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Rastogi outlasts Mankad

Calcutta: In what was the most high profile clash of the IndianOil Servo National Grass Court Championships, top seed Karan Rastogi tamed Harsh Mankad 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to set up a semi-final meeting with Divij Sharan.

Fourth seed Sharan got the better of No. 7 seed Vinod Sridhar 6-4, 6-3 in a battle of left-handers.

The other semi-final will pit J. Vishnu Vardhan against V.M. Ranjeet. Vishnu, the sixth seed from Hyderabad, knocked out No. 2 Ashutosh Singh 6-4, 6-0. It wasn’t an accurate reflection of Vishnu’s skills as Ashutosh was hampered by tendinitis in his Achilles’ heel.

Treta Bhattacharya continued to surge forward in the women’s draw, her latest victim being sixth-seeded citymate Ragini Vimal. The 16-year-old Standard X girl outlasted Ragini 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 in two hours and seven minutes on Thursday to claim her second seeded victim in three rounds.

Treta, playing her maiden senior grass court national meet, will next face another giantkiller Shalini Sahoo. The sociology student of Lady Shriram College, Delhi, made short work of second seed Sonal Phadke en route to the semis.

In top half action, Rushmi Chakravarthy lived up to her billing with a 6-1, 6-2 demolition of Rashmi Teltumbde. Up next in the top seed’s path will be Pooja Shree Venkatesh who bundled out third seed Asha Nanda Kumar 7-5, 6-1.

Back to the duo who were the cynosure at the South Club on Thursday. It was Mankad who started strong and dominant in what many felt was a final before the final. Three quality service returns helped the 29-year-old break Rastogi in the very first game.

Mankad, moving up on his serves, volleyed crisply to deny Rastogi a toehold on the baseline. At 4-2, Mankad looked to have the first set sewed up.

Rastogi, eight years younger, turned the opening set on its head by reeling off four games on the trot. His double-fisted backhand did the maximum damage as Mankad surrendered serve in the eighth and tenth games. Just to make a point, Rastogi sealed the set with a delightful forehand crosscourt winner which even his former coach Sanjay Poddar — who now works with Mankad — applauded.

Mankad, a born fighter, quickly shrugged off the first set and came up with a pinpoint backhand pass to capture Rastogi’s opening service game yet again. It wasn’t a smooth passage for Mankad thereafter, as Rastogi kept coming at him with consistent serving and a series of solid returns.

Rastogi played a soft game to drop serve a second time in the set. But Mankad couldn’t capitalise. Serving to level scores at 5-2, Mankad lapsed twice to let Rastogi back in the set.

Mankad still had a struggle in his hand as he served for the set a second time, at 5-4. It was after a marathon game — the longest in the match — and four missed set-points that Mankad finally bagged it.

Rastogi was the fitter and stronger man in the decider. To his credit, he didn’t let Mankad ride the momentum and took control early. Although Mankad broke back in the fifth game, Rastogi was not to be denied. His superior court coverage and higher energy level ensured Rastogi a berth in the semis.

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