Tursunov's conquest

DMITRY TURSUNOV pounded rivals with his powerful forehands.-Pics: VIVEK BENDRE

Russia's Davis Cup hero displayed raw aggression that saw him stand out in the tournament, writes Nandakumar Marar.

The Kingfisher Airlines Open, a new stop on the ATP Tour, played in Mumbai's Cricket Club of India, an international-class facility, presented world-class action. The ambience, the vociferous support of the fans and the high stakes brought out the best of the Tour pros though the absence of some of the leading lights such as Radek Stepanek, Fabrice Santoro, Nicolas Kiefer, Greg Rusedski, Fernando Gonzales and Martin Damm for a variety of reasons was felt in the early part of the week.

Russia's Davis Cup hero Dmitry Tursunov, visiting Mumbai for the first time, smashed and sliced his way to his first career title of the Tour. Then Mario Ancic of Croatia, who was much sought after by the autograph hunters after striking a rapport with the kids at tennis clinics, won his second doubles crown in only his second event as Mahesh Bhupathi's partner.

The Indian doubles ace, who won his 39th career title in Mumbai, proved to be very much a team man on and off the court, guiding his partner Ancic throughout and also managing the whole show as a hands-on organiser (Bhupathi's company Globosport was entrusted with the job of conducting the $380,000 event). He even joined in mopping up the court when rain disrupted the final day's action.

Tursunov, 23, who has the potential to become a crowd-puller at future Tour events, moved from strength to strength with every round. The Russian, who recently defeated Andy Roddick of the US in a Davis Cup singles match that lasted over four hours, displayed raw aggression that saw him stand out in the tournament.

Playing four consecutive three-setters on way to the title might not be the best way to assert one's authority, but the fourth seed came out on top nevertheless. "I don't want to make it a habit of playing three-setters, especially the final," Tursunov joked, as he picked up the $52,000 winners cheque and waved to the fans before making a hurried exit.

Rushing from the Centre Court to the airport for the flight out of Mumbai, Tursunov had no time to look back at an exhausting and eventful week. Rivals had very less reaction time as Tursunov's forehands whizzed past their faces and thudded onto the hoardings. Top seed Tommy Robredo (Spain) was one of the elite players to feel the heat of the rampaging Russian. Blessed with tremendous power and strokes and the right attitude that should help him climb rapidly up the ATP rankings (he is currently ranked No. 21), Tursunov's only hurdle could be his `drifting-in, drifting-out' focus between points.

Tursunov, who looks up to Croat Goran Ivanisevic for inspiration, is very fond of blogging. He is one of ATP's official bloggers whose notes attract a lot of traffic.

He moved from Moscow to California at the age of 12 with his parents and brother and is now hoping to fulfil the ambition of his father Igor, who wants his son to make it big in the game. The victory over Roddick in the Davis Cup in Moscow recently came as a shot in the arm for the pro based in Roseville, California. However, he does not rate the American high in his list of potential rivals in the race to the top.

So, for someone exuding such confidence and talking so bluntly, a first round match against Indian teenager Akash Wagh in the Kingfisher Airlines Open was like a jog in the park.

The odds were stacked against Wagh, a 16-year-old from Pune who is training at the Bhupathi Tennis Academy in Bangalore. The first round of the Kingfisher Airlines Open was his first senior match and Tursunov his first senior rival — all thanks to the wildcard given to him by the organisers, Globosport. The Indian, though, went down fighting (2-6, 5-7) after serving seven aces to his opponent's six in the match. "For his age, he has a good serve. It is difficult to form an impression about any player from just one match," Tursunov said of Wagh.

Rohan Bopanna was another Indian wildcard to make an impression in the tournament. He stretched Weslie Moody of South Africa, seeded No. 8, to three sets.

Mahesh Bhupathi (left) won his 39th career title with his new partner Mario Ancic of Croatia.-

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes deserve to be an integral part of the `Doubles Revolution' envisaged by ATP to promote and popularise this facet of the game. The two are such instinctive players gifted with tremendous skills that the matches featuring them are capable of attracting more singles players to doubles, apart from pulling in the fans.

ATP, looking at doubles in a new light after sewing up a three-year sponsorship agreement with Stanford Financial Group, need only to put together videos involving Bhupathi and Paes for readymade promotional material. The passion and the excitement that the two players can infuse into doubles play were in evidence here.

The quarterfinals between Bhupathi-Ancic and Paes-Qureshi was a classic duel that was decided on tiebreak. A full house — very rare in a Tour event in this television age — roared in appreciation as the action picked up steam. Paes and Bhupathi's artful ways of winning points with volleys, lobs and drops concealed the intensity of the competition. Ancic and Qureshi, the lesser lights in this match, pulled their weight to make it a memorable contest on the Centre Court.

"The revolution has already begun. More and more singles players are showing interest in doubles," Bhupathi said while talking of ATP's new line of thinking.

While Ancic was using doubles play to improve his singles skills, Qureshi proved that regular singles players can also revel in the multi-dimensional doubles game. The serve-and-volley player from Pakistan, making his doubles debut on the Tour as Paes' partner and considered to be a weak link, covered up very well for the Indian ace in make-or-break situations and displayed such good reflexes and volleying skills that it was difficult to imagine he was a novice.

Bhupathi and Ancic won the quarterfinal clash 6-1, 5-7, 10-3, striding ahead in Match Tiebreak (first team to reach 10 points, win by two). The India-Croatia pair then ran into Rohan Bopanna and Mustafa Ghouse, who fought till the end before going down in another MTB.

ATP, looking at the impact of new initiatives, is bound to get mixed reactions from pros on the MTB ruling, devised to reduce the duration of doubles matches in order to make them more TV-friendly.

"Everyone has got to adapt. I find it a harsh rule, losing the match on the tiebreak. I personally feel the true test of a close doubles match would be in playing the third set," said Paes, who teamed up with Aisam Qureshi after his partner on the Tour, Martin Damm with whom he won the US Open doubles crown, opted out of the Mumbai tournament.

Bhupathi and Ancic, however, are in favour of MTB for the excitement it generates. "Fans like it, players will get used to it," said Bhupathi.

Bopanna is one of the singles specialists who had a hard look at doubles in the faster format. "Doubles is not an option, singles remains my focus," he said.

Bopanna, whose huge serves were complemented by Ghouse's volleying and court coverage, lifted the scratch Indian pair past top seeds, Alexander Peya and Bjorn Phau, in the first round. The duo then came close to upsetting the champion pair in the final. "We have to thank Leander for bringing us together. We decided to pair up 30 minutes before the draw. The fact that Mustafa and I played and toured together from the time we were juniors helped us on court," said the Indian Davis Cup player, whose original partner was Qureshi.

Paes took the initiative and called up the Pakistani after Martin Damm opted out and Bhupathi refused to play with him citing prior commitment to Ancic.

Ancic's inability to confirm if he would team up with Bhupathi for next season's Grand Slam events was a new twist to the Indian's quest for a doubles partner. "Ancic is committed to playing specific weeks with me, but it does not include the Grand Slams," Bhupathi said during the post-final media briefing.

The Results

Singles final: 4-Dmitry Tursunov (Russia) bt 2-Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5). Singles winner gets $52,000 and 175 ranking points) and runner-up $30,600 and 120 ranking points.

Doubles final: 3-Mario Ancic (Croatia) & Mahesh Bhupathi (India) bt Rohan Bopanna & Mustafa Ghouse (India) 6-4, 6-7(6), 10-8. Doubles champions get $16.350 and runners-up $9,600.