Favourite Kafelnikov opens vs Tabara
Indians shown the door in qualifiers
East Bengal, Mohun Bagan evenly matched
Tollygunge taste defeat
Bidyut win 5-1
Md. Sp. ride Ariz’s 127 n.o. to victory
Calcutta Boys’ lift crown
Trambak champions
Girl From Ipanema bags trophy

Chennai, Jan. 2: 
Till the other day, the epicentre of most discussions was ‘Y2K’. Now that the dreaded computer bug has been mastered, the tennis community has caught the ‘YK’ fever. That’s more so the case here which hosts Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the Gold Flake Open beginning tomorrow.

With the $400,000 meet set to become the country’s first sporting mega event in the new century, the presence of Kafelnikov has added a special dimension to the event at the Nungambakkam Stadium. The 25-year-old Russian, who flew into town in his private Cessna last night, is the most charismatic star to have graced the venue since Boris Becker in April 1998.

What makes this tournament — one of three to kick off season 2000 — doubly significant is the fact that ATP Tour is launching its new ranking system, ostensibly to move with the times and guide the game into the 21st century. No one’s No. 1 or No. 100 at the beginning of the year anymore. Be it Pete Sampras, Kafelnikov or Leander Paes, everyone starts from scratch and accumulates points in the build-up to the race for the ‘world champion’ at the end of the year.

Top-notchers like Kafelnikov will have five tournaments outside the four Grand Slams and nine Masters Series to earn their points in a bid to stand atop the heap come December. The Gold Flake Open is one of the chosen ‘minor five’ for the Russian who finished ’99 as the world’s second-best male player. No scope, then, for taking the year’s first event lightly as a missed chance may turn out to be very costly.

The problem with Kafelnikov all his career has been his wild form-swing. From the destructive racket-wielder one week, the Russian ace can easily transform himself to a mediocre player the week after. That’s primarily the reason why he has not won more than a couple of Grand Slam titles (French in ’96 and Australian Open last year).

The draw looks good for the Russian and if he is anywhere near his best, should be a hard man to beat. Kafelnikov opens against Czech Republic’s Michael Tabara and his first real test could only be defending champion Byron Black or rising Frenchman Jerome Golmard, in the semi-finals.

Kafelnikov can consider himself lucky his Chennai debut will be in pleasant January rather than the unbearable April. Indeed, the shift in dates from the second week of April to the first week of January has been the biggest boost for this tournament.

The other half of the draw features two famous names — second-time visitor Carlos Moya and experienced Frenchman Cedric Pioline. Moya will have bitter memories to erase when he kicks off against Uzbekistan’s Oleg Ogorodov. Who will forget the agonising moment the Spaniard endured at the Centre Court here last April when a painful blister on his right thumb forced him to concede his quarter final.

And, to think that he was just two wins away from regaining the world No. 1 berth from Sampras!

Moya never actually got another chance to creep close to the summit for the rest of the year. In fact, he had a real rough time beginning September. A back problem forced him to withdraw from the US Open second round and allowed him two more weeks on the Tour only. So much so that the man ended the year on a dismal No. 24. Moya’s form and fitness will be tested by a clutch of dangerous floaters in his half of the draw. Bohdan Ulihrach, a Czech with impressive hardcourt credentials is Moya’s likely second-round opponent. If he can negotiate the first three rounds, Moya will possibly come up against Pioline.

French No. 1 Pioline, twice runner-up at Grand Slam events (‘93 US Open and ‘97 Wimbledon), will face a qualifier first up and could then lock horns with Leander Paes. Provided, of course, the Indian wild card gets past French Julian Boutter. This is an important meet for Paes who has vowed to push his singles career back on track.

The other Indian in the draw is another wild-card entrant Sunil Kumar. The Chandigarh lad has been the most talked-about tennis player since winning the national hardcourt crown. Tournament organisers and promoters IMG saw potential in him and granted him a wild card.

Kumar plays seventh seed Ronald Agenor of Haiti. One of the oldest active players on the men’s tour, the 35-year-old will not be an easy opponent for debutant Kumar. The ‘oldest versus youngest’ clash would go well for the Indian if he could take a set off Agenor or stretch him over two close sets.

The one missing link in this tournament is the one close to our hearts — Mahesh Bhupathi isn’t here to go for four-on-the-trot with Paes. The senior partner in the top doubles team has chosen Byron Black to open the year with before joining forces with Sebastien Lareau at the Australian Open.

Paes and Black, the top seeds, will still be favourites for the doubles crown. The Kafelnikov-Martin Damm combine won’t be pushovers, but with the Russian having cut down on his doubles activity substantially, it remains to be seen how much of a threat the second seeds will be. Paes and Black begin against Sandor Groen and Laurence Tieleman tomorrow while Sunil and Akshay Vishal Rao take on British pair Arvind Parmar and J. Layne.    

Chennai, Jan. 2: 
None of the Indians survived the second round of the singles qualifiers which started today.

Prahlad Srinath, who whipped Saurav Panja one and three, lost three and four to Briton Jamie Delgado. Vijay Kannan beat Syed Saifuddin but was then routed 0-6, 2-6 by top seed Jiri Vanek.

Vanek had earlier beaten Indian No. 4 Syed Fazaluddin two and two. Kamala Kannan overcame fellow-Indian Vijendra Laad but then came a cropper against Eyal Ran.

As many as 17 of the 32-strong qualifying draw were Indians. Of them, 14 lost in the first round including the likes of Nitin and Sandeep Kirtane, Mustafa Ghouse, Vishal Uppal and Manoj Mahadevan.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
The charm is elusive. You find it in large dollops one year, it’s absent in the next. Match to match, the Mohun Bagan-East Bengal soccer clashes of the city have acquired garbs from the ridiculous to the grave. Tomorrow, midway the long process of image building, inspiration is lukewarm and tensions aren’t as much.

Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya says he is aware of the importance of the day, yet sure of three points from their National League encounter versus East Bengal tomorrow. East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick is determined to eliminate steamy sentiments and put in place strategy and calculations in an effort to redeem some pride.

The basic material at hand for both coaches is rather limited, talent-wise. Mohun Bagan’s dependent defender Samuel Omollo has not yet returned from home (he is expected late tonight or tomorrow morning) and Bhattacharya says he will depend on Omollo’s own judgement of whether he is fit.

The “attacking soccer” that Bhattacharya wants tomorrow will need a solid defensive backup, the one thing that Mohun Bagan do not have.

Satyabrata Bhowmick was at practice today, up from a 15-day layoff due to fever. Bhattacharya may try him out tomorrow, but the weakness may still be there.

Thai Dusit Chalersman has been manning the left wingback position pretty well, and is fitting into the mould of things. A lot will depend on him tomorrow, though any attempt to use him as a full defensive screen will be suspect because Dusit is prone to overlapping into attack zone frequently. And without a pair of legs as solid as Omollo’s at deep defence (Debjit Ghosh will be out with two bookings), the Bagan goal may lie naked.

There is a possibility that Dulal Biswas will be the man in charge, with Shib Shankar Santra and Hussein Mustafi adding strength.

Even goalkeeping has been a problem. Bhattacharya did some workouts with the goalkeepers today and Hemanta Dora did not attend practice. Sandip Nandy is the likely starter. Bhattacharya still refuses to see the termites in the defence woodwork, though.

Bhowmick’s little problem is in Dipendu Biswas’ headers. If Dipendu is fielded, Jackson Egygopong and the rest in the back four may lose on height advantage.

Suley Musah, says Bhowmick is almost a “forgotten” element, not fit enough yet. And Dipankar Roy will not be around, suspended because of the marching order he got last match.

The scar of the reverses at Tollygunge’s hands remains, and that is why Bhowmick had a little talk with his boys today.

“I asked them whether the spirit persists,” Bhowmick said. “The boys are definite that we are still very much in the running for the League title.”

Mohun Bagan players, on the other hand, looked cool enough. The tension has not been haunting them, and they know that tomorrow it will be the day of opportunist.

Not that there’s much to jubilate about. Neither team has fared well in the League so far, now jointly fifth with seven points from four matches. Churchill Brothers, Tollygunge Agragami, Salgaocar and JCT are at the top four places.

Apart fom the loss to Tollygunge, East Bengal have drawn with JCT at the Salt Lake Stadium and Bagan drew with BSF and lost to JCT.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Tollygunge 0

Amal Dutta’s Tollygunge Agragami were brought down to earth today. The veteran coach’s charges tasted their first defeat in the Coca-Cola National League, losing 0-2 to JCT Mills at Rabindra Sarobar Stadium.

Forward Hardeep Gill took advantage of two blunders by goalkeeper Bivash Ghosh to score once in each half and took his team’s tally to eight points from five matches. Despite the loss, Tollygunge stayed second behind Churchill Brothers, with ten points after five encounters.

The experienced Tollygunge custodian, one of the main architects of his team’s impressive run last year, charged out to punch away a ball from the deep but did so inches outside the penalty area. This prompted the referee to award an indirect free-kick and also book Bivash which ruled him out of Thursday’s match against ITI. Awoyemi Isiaka was booked later and he will also miss the match in Bangalore.

Midfielder Hardeep Sangha rolled the free-kick gently towards Gill, whose low right-footer seemed to brush a defender’s leg before settling inside the net in the 22nd minute. The second goal came seconds from close when Gill’s right-footer went through the hands of a lunging Bivash. He had a bad day, admitted the coach and the goalkeeper himself.

Tollygunge were impressive in the opening quarter with the midfielders trying to advance by playing short passes, but slowly and surely, JCT fought their way back .

The Tollygunge defence looked porous and the normally reliable Nigerian duo of Isiaka and Abayomi Felix failed today. Isiaka, who played right back in the second half, kept the right flank moving and sent in a couple of good crosses, but striker Seriki Abdul Lateef turned out to be a poor header.

JCT’s Sukhjit Singh, who suffered an elbow dislocation in the first half and had to be taken to the hospital, is unlikely to take part in the league anymore.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Bidyut Sporting emerged 5-1 victors against Rampur MS in a Calcutta women’s football league tie today. Saraswati Mondal and Debasmita Chatterjee (two each) and Babita Guha Thakurta (one) were the scorers. Income Tax rode Bandana Pal’s strike to pip Itika Memorial.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Mohammedan Sporting, Tollygunge Agragami, Ballygunge United and Paikpara Sporting recorded victories in the CAB senior division league today.

Mohammed Ariz scored an unbeaten 127 as Mohammedan Sporting beat Belgachia United by four wickets and Sanjay Agarwal cracked 101 in Ballygunge United’s six-wicket win over Rajasthan.

Sub-junior cricket

Kunal Chowdhury of Sunil Gavaskar Foundation took five wickets for nine runs to help his team beat Rajpur CCC by eight wickets in the Ambar Roy Memorial sub-junior cricket meet today.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Raymond Jeejeebhoy struck an unbeaten 131 to power Calcutta Boys’ School to a six-wicket win against St. Xavier’s in the final of the Xaverian Millennium Invitational under-19 cricket meet today.

Raymond, son of former Bengal wicketkeeper Russi, helped his team overhaul the hosts’ total with just four balls to spare.    

Calcutta, Jan. 2: 
Trambak Rubber, comprising Hari Shankar Bajoria, Kamal Roy, Subroto Saha, Shankar Prasad Ghosh, Chandra Sekhar Majumdar and Samir Basak, won the eight Oindrilla Kundu memorial bridge championship here today at the DKS.

In the seven Swiss sessions played today, they scored 143 out of 175 Victory Points (VP) to end with 242 out of 300, pushing overnight leaders Union Club A — comprising Nanti Sen, Dhurjoti Banerjee, Robi Nag, Siba Priya Ghosh, Bimal Jain and Sowmik Das — to second place on 233.

The Dr S.K. Guha Memorial Trophy for the best performance by a team of non-masters went to North Calcutta Bridge Club.    

Mumbai, Jan. 2: 
The Sandeep Mangalorkar-trained Girl From Ipanema lifted the Maharaja Sir Harisinghji Trophy in Mumbai on Sunday. Aslam Kader partnered the five-year-old mare.

RESULTS (With inter-state dividends)

1. Commander In Chief Plate 2,400m: (3-2-5) Along All (Ronald) 1; Ancestry 2; Red Rock 3. Won by: 3/4; Nk; (2-42.4). Tote: Win Rs 71; Place: 40; 19; Quinella: 124; Tanala: 660. Fav: Ancestry (2).

2. Highland Rule Trophy 2,400m: (3-1-2) Pickpocket (Gallagher) 1; Capitulate 2; Party Whip 3. Won by: 1-1/4; 3/4; (2-36.6). Tote: Win Rs 50; Place: 18; 19; 36; Quinella: 74; Tanala: 1,057. Fav: Executive Decision (4).

3. Noble Princess Plate 1,000m: (10-1-3) Tazo (Rajendra) 1; Awesome Foursome 2; Laktara 3. Won by: 1; 4-1/2; (1-01). Tote:Win Rs 25; Place: 11; 13; 22; Quinella: 30; Tanala: 160. Fav: Tazo (10).

4. Track Star Plate, Div-II1,000m: (8-5-11) Stella Maris (Ranjane) 1; Mischiefmaker 2; Perfect Strides 3. Won by: 2-1/4; SH; (1-2). Tote: Win Rs 356; Place: 64; 17; 35; Quinella: 493; Tanala: 14,561. Fav: Tils (4).

5. Simonella Plate, Div-II 1,100m: (12-4-7) Soliel (Kamlesh) 1; Raise A Toast 2; Blushing Brave 3. Won by: Nk; 2-1/4; (1-9.3). Tote: Win Rs 201; Place: 39; 15; 76; Quinella: 616; Tanala: 88,490 (Carried over to latter date). Fav: Raise A Toast (4).

6. Track Star Plate, Div-I 1,000m: (9-1-5) Adam’s Legend (Hanut) 1; Stre-aking Senorita 2; Luni Junction 3. Won by: Nk; 3/4; (1-1.6). Tote: Win Rs 99; Place: 34; 16; 26; Quinella: 201; Tanala: 3,109. Fav: Streaking Senorita (1).

7. Forward Thrust Plate1,400m: (10-8-14) Realism (M. Narredu) 1; Shaandaari 2; Tagamet 3. Won by: 4-3/4; 3/4; (1-27.2). Tote: Win Rs 36; Place: 19; 24; 101; Quinella: 163; Tanala: 10,281. Fav: Solid Truth (6).

8. N. M. Irani Trophy 1,400m: (3-8-7) Cruel Intention (M. Narredu) 1; Storm Dancer 2; Star Shine 3. Not run: Real Victor (2). Won by: 1-1/2; 1-3/4; (1-28.1). Tote: Win Rs 71; Place: 17; 11; 12; Quinella: 151; Tanala: 578. Fav: Star Shine (7). (Note: Storm Dancer survived objection lodged by the rider of third placed horse).

9. Maharaja Sir Harisinghji Trophy 1,600m: (7-9-6) Girl From Ipanema (Kader) 1; Sun Worship 2; Phraoje 3. Won by: 1-1/4; 1-3/4; (1-42.2). Tote: Win Rs 27; Place: 12; 24; 67; Quinella: 72; Tanala: 2,473. Fav: Girl From Ipanema (7).

10. Simonella Plate, Div-I 1,100m: (1-7-3) Henki (Aaron) 1; Starmaker 2; Act Of Trust 3. Won by: 1/2; 1-1/2; (1-9.5). Tote: Win Rs 37; Place: 19; 26; 57; Quinella: 156; Tanala: 2,801. Fav: Henki (1).

11. Goodfellas Plate 1,400m: (10-6-5) Zephyr Bay (Hanut) 1; Great Pasha 2; Dream Image 3. Won by: 3; 3-3/4; (1-28.2). Tote: Win Rs 106; Place: 32; 14; 32; Quinella: 138; Tanala: 2,184. Fav: Great Pasha (6).

Jackpot: Rs 72,380; (C) Rs 509.

Treble: (i) Rs 4,022; (ii) Rs 3,949; (iii) Rs 1,746.    


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