Withdrawals take shine of meet
Haarhuis blasts ATP for bias
No sponsor found yet for Natl League
Ram Bahadur remembered
Best by Manav
Krishnans on the court again
Race Review/ Favourites failed Kader again

Bangalore, Dec. 12: 
The Beautifully refurbished KSLTA Stadium is hours away from hosting the country’s maiden tennis world championship.

When the first point is played shortly after 3 pm tomorrow on the newly-laid plexi cushion court, the Garden City would have earned its place in the sun as only the third Asian city (after Tokyo 1970 and Jakarta in ‘94) to have staged the World Doubles Championship. But, it could have done without the plethora of withdrawals which has devalued this prestigious event to some extent.

The season-ending world championship is supposed to bring together the eight best performers of the year. Of course, with the introduction of a wild card for the first time — to accommodate local favourites Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — only seven pairs could have qualified directly.

Going by that logic teams ranked 1 to 7, along with the wild cards, should have been vying for glory (the tag of ‘world champion’) and moolah (the winners can make upto $150,000) here this week. Instead, the ATP managed to line up no more than three teams from the top-seven.

A glance at the team ranking of the final line-up will tell its own story. Rick Leach & Jared Ferreira (2), Paul Haarhuis & Sandon Stolle (3), Alex O’Brien & Jared Palmer (4), Joshua Eagle & Andrew Florent (8), Donald Johnson & Piet Norval (11), Jaime Oncins & Daniel Orsanic (14), Simon Aspelin & Johann Landsberg (16), Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi (55).

And the teams which could have been there: Todd Woodbridge & Mark Woodforde (1), Jiri Novak & David Riki (5), Yevgeny Kafelnikov & Wayne Ferreira (6) David Adams & John-Laffnie de Jager (7), Nicklas Kulti & Mikael Tillstrom (9), Sebastien Lareau & Daniel Nastor (10), Martin Damm & Dominik Hrbaty (12), Jan-Michael Gambill & Scott Humphries (13), Lleyton Hewitt & Max Mirnyi (15).

A major body blow

The Woodies’ decision to stay away was a major body-blow to the profile of a tournament billed as Bangalore’s return to big-time tennis. The KSLTA has hosted Satellite and Challenger-level meets on and off, but the last time a world-class event was held here was way back in 1985 when the Wilanders and Edbergs played Vijay Amritraj & Co. in a Davis Cup tie.

Few teams have dominated the Tour in a calendar year as Woodforde and Woodbridge did in 2000. The Super Aussies sealed up the year-end No. 1 ranking by September, parting ways for good after the Sydney Olympics. The 35-year-old Woodforde had announced his decision to quit at the end of the year a long time back, while Woodbridge wanted to be with his wife who was expecting their first child this week.

There is no illusion as far as the Woodies’ participation in Bangalore was concerned. Few genuine tennis followers had expected Kafelnikov to come either. The Russian has always been loathe to enter the world doubles meet.

The only contemporary male player to qualify for both the singles and doubles year-ending events with great consistency, Kafelnikov prefers to compete in the former for understandable reasons. Maybe, he’ll fail to feature in the top eight/ten of singles next year and be forced to play in Bangalore.

The reason for some of the pullouts is injuries. That’s the official line, courtesy the ATP. But does the governing body of men’s professional tennis check whether these cases are genuine?

And what about the others? Olympic champions Lareau and Nestor’s presence would have done wonders to the status of the tournament. Even US Open champion champions Hewitt and Mirnyi.

Fading charm

As it is, doubles is losing its charm as top singles players are staying away more and more. Isn’t there a way the ATP can force some of the ‘big’ teams to play the world championship?

According to one of the official here, there’s no way the ATP can force anyone to play. “It’s also not possible to inform the alternates as you never know when one of the teams will withdraw. We can have one alternate at a time,” he explained.

There’s some logic in those words. But it’s also true that doubles is not getting its due. Otherwise, a seasoned doubles specialist like Leach wouldn’t have been heard saying: “The ATP is not interested in marketing doubles, it only believes in marketing personalities.”


Bangalore, Dec. 12: 
Paul haarhuis is an angry man. Having dominated doubles with the Woodies for over a decade, the not-so-young Dutchman is saddened by what is happening to an event close to his heart. And he made no effort to conceal his thoughts on the decline of doubles as a spectator sport all over the world.

“The ATP is making a horrendous job of promoting doubles in the world,” the 34-year-old told The Telegraph shortly after the draw this evening. “A lot of things can be done to revive doubles, but if the ATP is not interested who will do it?” asked Haarhuis, the holder of five Grand Slam titles with retired partner Jacco Eltingh.

“Just one thing shows how much interest the ATP has in doubles. This is the world championship, right, but where is Mr Mark Miles (CEO of the ATP Tour)? The message he is sending out by being absent is not good at all. He’s not here simply because he cares two hoots for doubles. he is only interested in the big bucks and the big names,” Haarhuis exploded, going louder as an ATP official came within earshot.

Haarhuis, who’ll possibly be playing just three-four tournaments next year (the weeks before Holland’s Davis Cup ties), went deeper into the subject: “As far as I’m concerned, tennis is ATP and ATP is singles and doubles, not just singles. Why would they ignore one at the expense of the other?”

Valid points all. Will the ATP take notice?


New Delhi, Dec. 12: 
The fifth edition of the National Football League kicks off on December 14, without a sponsor, no promotional banners or hoardings and lukewarm spectator interest.

The AIFF president, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, said that they are still trying for a sponsor.

Defending champions Mohun Bagan reached Delhi this morning and had a light warm-up session under the watchful eyes of coach Subrata Bhattacharya.

He has decided to drop goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastidar, who excelled in their Durand Cup triumph last month. Subrata claimed that Rajat was nursing a hand injury.

Bagan’s two custodians for their opening National league fixture are Sandip Nandy and Kalyan Choubey. Bagan have also dropped Gautam Ghosh and Amitava Chanda from their Durand squad.

Twice NFL champions Bagan are likely to make only two changes from the playing eleven which won the Durand final beating Mahindra United 2-1. Dulal Biswas will come in place of Amitava Chanda as right back while Choubey or Nandy will do duty under the bar.

JCT’s coach Sukhwinder Singh, on the other hand, is a worried man as three of his key players are missing through injury. International right back Prabhjot Singh, stopper back Kuldeep Singh and midfielder Jaswinder Singh have knee trouble and will miss the opening two matches. JCT will field rookie Pawan Kumar as central defender.

DSA to stay away

With the AIFF officials busy in election campaigning, a sponsor for the forthcoming Millenium Cup has still not been decided upon.

When the truce was signed with the Indian Premier Football Association (IPFA), Das Munshi had said that the AIFF will be put on a sound financial footing before the start of the NFL. However, the promise has remained unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, the Delhi Soccer Association at an emergency meeting today decided to abstain from the AIFF elections because of internal wranglings.

It is also learnt that the Rajasthan Football Association (RFA) may take similar action and abstain from voting.

Millennium Cup scare

Meanwhile, the Millennium Cup soccer fiesta, set to start in the middle of January, has come under a scare, says a Staff Reporter in Calcutta.

With the Gangasagar Mela slated to be held from January 7 to 19, the police authorities have expressed their inability to provide security during that period.

In a letter to the state sports secretary today, a copy of which reached the IFA office, the police said they were not informed about the event and came to know about it from newspapers.


Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
A very good footballer and an even greater human being — that’s how former colleagues and juniors want to remember former India left-half Ram Bahdur Thapa who died in Vadodara on December 4.

At a condolence meeting organised by East Bengal, the club which Ram Bahdur represented from 1957-67, a galaxy of former stars paid tribute to the ever-jovial mid-fielder, a member of the 1962 Asian Games gold-winning Indian team.

Byomkesh Bose, Sukumar Samjpati, Shyam Thapa, Syed Nayeemuddin, Prasanta Sinha and Subhash Bhowmick were among those present.

“The late Jyotish Guha spotted the talent in Ram Bahdur in Dehradun and brought him to Calcutta. After that, there was no looking back as he became the darling of the Red-and-Gold crowd,” recalled Bose.

“An extremely amicable person who never shied away from any challenge and managed to retain the smile even at troubled hours,” was how some others described him.


Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
Manav Jaini returned the best score of the day, five-over 77, on the opening day of the East Indian junior and sub-junior golf meet at the RCGC today.

Jaini also hit a birdie on the difficult seventh hole to move atop Divison A. Joey Bath (78) was in second spot. Harinder Gupta, Abul Hussain Sarder and J.S. Dullet (79 each) were sharing the third.

Dullet was occupying the top spot in Division B, while Ajeetesh Sandhu (81) was leading Division C. Competition in Division D starts tomorrow.

Inter-school basketball

Hosts Don Bosco (Park Circus) and Asembly of God Church School (AGCS) will meet in the final of the inter-school bsketball meet tomorrow.

In today’s semis, Don Bosco beat Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan 32-7, while AGCS defeated St James’ 42-14. Stephen Liu (14) and Michael Chu (12) were the main scorers for Don Bosco. Prasant Mehrotra (23) was the leading scorer for AGCS.


Calcutta, Dec. 12: 
She wants to be like Lindsay Davenport when she grows up “because she’s a fighter and is aggressive on the field”. Her younger sister, who loves reading and gobbles up every Harry Potter’s “goblet of fire”, idolises Steffi Graf.

They are, after all, the third generation players of Indian tennis’ first family — the Krishnans.

In the city to participate in the Adhip Mukerjea junior meet at the Jaidip Mukerjea Tennis Academy, 11-year old Gayatri and nine-year old Nandita, daughters of Ramesh Krishnan, are continuing with the tradition in the family.

Ramesh’s niece, his sister Gauri’s daughter, is also here to take part in the tournament. Gauri, incidentally, was also a tennis player.

Arguably the most gifted Indian player during his time, Ramesh has brought glory to the country on numerous occasions. Today he coaches at the Krishnan Tennis Academy in Chennai, to which he devotes most of his time.

It is here that the girls practise under the guidance of their father. For three to four hours everyday, Gayatri and Nandita enjoy the game that has governed their life since early childhood.

Their grandfather Ramanathan Krishnan plays an important role too. “My grandfather does not watch me play that often but he surely motivates me. Apart from my parents he is the other person who really inspires me,” says Gayatri, soon after defeating her opponent in the under-14 section of the tournament.

Gayatri, a class VI student of Shishya, Madras, is just about starting out on the junior Tour. This is her first year in tournaments such as these, yet it has been quite a busy one.

It’s either of her parents who escorts her around the country. “We take turns doing this,” says her mother Priya. They’ll be going to Guwahati next and then to Delhi.

The parents are aware of all the attention the girls are bound to attract from all around the country. They make it very evident that adulation is the last thing their daughters require at this age. “We don’t want their photographs to be published until they do something to merit it,” Priya insisted.

“They are like any other girl. They haven’t achieved anything at present. So there isn’t any reason why there should be any special attention paid to them just because of the family they belong to. It won’t be fair to them too,” Priya points out.

The next question that inevitably follows is what will happen when these youngsters have to make a choice between the game and academics. “So far, they’ve been managing very well and it’s not a problem at all. While I would like them to grow up to be tennis players, I wouldn’t like them to sacrifice studies,” their mother told The Telegraph today.

“But whatever the future holds, the development of this skill will ultimately help them,” she adds. “At present, they are just enjoying themselves but the real test will come later when the competition gets tougher.”

The Christmas holidays have made it easier for the girls to participate in this tournament but what happens when the school demands more?

“If I have to play in Chennai and if the match gets over before 10 am, I go to school. But if it’s somewhere outside the city, I have to submit a leave application,” Gayatri explains.

The little girls may seem immensely confident on the court, but they surely are like any other little girl next door. While both, without a tinge of hesitation, give history the highest marks as far as interesting subjects in school go, they are equally sure that tennis players are what they’ll be.

But how far the pressure of being a member of the Krishnan family and the expectations that follow plays fair with them remains to be seen.


Jockey Aslam Kader continues his quest for winners in Calcutta. His December 1 visit to the city had spelt doom for his followers, though the jockey could not be blamed entirely for the failure of his favourites on that day. Last Sunday, again, the two hot-favourites he was engaged to ride, brought about big disappointment to his hosts of followers.

The defeat of his first ride — Angeles, the half-money favourite to win the Nanoli Stud Juvenile Stakes — was, somewhat, expected. But the loss of his equally short-priced filly Altimara, in the Cal-cutta 2000 Guineas, came as a big jolt. The Darius Byramji-trainee was going for a classic-double, for her owner Deepak Khaitan, having already won the 1000 Guineas in an impressive manner. The race was won by Aloritz, the owner-mate, from Vijay Singh’s yard.

Yes, Aloritz was the highest handicap rated horse in the field of 10 and the Razeen-Allesca colt had been displaying his brilliance on the local track since last winter, but Altimara is no mean a filly.

The two youngsters made a si-multaneous move from the top of the straight with Cristopher Al-ford on Aloritz enjoying a length and half advantage over the filly. It was only a ‘neck’ which separated the two fine horses in the last fur-long. And it proved to be a decisive verdict in favour of the colt.

Kader is, normally, expected to strike in similar situations but the champion jockey does not seem to be his old-self. He appears to have been shaken off since his nasty fall last October.

Nevertheless, the Altimara is still in reckoning for the Derby on January 7. The Razeen-Treasure’s Nest daughter is sure to relish the extended trip more than her con-queror. She had gone down to Six Speed by six lengths in the Banga-lore Fillies Stakes but the verdict was narrowed down to a shade under two lengths in the 2,000m Derby.

Angeles in the juvenile race was never expected to recover, within 10 days, from a punishing victory on debut. Moreover, the homebred daughter of Brave Hunter-Cool Tempo was up against a new set of rivals, includ-ing Astride — a runaway winner also on debut.

Yes, it may be unfair to say that the favourite disappointed. The Vijay-trainee was out-paced for a major part of the trip but came with a determined run in the last-furlong to push her claim with the other four horses involved in a blanket-finish. Astride won but just about as Shanker on the To-panoora-Nishila colt had to switch the course — from the rails to the wide out — to avoid getting boxed behind the front-runners. Astride, a friendless runner, also from Vi-jay’s yard, edged out another rank-outsider Alcalde who nearly pulled off a sensational win.

Angeles was third only three parts of the length behind but a neck clear of Think Of Us, who made most of the running, and an equally impressive performer, The Archer.

The other two heavily-fancied horses in the card — Daniel David’s Illustrious Reign, in the Maharajadhiraja Uday Chand Mahtab of Burdwan Memorial Cup, and Vijay’s Fame Star in the Air Force Cup — completed the formality of going to the start and returning home without being tested by any of their rivals.

Daniel’s other two equally fan-cied wards — Mr Bombshell in the opener, the Pilot Handicap and Abstone Queen in the concluding event, the Wingerd Tiger Handi-cap — were, however, at a receiv-ing end. Both were effortless win-ners in their previous outing but found the going tough against the higher class company.

While Winning Hand and Starina pushed the Bombshell to the third slot in a tight-finish, The Queen, too, occupied the same slot but far too behind a fluent winner Diplomatic Gesture and Aflicker. Make a note of Starina’s run. The Richard Alford-trainee nearly pulled off a win from the start.


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