There’s plenty of room for optimism

Vijay Kannan … a worthy winner against Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan in the final of ITF Futures in Chennai.-R. RAGU

Indian tennis appears to be on a high with Davis Cup players such as Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna performing well around the world. In this context, the modest performances of the next rung of players in the Futures mattered little, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Vijay Kannan …

Indian men’s tennis has not looked so strong in a long time. The boys may have won only one of the three singles titles in the ITF Futures tournaments recently at home, but the Davis Cup players, Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna, and not to forget Karan Rastogi, have been doing very well around the world.

Prakash, 23, emulated Leander Paes’ achievement of making the quarterfinals of an ATP Tour event, after nearly a decade, by emerging from the qualifiers at Newport, Rhode Island. This, coming on the heels of his sweep of the three Futures singles titles at home, was great progress by Prakash.

Prakash then went on to reach the semifinals of a Challenger at Aptos (California). He, however, isn’t sure of his entry into the US Open qualifying event.

Rohan Bopanna, on the other hand, looks certain to play in the US Open qualifiers, and possibly enter the main draw of the doubles with a quality partner following his overwhelming success in a string of Challengers. There is no doubt that the 27-year-old from Coorg is a big game player and capable of breaking into the top-50 in the world. However, Bopanna has always struggled to put the pieces together and build on his strong game. But playing in the European circuit, he has displayed tremendous fitness and confidence, which has given his career a big boost. He could soon be playing doubles with the 10-time Grand Slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi in an ATP Tour event in China.

Following a double crown at the Dublin Challenger, where he won his maiden Challenger singles title, Bopanna attained his career-best ranking in singles (213) and doubles (89). This was some sort of a consolation for Bopanna, who went down 17-19 in the third set against Wesley Moodie of South Africa in the first round of the qualifiers at Wimbledon.

Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj (below) have been performing well in circuits around the world.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Bopanna beat his doubles partner, Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan, in the quarterfinals of the Manchester Challenger (on grass, July 16-22) and went on to make the quarterfinals of the Nottingham Challenger the following week. He took everyone’s breath away by winning four Challenger doubles titles from five finals in as many weeks, possibly setting himself up for more in the subsequent weeks.

Karan Rastogi could not match the deeds of his more versatile compatriots, but the 20-year-old Mumbaikar contributed to the overall success by winning a Futures title on clay in Morocco.

It came as a big relief for him after enduring three losses in the final to Prakash.

With Somdev Dev Varman winning the prestigious NCAA singles title in the US to announce his readiness for the professional circuit — he would, however, stay back in college for another year to sharpen his game further — Indian tennis appeared to be on a high.

In such a healthy scenario, it actually did not matter that the lesser lights could not maintain the trend set by Prakash of winning the Futures titles at home.

While it was creditable that the local boy Vijay Kannan clinched the honour in Chennai on clay, beating the talented left-hander Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan after a disastrous start in the final, it was no mean achievement by Ashutosh Singh and Aditya Madkekar to reach the Futures finals in the subsequent weeks.

AP

Ashutosh, with an attractive all-round game, has the potential to make it big but does not have the confidence at this stage to do justice to his ability. He got cowed down in the final against China’s Davis Cup player Sun Peng in Delhi after giving a good account of himself against the others, including another Davis Cup player from China, Wang Yu (Jr.), in the semifinals.

Madkekar, who was supremely fit in the energy-sapping humidity at the Harvest Academy in Jassowal village, Ludhiana, had the ability to win the final against Pakistan’s Davis Cup player Aqeel Khan, but came short in a gripping contest. He appeared to be more keen on catching the flight to Moscow, to get there in time for the next event rather than make the most of the golden opportunity.

With Yuki Bhambri, a talented youngster who turned 15 recently, winning his maiden singles title in a Grade II event in the ITF junior circuit, the signs are indeed encouraging for Indian tennis.