The signs are encouraging

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

INDIAN tennis seems to be at a traffic signal. The good sign is that the signal is green.

Vinod Sridhar, the left-hander, proved his class.-SANDEEP SAXENA

It may be tough to find another Leander Paes, a Mahesh Bhupathi or a Nirupama Vaidyanathan, in the immediate future but there is no doubt that Indian tennis is moving ahead, maybe a little slower than what we may desire.

The fact that Rohan Bopanna, Vishaal Uppal, Harsh Mankad, Rushmi Chakravarti, Sai Jayalakshmy and Sania Mirza opted to focus on the international tournaments rather than prove their worth in the DSCL National tennis championship was indeed a positive sign.

The top players like Leander, Mahesh, Nirupama and Manisha Malhotra had long stopped paying attention to the national championship as they realised that it was important to save all the energy for international assignments that were a lot more rewarding.

Isha Lakhani revelled in the national, winning the women's singles, doubles and the junior singles titles.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Last year's runner-up of the national championship, Rohan Bopanna has moved ahead into the elite league, and did well to make the final of the Asian Championship in Tashkent. However, the champion of the last edition, Vijay Kannan could not cross the quarterfinals this time.

It only showed that doing well or badly in the national championship did not have much influence on one's international career.

Yet, there was no denying the fact that the national championship played a big role in building careers, and winning the title can be a stepping stone to bigger achievements.

There was hope in the powerful serve and volley game of Mustafa Ghouse, but it was left-hander Vinod Sridhar with a steely determination, who won the title.

Mustafa, the former national grasscourt champion, can hope that he can follow the footsteps of Bopanna, especially in the light of the fact that he won the doubles bronze with Vishaal Uppal in the Asian Games. On the other hand, Vinod can aspire to follow the footsteps of Sunil Kumar who has blossomed into a better player after having won the national title when he was 16.

It is the safe game that seems to be getting the national titles, and that is not a good sign for sure. But, it has to be conceded that the players with the big game need to play error-free, perhaps with better mental and physical preparation, to take Indian tennis to the next step. Perfection comes with confidence, and confidence comes from perfection. Most of the Indian players do not know where to start, and they will do well with a better dose of self-belief. It is a combination of perfection of skill, nurtured through hours of hard training, along with mental toughness that would help the player to reach his potential.

It was Vinod's belief in his ability that fetched him wins against the defending champion Vijay Kannan, who was returning from a wrist injury, and the national junior champion Somdev Dev Varman.

Obviously, Vinod stuck to the basics, concentrated on each point, and played with a lot of intelligence to get past players with better ability.

R. Arun Prakash had a great run in the junior singles.-SANDEEP SAXENA

In comparison, there is no doubt about the big game of Mustafa. The Mumbai lad who gives himself a lot of international exposure around the world is taking a little more time than expected to mature into a quality player, but there is no doubt that he is on the right track, and need not get disheartened with the reversal.

In fact, as in the case of Bopanna, Mustafa can also hope to break into the next league by the time the national championship comes around next season. He may be another player who would have got through the green signal at the junction.

From that angle, it was indeed a good sign in the women's section that Isha Lakhani was able to pull through despite being unseeded. The absence of Rushmi and Sai did help, but there was no taking away the credit from the 17-year-old Isha, who beat Sonal Phadke in a quality final.

Coach Sandeep Kirtane, who gave a harrowing time to Mustafa in two tie-breaks in the men's section, was pleased that his wards Sonal and Isha provided a good contest.

The only way that the Indian women would be able to raise above their standard is by playing a lot of quality matches on a more regular basis. A lot of study requires to be done to improve the results of the Indian girls, who are working hard and trying their best.

Isha can be proud of her women's title, as she beat a string of good players like Priyanka Parekh, eighth-seeded Archana Venkataraman, the second-seeded Radhika Tulpule, the fourth-seeded Ankita Bhambri before beating the third-seeded Sonal.

Each one of them was a good player though all those matches did not generate into tough contests. Isha has to fight her way past some and blew away some with the intense play.

Doubles champions: Front row (l to r):Ragini Vimal & Priyanka Parekh; Isha Lakhani & Sonal Phadke; Shruti Dhawan & Ajay Ramaswamy (extreme right back row); Back row (l to r): Tushar Liberhan & Divij Sharan; Nitin Kirtane - Saurav Panja not in pix.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Isha has the heart of a champion though her small frame may not help her much at the international level. All the same she is one player who plays beyond her potential, and that is a big achievement in itself, as most of the others are underachievers.

Players like Sonal, Shruti and Ankita with better attributes will have to tune their thought-process to play a lot better than what they are managing at the moment. Of course, Ankita plays a lot more freely than the other two, but she is one player who can leave a lot of them behind in the race, and run on par with Sania Mirza in the international arena.

The top-seeded Sheethal Goutham was below par and lost to her doubles partner Shruti in three sets. She lost the doubles as well, and wound up without a title.

Radhika played two tournaments in Egypt before the national championship, but was slightly below her best in letting Isha overpower her in the third set, after she had saved three matchpoints in the second set.

In the junior section, Lata Assudani took a set off Isha in the semifinals, but the latter bounced back so well to win 12 of the next 15 games. Isha was easily a cut above the rest in the junior field, and dropped only seven games in the four other matches.

In the junior boys section, R. Arun Prakash was a class act in retaining his crown. It was indeed a very competitive field with players like Amanjot Singh, Chatwinder Singh, Tushar Liberhan, Somdev Dev Varman and Nihal Advani, but the Krishnan Centre trainee from Chennai Arun overcame the hurdles with a touch of class.

Being supported by the Tamil Nadu Academy for Tennis Excellence (TATE), Arun has the backing to tune his game better and the exposure should make him a better player soon. He has a sharp tennis brain, and a delightful serve and volley game. If he works on his movement on court, and retains an aggressive attitude rather than a laid-back approach like Vijay Kannan, Arun can indeed go a long way.

Like Somdev, Parantap Chaturvedi played long matches in the men's and junior sections. His determined play did tease his opponents, and Parantap gave a nightmare to Kedar Tembe in the men's section after the latter had put out the national grasscourt champion Manoj Mahadevan in straight sets.

In all, it was an interesting championship, that was once again conducted with considerable pride by the organisers.

It may not be immediately visible, but the DSCL National championships forms a vital cog in the Indian tennis wheel.

The champions are bound to march on, not come back to prove their worth all over again. Yet, if someone like Nitin Kirtane who has 12 national titles, including three singles titles, and five doubles titles with Saurav Panja, comes back to prove a point, let us admire his courage.

In the same breath, why someone like Sunil Kumar who caught everyone's imagination at 16 by winning the national title, opted to concede his match without so much as a medical advice in the third set against Kamala Kannan in the second round. Sunil returned to play the doubles within an hour or so, and that match went into three sets.

Somewhere down the line, people have not got their basics right, despite all the international exposure. That is a dangerous sign indeed. It is like jumping the signal, when it is red.

Half-hearted measure will not take any of us anywhere. Never mind, whether the signal is green or red.

The results :

Men (final) : Vinod Sridhar bt Mustafa Ghouse 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-1, 6-1; Semifinals : Vinod Sridhar bt Somdev Dev Varman 6-0, 6-7 (2-7), 6-2; Mustafa Ghouse bt Nitin Kirtane 7-5, 6-4; Quarterfinals : Somdev Dev Varman bt Kamala Kannan 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; Vinod Sridhar bt Vijay Kannan 6-4, 6-1; Mustafa Ghouse bt Ajay Ramaswamy 6-3, 6-3; NItin Kirtane bt Kedar Tembe 6-4, 6-1.

Doubles (final) : Nitin Kirtane and Saurav Panja bt Rohan Gajjar and Ajay Ramaswamy 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-4; Semifinals : Nitin Kirtane and Saurav Panja bt Sandeep Kirtane and Vijay Kannan 6-2, 5-7, 7-5; Rohan Gajjar and Ajay Ramaswamy bt Kamala Kannan and Manoj Mahadevan 6-3 (conceded).

Women (final) : Isha Lakhani bt Sonal Phadke 6-3, 7-6 (7-2); Semifinals : Sonal Phadke bt Shruti Dhawan 7-6 (8-6), 6-3; Isha Lakhani bt Ankita Bhambri 6-3, 7-5; Quarterfinals : Shruti Dhawan bt Sheethal Goutham 5-7, 6-4, 6-2; Sonal Phadke bt Liza Pereira 6-3, 6-3; Ankita Bhambri bt Geeta Manohar 6-3, 6-0; Isha Lakhani bt Radhika Tulpule 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-1.

Doubles (final) : Isha Lakhani and Sonal Phadke bt Ankita Bhambri and Radhika Tulpule 1-6, 6-4, 6-4; Semifinals : Ankita Bhambri and Radhika Tulpule bt Lata Assudani and Preeti Rao 7-5, 6-0; Isha Lakhani and Sonal Phadke bt Shruti Dhawan and Sheethal Goutham 6-3, 6-2.

Mixed doubles (final) : Shruti Dhawan and Ajay Ramaswamy bt Radhika Tulpule and Sandeep Kirtane 7-5, 3-6, 6-3; Semifinals : Shruti Dhawan and Ajay Ramaswamy bt Sonal Phadke and Sunil Kumar 6-3, 4-6, 6-2; Radhika Tulpule and Sandeep Kirtane bt Sheethal Goutham and Nitin Kirtane 6-3, 6-2.

Junior boys (final) : R. Arun Prakash bt Amanjot Singh 6-2, 7-6 (7-5); Semifinals : Arun Prakash bt Parantap Chaturvedi 6-3, 6-3; Amanjot Singh bt Chatwinder Singh 6-1, 6-4; Quarterfinals : Parantap Chaturvedi bt Rupesh Roy 4-6, 6-2, 6-2; Arun Prakash bt Tushar Liberhan 6-2, 6-2; Amanjot Singh bt Wrik Ganguly 6-1, 6-3; Chatwinder Singh bt Divij Sharan 6-4, 1-6, 6-0.

Doubles (final) : Divij Sharan and Tushar Liberhan bt Amanjot Singh and Saurabh Singh 7-6 (8-6), 6-3; Semifinals : Divij Sharan and Tushar Liberhan bt Saurabh Kohli and Somdev Dev Varman 3-6, 6-3, 6-2; Amanjot Singh and Saurabh Singh bt V. M. Ranjeeth and Chatvinder Singh 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 6-0.

Junior girls (final) : Isha Lakhani bt Sasha Abraham 6-1, 6-3; Semifinals : Isha Lakhani bt Lata Assudani 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-0; Sasha Abraham bt Poonam Reddy 6-0, 6-3; Quarterfinals : Isha Lakhani bt Iciri Rai 6-0, 6-2; Lata Assudani bt Priyanka Parekh 6-1, 6-0; Sasha Abraham bt Kamini Murugaboopathy 7-5, 6-0; Poonam Reddy bt Madura Ranganathan 6-1, 6-4.

Doubles (final) : Ragini Vimal and Priyanka Parekh bt Sharanya Pattabi and Nivedita Venkatesh 6-1, 6-4; Semifinals : Sharanya Pattabi and Nivedita Venkatesh bt Priyanka Mehta and Madura Ranganathan 6-4, 7-6 (7-2); Ragini Vimal and Priyanka Parekh bt Kamini Murugaboopathy and Sandra Sasidharan 3-6, 6-4, 7-5.