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Towards a better tennis culture

Siliguri, Nov. 19: Siliguri Indoor Stadium stood still today as the leading ladies of Indian tennis served and volleyed for the winners’ trophy of the second Videocon Invitation Challenge Tennis Tournament.

By the end of the day, the people of the town had witnessed two unique ties interspersed with a more serious and engrossing doubles match. The players ultimately shared the prize money of Rs 2 lakh between them.

In the first tie, the main organisers of the event, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya and Siliguri mayor Bikash Ghosh, teamed up with Sania Mirza and Shikha Uberoi to play a few serves, much to the amusement of the sell-out crowd at the venue. It broke into applause whenever the elder partners managed to hit the ball back over the net.

The exhilarating doubles tie, played between Sania Mirza-Rushmi Chakravarty and the Uberoi sisters, followed next and a full house of 3,500 spectators witnessed a see-saw battle which stretched to three sets. Shikha and Neha bagged the first 7-5. However, despite a comparatively weak partner, Sania steered a comeback, winning the second set 4-6.

The deciding third set was played on a “super tie-breaker” basis with whichever team reaching 10 points with a two-point lead, winning. Once the umpire declared the super tie-breaker, the crowd was on the edge of their seats. The score line tied four times, as all the four players made their best efforts to hit winners.

The Uberoi sisters came back as Sania and Rushmi scored, and both sides went on balancing the scores. Finally, with the score line reading 8-9 in favour of Sania-Rushmi, the tennis queen’s magic worked, with a match-winning return that left the Uberoi sisters stranded.

The winners took home a prize of Rs 1,25,000, while the runners-up got a cheque worth Rs 75,000. The prize money was provided by title sponsors Videocon, which also presented 10 computers to mayor Bikash Ghosh for the Siliguri Municipal Corporation.

In the final game, Davis Cup player Mahesh Bhupathi made an appearance on popular demand and took on Sania in a token set. The latter won “comfortably” after her opponent volleyed to miss.

“The tournament and our taking part are efforts to make the game popular in the region,” Bhupathi told The Telegraph in the players’ room just before the women’s doubles tie started. Asked how serious the tournament was, he said it was mainly a move “by Asokda and Bikashda to promote the sport here”.

He did not, however, rule out the possibility of the tournament being upgraded and accepted in future as an official event by the All India Tennis Association. “For that, new players from the circuit would have to be brought in. It is, of course, a long process.” Hopefully, Leander Paes, who is playing a tournament in Shanghai, can be brought in next time, he added.

“The crowd is yet to pick up true tennis culture,” said Bhattacharya after the match. “We have to convert youth more conversant with football to people who seriously love tennis,” he added.

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