Young turks rule the roost

Kyra Shroff of Maharashtra was the most consistent player of the tournament.-Pics: S. PATRONOBISH

The draw missed quite a few big names. But the resultant sense of vacuity was gradually filled up by some spirited performances from the relatively unknown younger names as the tournament progressed on the hallowed grass courts of the 91-year-old Calcutta South Club. Over to Amitabha Das Sharma.

Suresh Krishna and Kyra Shroff will have no hesitation in vouching for the merits of the National grass court tennis tournament, an event that the established names of tennis in the country love to give the go-by. The two young and promising names in the country's tennis firmament gave a fine essay of their talent to become the new men's and women's champions of the oldest national event in the sport.

A tournament that had once borne the identity of Indian tennis is now crying for attention in a world of shifting priorities. Its survival rests on the initiative of a few enthusiasts in one of the oldest tennis clubs of the country — the Calcutta South Club. The club has been the host and benefactor of the tournament over the last few years. The draw missed quite a few big names. But the resultant sense of vacuity was gradually filled up by some spirited performances from the relatively unknown names as the tournament progressed on the hallowed grass courts of the 91-year-old club.

Apart from the defending champions — Ashutosh Singh of Delhi and Ankita Raina of Gujarat — there were not much by way of form or fancy in the main draw. One positive coming out of the tournament shorn of glamour was the presence of talented youngsters, who were eager to perform. Conducted immediately after the 34th National Games in Ranchi, the tournament appeared a bit ill-timed as some players sought to rest after a tiring exercise the previous week. The tournament in the last few years has been hit severely because of its impermanent status which sees it being tossed around in the national calendar. Most of the professional players, who are used to planning their itinerary well in advance, cannot include the tournament in their plans owing to its uncertainty.

Suresh Krishna, seeded sixth, was never amongst the pre-tournament favourites in the men's draw. The Hyderabad-based player, however, showed the technique and temperament of a big match player as he kept moving up the main draw with some power-packed performances, drawing confidence from his back-to-back all-India titles in Mumbai and Tiruchi. With those two titles coming on hard and clay courts respectively, he faced a stiff task of proving his skill on grass. The urge to excel strengthened his determination as Suresh, hailing from a very humble background in Secunderabad, pushed for more wins and earned them with authority.

The men's defending champion Ashutosh Singh made good progress in the top half of the draw with dominant straight-set wins that got him to the final where he was the favourite. Suresh Krishna, slotted in the bottom half, emerged as the right challenger, downing second seeded P. C. Vignesh in a gruelling three-setter in the quarterfinals. The match was a fine contest of technique and endurance as both Suresh and Vignesh train in the same academy in Hyderabad run by C. V. Nagaraj. Suresh's semi-final against local challenger Saurav Sukul was much easier as was evident in the 6-1, 6-1 scoreline. In the final, adding fitness, power and technique to his battle-hardened from, Suresh proved too good for the defending champion Ashutosh.

“The title is very special especially because I always looked up to him (Ashutosh) since my childhood. He is such a wonderful player,” Suresh said after his win. The 21-year-old B.Com final year student of the Wesley Degree College, Hyderabad, was happy getting the right reward after years of struggle. “I have come through very tough times when I had not many racquets or enough money to enter in tournaments of my liking. My father sacrificed a lot and even sold off some assets of the family to get my tennis going,” said Suresh, whose father is a constable with the Railway Protection Force.

A.S. Krishna Suresh of AP surprised many by winning the men's title.-

While it was a case of fighting penury to reach the summit for the men's champion the women's winner, Kyra Shorff, scripted a different triumph, that of mind over body. Coming from a relatively affluent background 18-year-old Kyra battled diabetes to get to the height of her success. “I am the proof that a person with diabetes can compete with the best by just learning to control it. It is a condition that needs to be suitably managed,” said Kyra after ensuring her title with a smooth straight set win over another teenager Aishwarya Agrawal of Indore. “She plays and lives like a normal person and does not like to be mentioned about it (diabetes). She is fast developing as one of the best talents in the country,” says Kyra's personal coach and former Davis Cup player Prahlad Srinath, who won the men's doubles title partnering Sunil Kumar Sipeya.

Kyra's performance spoke of an indomitable urge to prove her worth as she played with power and gusto and pumped herself up after winning every rally. Her ability was proved beyond doubt as she never dropped a set and was the most consistent performer on way to lifting the title. Kyra, seeded third in the tournament, was definitely a cut above the rest, and apart from Aishwarya, who beat holder Ankita Raina in the very first round, the other potent opponent Kyra faced was the 15-year-old Sri Vaishnavi Pedireddy of Hyderabad. Vaishnavi, who created a big upset, defeating the top seed and local favourite Shivika Burman in the second round, impressed with her powerful service and returns but failed to dent the resolve of Kyra.

“The title vindicates the hard work that I have put in to graduate to the senior level,” said Kyra after the final. “I would love to inspire and help out those kids who have similar problems like me.”

The results:

Men's singles: Final: A.S. Suresh Krishna (AP) bt Asutosh Singh (Dli) 6-4, 7-6 (7-1); Semifinals: Asutosh bt Akash Wagh (Mah) 7-6(7-2), 6-4; Suresh bt Saurav Sukul (Ben) 6-1, 6-1.

Men's doubles: Final: Sunil Kumar Sipaeya (Chd) & Prahlad Srinath (Kar) bt Abhijeet Tiwari (Chg) & Akash Wagh 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5).

Women's singles: Final: Kyra Shroff (Mah) bt Aishwarya Agarwal (MP) 6-4, 6-1; Semifinals: Kyra bt Sri Vaishnavi Pedireddy (AP) 6-3, 6-1; Aishwarya bt Rishika Sunkara (Dli) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Women's doubles: Final: Ankita Raina (Guj) & Rishika Sunkara (Dli) bt Kyra Shroff & Shivika Burman (Ben) 6-3, 0-6, 10-7.