Success at last

Singles winners... Ashutosh Singh and Isha Lakhani (below).-SANDEEP SAXENA Singles winners... Ashutosh Singh and Isha Lakhani (below).

His maiden National title should boost Ashutosh Singh’s confidence and help him realise his potential, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Ashutosh Singh, 25, displayed maturity and a fine all-round game to win his maiden title in the DSCL National Tennis Championship in Delhi recently.

There has never been any doubt about the abilities of Ashutosh, who had entered the final of the National Championship at the same venue two years ago. He then went down in four sets to Sunil Kumar, the child prodigy who had won the National title as a 16-year-old in 1999. Son of coach Balram Singh, from whom he apparently learnt the art of staying calm even under pressure, Ashutosh has given glimpses of his talent on the professional tour. He has won doubles events on the international circuit, but in the singles, he has not been able to harness his talent, with his best performance coming in the ITF Futures tournament at home recently where he entered the final but lost to the Chinese Davis Cup player Sun Peng.

In tennis, a player needs to keep the initiative with his serves, constantly probing his opponents during his service games.

This is exactly what Ashutosh did on way to winning the National crown, a title that is bound to boost his confidence and help him realise his potential. He served like a champion throughout the tournament, though he was not as forceful as one would have liked him to be in the final against the left-handed Prajnesh Gunneswaran. The match, strangely, witnessed only one service break.

Ashutosh came up with the right shots most of the time to keep the youngsters at bay. He played remarkably well to halt Yuki Bhambri, who had beaten the likes of Vivek Shokeen and Tushar Liberhan. Ashutosh served big, packed a lot of punch in his strokes and moved gracefully, making it all look like a simple exercise. Above all, he was fully focussed.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran, a youngster groomed by coach M. Balachandran over the last few years, has gained from his recent stint in Spain with coach Jonathan Stubbs. The 17-year-old was the best junior on view as he beat the likes of Vishnu Vardhan, Vinod Sridhar and Navdeep Singh with a compact game and intense approach. Navdeep in particular was brimming with confidence after having qualified for the main draw of the ATP Tour event in Mumbai the previous week, but Prajnesh was not weighed down by the reputation of his opponent.

SANDEEP SAXENA

In the final against Ashutosh, had Prajnesh played the second set tie-break better, it could have been a different story. A pity that the organisers reduced this year’s final from best of five sets to best of three.

The under-18 final was a cakewalk for Prajnesh, who smashed his way past the top seed, Vijayant Malik. He was far too fluent to let the strong Chandigarh lad gain a foothold in the match.

In contrast, the matches in the women’s section lacked the firepower as the youngsters were unable to make much of an impact. Isha Lakhani claimed her fourth National hardcourt women’s title, defeating Rushmi Chakravarthi in straight sets. In fact, it was the gutsy left-hander’s third successive singles title in the championship.

In the limelight... Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Prateek Bhambri (below), who won the boys’ under-18 and under-16 titles respectively.-SANDEEP SAXENA

In the limelight...

Unfortunately, the Mumbai player has not been able to taste similar success in the international circuit.

If Prajnesh and Yuki were in the limelight in the first week, Yuki’s cousin Prateek Bhambri took the centre stage with his explosive game in the second week of the most prestigious domestic tournament. He won the boys’ under-16 title, defeating Shiva Sangwan in straight sets.

S. SUBRAMANIUM

“His strokes are much better than Yuki’s. Prateek, however, needs to mature mentally so as to do justice to his potential. We have been impressing upon him the importance of maintaining a certain standard through the match,” said coach Aditya Sachdeva, who has done a good job in grooming a handful of youngsters. Ratnika Batra, who also trains with Sachdeva, won the girls’ under-16 and under-14 titles. She displayed good stamina and court craft.

Mohit Mayur, the bespectacled, wiry lad from Chennai, underlined his strong will by winning a series of tough matches before defeating the top-seed, Rohit Bisht, in straight sets for the boys’ under-14 crown.

Men’s final: Ashutosh Singh bt Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-4, 7-6 (4). Doubles final: Vinod Sridhar & Vishnu Vardhan bt Vivek Shokeen & Ashutosh Singh 6-4, 3-6, 11-9.

Women’s final: Isha Lakhani bt Rushmi Chakravarthi 6-3, 6-1. Doubles final: Rushmi Chakravarthi & Isha Lakhani bt Sanaa Bhambri & Sonal Phadke 7-5, 6-1.

Boys under-18 final: Prajnesh Gunneswaran bt Vijayant Malik 6-3, 6-2. Doubles final: Vijayant Malik & Kinshuk Sharma bt Prateek Bhambri & Ankit Sachdeva 4-6, 6-4, 10-5.

Girls under-18 final: Kelsey Sundaram bt Tanvi Shah 7-5, 6-4. Doubles final: Shivika Burman & Tanvi Shah bt Grace Hannah & V. Archana 7-6 (4), 6-2.

Boys under-16 final: Prateek Bhambri bt Shiva Sangwan 6-2, 6-0. Doubles final: Rohit Bisht & Saurabh Singh bt Shahbaaz Khan & S. V. Abhishek 6-3, 5-7, 12-10.

Girls under-16 final: Ratnika Batra bt Ankita Raina 6-4, 6-3. Doubles final: Prerna Bhambri & Gopika Kapoor bt Nimisha Mohan & Arushi Sharma 6-4, 6-2.

Boys under-14 final: Mohit Mayur bt Rohit Bisht 7-6 (7), 6-4. Doubles final: Ronit Bisht & Digvijay Singh bt R. Ramkumar & Rakshay Thakkar 6-1, 6-1.

Girls under-14 final: Ratnika Batra bt Natasha Palha 6-4, 6-4. Doubles final: Vaidehi Bhagwat & Prarthana Thombre bt B. Sowjanya & C. H. Nidhi 6-2, 1-6, 10-5.