| Radek Stepanek returns one to Prakash Amritraj in Chennai on Wednesday. (AFP)
Chennai: The odds were stacked heavily against him. The world No. 267, a wild card entrant to the Chennai Open, was up against second seed Radek Stepanek, ranked No. 20 and loaded with the experience of eight ATP meet finals.
But Prakash Amritraj couldn’t care less. The 22-year-old Indian went on court displaying a body language which screamed for blood. He squeezed out a tight first set, slumped in the second but fought tooth and nail in the decider before finally bowing 6-3, 0-6, 4-6.
Stepanek got through to the quarter finals but not before he felt a few shivers go down his spine. The Czech acknowledged that at the post-match press conference.
The Czech will meet Frenchman Thierry Ascione who whipped eighth seed Tomas Behrend of Germany 6-4, 6-1.
Carlos Moya gave his die-hard fans a few more anxious moments before winning his 12th match on the trot here to book a last-eight date with Bjorn Phau. Fourth seed Moya fed on the vociferous support of a half-full stadium to play a vintage third set and put out big American Justin Gimelstob 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Phau, seeded No. 7, had to fight just as hard to quell the challenge of fellow-German and qualifier Michael Berrer 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Pat Cash’s return to competitive tennis at age 40 lasted all of 53 minutes as he and Karan Rastogi lost 2-6, 2-6 to second-seeded German pair Rainer Schuettler Alexander Waske.
There was little to choose between Moya and Gimelstob in the first two sets. Came the third, and the two-time defending champion from Spain shut out all windows for Gimelstob.
Moya served solidly, not allowing his opponent a single break opportunity. He also probed the Gimelstob serve with some consistent returning and broke through in the ninth game before serving out the match.
“I had to be patient today (Wednesday) and wait for my chance in the third set,” Moya said later.
The first match saw Stepanek too flat to start with. He didn’t read Amritraj’s serve, the stiff breeze possibly denying him rhythm on his maiden centre court appearance. The Indian, on the other hand, stayed positive and took his chances.
The opening came in the fourth game, when Stepanek kept missing his first serves and Amritraj got the returns in. He missed the first break-point as a drop-volley landed an inch wide but converted the second by putting away a forehand volley having set it up with a deep return to the Czech’s backhand corner.
A break up, the onus was now on Amritraj to hold serve. He showed good composure in saving one break-point in game 5 and two more in game 9 before sealing the set with a stunning backhand crosscourt winner.
Amritraj, finding himself in a situation he has rarely experienced in his young career, got a tad too over-aggressive at the beginning of the second set. The intention was good, to push Stepanek harder and close it out in two sets. The execution wasn’t, as he rushed the volleys and overhit the forehand.
The Indian played his heart out in the decider, pumping himself up and getting the crowd involved in the match ' something he has definitely not picked up from dad Vijay. He won his service games comfortably and stayed afloat, even as Stepanek got stronger with every passing game.
Serving to stay in the match, Amritraj felt the heat as Stepanek made it 15-30 with a fully-stretched backhand winner. Then, at 30-all, the Czech produced another gem ' a whipping forehand crosscourt which had Amritraj lunging in vain. As an Amritraj forehand lodged into the net, Stepanek was celebrating.
It was a tame finish to what had been a courageous effort by Amritraj. He had lost but certainly not been disgraced. The last thing he could be blamed for the defeat was a lack of effort or killer instinct.