Erlich, a tricky court made very slippery by overuse contributed to Bopanna approaching the match with the feeling of the odds stacked against him. "After losing the first set, my mind was elsewhere, thinking about ways of getting fit for next month's Futures events in Thailand and Australia. A fall on the court gave me a stiff neck, then Erlich lost the second set, forcing me to wonder about going all out in the decider having come this far against him," recollected Bopanna, who demolished the Israeli in the third set 6-3. The kickstart put this Bangalore bomber into high gear, the next three opponents just blown away by brutal serves and lethal strokeplay.

Wildcard Sunil Kumar Sipaeya swished his racquet at the ball in vain as aces whizzed past, qualifier Vijayendra Laad was brushed aside and then by the time wildcard Ramaswamy faced him in the semifinal, a very confident Bopanna was ready to take on anyone. Srinath of course proved beyond reach in the final, both sets going into the tie-breaker, but the youngster can take heart from the fact that he can only get better by learning to take a few hard knocks. "My serve was not good enough to win two tie-breakers," he said, analysing the Indore final performance. A frustrating, though fruitful fortnight for him, after two second place finishes in back-to-back Futures events ($ 900, eight ATP points in each).

Bopanna came into the Futures with a stomach muscle pull hampering him when tossing the ball up, a key factor in serving, but the 21-year-old bore the discomfort in the Mumbai leg. He lost in doubles first round at Indore and when the pain came back at Indore, despite pain-killers, apart from a stiff neck after a fall when playing Erlich on one of the overused Yeshwant club clay courts, motivation was low. "I was so frustrated at one point, that I forgot all about winning and just focussed on playing out the second week at Indore."

A first set loss to Erlich soon turned to victory as the angry Israeli found the match drifting away from him. The turnaround gave the Indian hopes of stretching his luck and form. "A brand new court for the semifinal against Ajay Ramaswamy, less slippery than the one against Erlich, helped me get into a better frame of mind. The muscle pain was also under control," said Bopanna, a student of Bangalore's Mahavir Jain College and sponsored by Nutrine, who just benumbed his rival with brutal serves and aggressive strokeplay.

The Srinath/Ramaswamy combination monopolised the doubles competition in both legs, their approach unaffected by the switch from Mumbai hardcourts to Indore clay. Srinath's compact percentage game and Ramaswamy's deft touch at the net proved to be an unbeatable combination. Since India's most successful Futures pair plan to return to the United States later this year, more opportunities against quality opposition may come their way. Among the other doubles pairs, Nitin Kirtane reached the Mumbai semifinals partnering cousin Sandeep Kirtane, then teamed up with Sunil Kumar Sipaeya to reach the Indore final.

The two Futures legs also burried speculations about India being a security risk for foreigners, mainly from America and Europe, after the September 11 attacks in the U.S. Though a major chunk of foreign entries were from Israel and former Soviet republics, representation from countries like United States (Billy Wilkinson), Australia (Jurel Stasiak), South Africa (Ciaran Moore), Hungary (Roger Krajcovic) may help remove misconceptions about India being a danger zone, atleast on the international tennis circuit. Mandatory security personnel were present at the venue in Mumbai and Indore, but there was no restriction on players movements.

Uzbekistan's Anton Kokurin, who flew into Indore after skipping the Mumbai leg due to Futures engagements back home, summed up the situation best. "I flew in from Uzbekistan after playing a Futures at Tashkent and have faced no problems in Indore of the kind imagined in the Western world. Conditions in India are normal. In fact, after the India events, I am scheduled to fly to London to play Futures there. That is causing me more worry," he said, laughing away the fear in the minds of the English cricketers set to come here. "There is more danger to the England cricket team in England than playing in India."

The Mumbai leg was organised by the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association, also the sponsor. The Indore leg was organised by the Madhya Pradesh Tennis Association, sponsored by Enbee Advantage with hosts Yeshwant Club as the co-sponsor. Nitin Kannamwar was the ITF supervisor for both legs.

The results (Indian unless specified):Mumbai leg:

Men's singles final: 7-Prahlad Srinath bt Rohan Bopanna 6-3, 6-4. Semifinals: P. Srinath bt 1-Erlich Eyal (Israel) 4-6, 6-3, 6-3; R. Bopanna bt Ajay Ramaswamy 7-6 (5), 7-6 (6).

Men's doubles final: P. Srinath/A. Ramaswamy bt R. Bopanna/Vijay Kannan 6-4, 6-4; Semifinals: P. Srinath/A. Ramaswamy bt Nitin Kirtane/Sandeep Kirtane 7-6 (5), 6-3; R. Bopanna/V. Kannan bt Deri Meir/Eliran Dooyev (Isr) 6-3, 6-4.

Indore leg

Men's singles final: P. Srinath bt R. Bopanna 7-6 (4), 7-6 (2). Semifinals: P. Srinath bt 4-Mustafa Ghouse 7-6 (4), 6-3; R. Bopanna bt A. Ramaswamy 6-4, 7-5.

Men's doubles final: P. Srinath/A. Ramaswamy bt N. Kirtane/Sunil Kumar Sipaeya 6-3, 6-0. Semifinals: P. Srinath/A. Ramaswamy bt Tomas Janda/Tomas Hladil (Czech Republic) 6-4, 7-5; N. Kirtane/S. K. Sipaeya bt Manoj Mahadevan/Rishi Sridhar 6-4, 6-4.

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