Kafelnikov, Black ousted, Paes starts with patchy
Don’t just play well but win: Ramesh
Haque, Ghosh to lead

 
 
KAFELNIKOV, BLACK OUSTED, PAES STARTS WITH PATCHY 
 
 
FROM AMITAVA DAS GUPTA
 
Chennai, Jan. 4 
Since its birth four years ago, the Gold Flake Open has hosted a galaxy of stars who have provided twists aplenty. Nothing that happened in the past could, however, match the bizarre sequence of events on Day Two of the century-launching edition of this $400,000 tournament.

As a cloudy afternoon gave way to a cool and breezy evening, the drama that unfolded at Nungambakkam Stadium hardly matched the pleasant weather. First came the news of Carlos Moya’s withdrawal even before he had taken the court for his opener against Oleg Ogorodov. Then, defending champion Byron Black got knocked out by a qualifier. Capping off the series of rude jolts was top seed and world No. 2 Yevgeny Kafelnikov’s straight-set defeat at the hands of 20-year-old Czech Michal Tabara.

It was not just another loss for the Russian superstar, it was a whipping he would like to erase from memory quickly. Serving like a novice (five double-faults and only 40 per cent first serves in) and failing to create enough openings (just three break-points earned), Kafelnikov let the 122nd-ranked Tabara run away with the match 6-4, 6-2 in 62 minutes.

It was easily Tabara’s biggest moment in a three-year pro career. Entering this tournament with the experience of just two Tour meets, Challenger-specialist Tabara used an effective forehand to counter the off-colour Kafelnikov.

The first game set the tone for the match, with the Russian dropping serve. In the second set, Tabara achieved a double-break to push Kafelnikov firmly on the defensive. As a backhand return lodged into the net, it signalled a humiliating first-round defeat for Kafelnikov. “I just couldn’t get going, it was really disappointing,” the Russian explained.

The one bright spot on a gloomy evening was Leander Paes’ 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) win over Frenchman Julien Boutter. The Indian ace struggled for most of the 105-minute match but won on the strength of his sharp net-play and the ability to hassle his opponent on big points.

Paes comes up against a far superior French opponent in the round of 16 — third seed Cedric Pioline. The handsome Pioline stemmed the rot for ‘heavyweights’ when he dismissed Israeli qualifier Andy Ram 6-3, 6-1. Sixth seed Laurence Tieleman had earlier bowed 6-7 (2-7), 3-6 to unheralded German Markus Hantschk.

Much before Paes and Boutter kicked off the day’s proceedings, Moya had set off the biggest ripples. Shortly after an intended practice session in the afternoon, the long-haired Spaniard announced he was pulling out because of a bad back. That made it two out of two here for Moya, who had to concede his quarter final last year because of a painful blister on the playing thumb.

It was the same problem, which had him conceding his second-round match at the US Open, that played up again. A stress fracture of the lower back had then pushed him out of the Tour for the better part of the last three months.

“I had hoped to be fit for this tournament but discovered today I can’t play,” Moya said later, apologising to his legion of admirers here. “I’ll consult a specialist in Australia this week but, quite honestly, I don’t think I’ll be in shape for the Australian Open.”

Czech Republic’s Bohdan Ulihrach became the second injury victim, quitting before his first-round match against Japanese Yaoki Ishii. Fellow-Czech Jiri Vanek got in as a lucky loser and rode his luck to a 6-3, 6-4 win. Replacing Moya in the draw was Finn Tuomas Ketola.

Black, the day’s first ‘big’ victim, met his match in British qualifier Jamie Delgado. The fifth seed from Zimbabwe bowed 2-6, 6-7 (4-7) to a rival ranked 100 places lower and one he had whipped 6-0, 6-0, 6-2 in their only previous meeting two years ago.

For a tennis pro, there’s nothing better than a win to start a new year with. Paes experienced that winning feeling this evening, even as his critics were left wondering whether the Indian No. 1 will manage to resurrect his singles career in year 2000.

Paes got off to a flier, breaking Boutter with a pair of deep volleys. That one break fetched him the first set alright but Paes got flatter as the match wore on. His opponent, who worked his way up to No. 135 mainly through some decent Challenger results, didn’t look to have enough firepower to go the distance either.

The second set didn’t throw up any better tennis. Paes dropped serve in the eighth game, giving Boutter the chance to serve out the set. The nervous Frenchman, rattled by Paes’ hustle-and-bustle while receiving the second serve, cracked. After wasting two set-points, Boutter let the Indian break-back. In the tie-breaker, it was Paes’ turn to surrender a 4-1 lead. Boutter fought back but after another double-fault (Boutter had 10 in all) set up match-point which Paes converted comfortably.    


 
 
DON’T JUST PLAY WELL BUT WIN: RAMESH 
 
 
FROM AMITAVA DAS GUPTA
 
Chennai, Jan. 4 
Six years ago, an irresponsible AITA official questioned Ramesh Krishnan’s integrity and commitment to the national cause after a convincing defeat in the Davis Cup semi-final against Australia. It was too much of an insult for the dignified Ramesh to swallow. Quite predictably, he quit.

Now, the same set of administrators has appointed Ramesh as non-playing captain of the Davis Cup team. In doing so, not only has the AITA tried to compensate for its earlier misdeed, it has also lent a stamp of approval to the Krishnans’ status as the first family of Indian tennis ahead of the Amritrajs. After all, also in the running for the hot seat was Anand Amritraj.

The wheel, it would seem, has turned a full circle for Ramesh. “It’s no doubt a great honour to be Davis Cup captain but as far as I’m concerned, it has got nothing to do with what happened six years ago,” Ramesh told The Telegraph this morning.

“At that moment in time, I felt I wasn’t wanted in the team, so I quit. What one individual may have to say doesn’t actually matter in the long run, it’s the institution which is greater. The Davis Cup has always been sacred to me, so I was happy to be offered the job,” Ramesh observed.

Once the offer was made, Ramesh feels it was his responsibility to accept it. “If I am considered good enough for the job, I think it’s my duty to perform it.” He did seek his father’s advice and Ramanathan was in full agreement with Ramesh’s sentiment. That makes them a unique pair — the only father-son combination to have guided their country to Davis Cup finals now has the rare distinction of having captained their motherland as well.

Ramesh didn’t, however, like the way AITA went about the appointment. “This thing has been simmering since last April, but it took eight months to actually take shape. I don’t think it’s a healthy way to communicate via the press,” quipped Ramesh, obviously referring to the widespread speculation over the issue for months on end.

The first thing Ramesh did on being approached was to check whether the team was willing to accept him as captain. “I wanted to make sure the players wanted me, there’s no point in forcing my way in,” Ramesh revealed. “I checked with AITA officials and Dr Vece Paes on this matter and was satisfied with the feedback I got. I couldn’t get in touch with the Bhupathis but I gather there won’t be a problem on that front.”

Though the team for the Lebanon tie will be picked on January 15, it’s more or less sure that young Sunil Kumar will come into the quartet as the injured Mahesh Bhupathi’s replacement.

And with all the players here this week, the captain intends calling an informal meeting to discuss the basics, with the ‘seniors’ as well as the ‘hopefuls’.

Besides the challenge of plotting India’s path back to the elite World Group, Ramesh will also have to tackle the troubled relationship between his two top players. True to his cool, unflappable style, the new captain is unfazed over this potential problem area.

“Whatever their problems are, I have only read or heard from second-hand sources. Once Mahesh is back in the team, I’ll surely have a word with both of them. But I have faith in their professional responsibilities. Each one knows what is expected of him... At this moment I don’t see any trouble on that front,” remarked Ramesh.

Conceding Bhupathi’s absence as a “big setback,” the captain said there was nothing anyone could do. “Obviously I’d have liked Mahesh to be in the team, but injuries are things beyond your control. We have to live with it and make the best of the talent available .”

On the dismal showing by the Indian second string in the Gold Flake Open qualifiers, Ramesh attributed it to a lack of proper guidance and exposure. “Players like Saurav Panja played very well in the tournament I conducted last week (Servo-India Oil invitational meet). But once they were thrown into the Tour meet qualifiers, they went into a shell. It was as if they felt out of place and didn’t know how to face the situation.”

Now that he was in a highly responsible post, Ramesh would suggest remedies to brighten the overall Indian tennis scenario. “Somebody should travel with all these boys to national and international circuit meets. They need good guidance all the time. I am excited to be in a position to point out these things.”

Like the rest of the country’s tennis community, Ramesh was a keen spectator at young Sunil Kumar’s big stage debut at Nungambakkam Stadium last evening. “He is an exciting prospect, no doubt. We, in India, hardly get to see such 16-year-olds. But I wish he won the match. That’s what he’s got to be taught — not just play well but win,” Ramesh said, sending a strong message to his wards.

Whether his new innings in Davis Cup turns out to be as successful as his previous stint remains to be seen. But the fact that Ramesh has taken his job with extreme seriousness augurs well for Paes & Co. Forget his artistic play, if Ramesh can pass on his no-nonsense attitude to the younger players, he would have done Indian tennis a big favour.    


 
 
HAQUE, GHOSH TO LEAD 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Jan. 4 
Sariful Haque and Ranjan Ghosh will lead the men’s and women’s teams, respectively, at the senior national basketball championships beginning in Salem, Tamil Nadu on Sunday. The squads, announced by the West Bengal Volleyball Association today, leave on Thursday.

THE SQUADS

Men: Sariful Haque (captain), Sandip Mukherjee, Sajid Ahmed, Md J.M., Subir Kundu, Anurag E.P., Sumit Ghosh, Sajal Das, Gobinda Bhattacharya, Ranjan Ghosh, Supravat Karmakar, Ranjan Das. Coach: Apurba Palodhy. Manager: Samir Bose.

Women: Ranjana Ghosh (captain), Sarbani Kundu, Anita V.G., S. Lekha, Soroshi Ghosh, Piyali Roy, Namita Cjatterjee, Tulu Pramanik, Sujata Paul, Bithi nandi, Aparna Sur, Sudipta Biswas. Coach: Swapan Chatterjee. Manager: Maya Bauri.

Igor signs for Bagan

Igor Skhvirin, Mohun Bagan’s latest import, earned the right to turn out for the club when he registered his name at the IFA office this afternoon. The Uzbek will leave with the rest of the squad tomorrow for Kochi, where Mohun Bagan meet FC Kocin in a National League tie on Friday.

Nabadiganta win 4-0

Nabadiganta crushed Friends Organisation 4-0 in a IFA Women’s League match at the East Bengal ground. Tuli Guntu scored twice while the other goals came from Amita Pal and Juin Banerjee.

In the other match, at the Mohun Bagan ground, Nabajanma Sangha tamed Bally Gramanchal 4-2. Jhuma Basu got a brace while the other goals for the winners were scored by Madhumita Das and Swapna Ghosh. Tinku Sarkar and Hansi Das scored for the Bally team.

Nursery League

Manoj Naskar scored twice to help Friends XI squeeze past Shakti-o-Sanhati 2-1 in a ‘South Zone’ match of the IFA Nursery League today. Gopal Seal got the other goal of the match.    

 

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