Friday, August 31, 2007

Paes crashes out of US Open men's doubles

Defending champions and fourth seeds Leander Paes and Martin Damm crashed out in the opening round of the men's doubles at the US Open.

The Indo-Czech duo were humbled 7-6(7-1),3-6,4-6 by unseeded Frenchmen Julien Benneteau and Nicolas Mahut.

Compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi had better luck. He and Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic, seeded sixth here, got past Russia's Igor Kunitsyn and Dmitry Tursunov in straight sets 6-3,7-5.

Bhupathi and Zimonjic, fresh from their victory at the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, will now run into unseeded Americans Robert Kendrick and Sam Querrey.


Just hours after her second round win over Laura Granville, Sania Mirza was back on court to help American Bethanie Mattek defeat Serbia's Jelena Jankovic and France's Severine Bremond in the first round of the women's doubles. The number 16 seeds prevailed 6-2,6-2, making it a good day for the 20-year-old Indian.

Paes still had reason to stay back in New York. In an evening match, he partnered American Meghann Shaughnessy to beat Pavel Vizner of the Czech Republic and Janette Husarova of Slovakia in their mixed doubles opener. The unseeded pair won 7-5, 6-3, earning them a meeting with fifth seeded Czech duo Martin Damm and Kveta Peschke in the second round.

Mirza beats Granville in second round
Leander Paes to pair up with Jamie Murray
Who should Paes pair up with?
Martin Damm
Mahesh Bhupathi
Jamie Murray
David Rikl
Rohan Bopanna
Nenad Zimonjic free polls

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sania Mirza enters third round at US Open

Sania Mirza has set a date with Russian Anna Chakvetadze at the US Open after battling past American Laura Granville 6-3, 7-5 in an error-strewn second round match in which both players struggled to hold their serve.

Mirza, the first Indian woman to be seeded at the US Open, had been tipped to win easily against Granville, at 26 the proverbial underachiever. But the 20-year-old Indian was her own worst enemy - making 33 unforced errors in the one hour 22 minute match.

Mirza, wearing the same red-and-white dress she wore in the first round against Estonian Kaia Kanepi, started by losing her first service game on the Louis Armstrong court.

But she broke right back and then held serve in the third game of the first set - winning a slugfest of a rally and finishing the game with an ace.

Mirza's game came apart in the fourth game and a couple of unforced errors helped Granville hold her serve and even the set at two games apiece.

Both players were serving well but there was no stopping the unforced errors. In the next game, Mirza saved two breakpoints to lead 3-2.

The following three games went the whole hog with neither player able to hold serve. Granville, who doesn't have the same pace as Mirza, compensated by giving the Hyderabadi lass more leeway to commit a slew of forehand errors.

Leading 5-3, Mirza broke the trend in the ninth game, holding her serve to take the first set after 36 minutes of play.

The second set began somewhat like the first with both players breaking each other's service games.

At 1-1, the 26th-seeded Mirza stepped up the pace by reeling off three games in a row, an inopportune double-fault in the fifth game by Granville helping her cause.

Now leading 4-1, Mirza lost concentration on her serve and Granville, irritated by her double-fault in the previous game, began to take more chances around the court. The ploy helped and the world no. 60 broke Mirza's serve for the fourth time in the match.

A resurgent Granville then reeled off some good forehand winners to hold serve and inch closer to Mirza at 4-3.

Two games later at 5-4, Mirza was serving for the match and had two matchpoints at 40-15. Another lapse of concentration by the Indian cost her dearly as she squandered both. Granville won on her second breakpoint to even the set at 5-all.

For a player leading 4-1 and then 5-4, Mirza was rattled but not enough to throw the match away. Granville didn't do herself any favours by serving a double-fault in a crucial service game. Mirza broke to lead 6-5 and get another chance to serve out the match.

This time, she kept her nerves in check, winning a hotly contested rally to set up her third matchpoint and then let out a whoop of excitement as a Granville error sent her into the third round.

Mirza finished with 33 winners compared to 18 by the Chicago-based Granville. Her 6 aces helped her at crucial moments against Granville who served five double-faults to dig her own grave.


Next up for Mirza is her friend Chakvetadze, the world number six and one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour this year. The Russian beat Australian Nicole Pratt 6-3, 6-4 in her second round match.

Mirza drastically needs to reduce the number of unforced errors, which Chakvetadze will be all too eager to take advantage of.

Chakvetadze has always done well at New York, having reached the fourth round last year and the third round in 2004 and 2005. This year, her best on the tour so far, the blonde from Moscow will be hoping to make it all the way to the final four.

Mirza and Chakvetadze have met thrice this year with the Russian winning all three of their battles in 2007. The closest Mirza came to beating Chakvetadze was in the Cincinnati semis where the Russian prevailed 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. That was also the only time the Indian managed to take a set off her Russian nemesis.

Will their US Open match-up throw up any surprises? Well, Mirza's fans will be hoping she has what it takes to move to the fourth round.

Mirza beats Kanepi in US Open first round
Mirza's path to the quarter-finals: Can she make it?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sania Mirza to face Laura Granville in US Open second round

Sania Mirza made it safely to the second round of the 2007 US Open. Estonian Kaia Kanepi might have been easy fodder but the 20-year-old Indian shouldn't relax yet.

Looming up before her is American Laura Granville. The 26-year-old from Chicago is a solid and experienced player, with a knack for surprising those ranked above her.

Mirza, seeded 26th at Flushing Meadows, has never played Granville before, which means both players will be eager to size each other up when they meet on Thursday.

Granville will be playing in her ninth US Open, having reached the third round in 2005 - the same year Mirza made it to the last 16.

Four years ago, the American reached her career-best ranking of 28, just one rung lower than where Mirza is right now.

In July, Granville beat Martina Hingis and Sybille Bammer in straight sets to make the fourth round at Wimbledon, a feat she had first achieved as a qualifier in 2002.

A run like that should have been her breakthrough moment for 2007.

Surprisingly, Granville hadn't won a match since. Till she beat France's Olivia Sanchez 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of the US Open.

The world no. 60 is certainly out to prove herself and Sania Mirza should consider her armed and extremely dangerous.


Mirza beats Kanepi in US Open first round
Mirza's path to the quarter-finals: Can she make it?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sania Mirza survives scare at US Open

Sania Mirza, the first Indian woman to be seeded at the US Open, made good use of her dreaded forehand to see off Estonia's Kaia Kanepi in a first round match that gave her fans several anxious moments.

The 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1 victory at the Grandstand court that sent Mirza into the second round wasn't the easy romp the 20-year-old Hyderabadi had expected.

Mirza, dressed in red and white, had begun well, oozing confidence as she broke Kanepi in the third game of the first set.

The no. 26 seed was serving well and Kanepi seemed to wilt away as her returns increasingly found their way into the net.

The two hadn't met before and the Estonian's game, suited more for claycourts, had no answers for Mirza's forehand. Another break in the sixth game found Mirza serving for the set at 5-2.

Kanepi saved a setpoint and thanks to an inopportune double-fault by Mirza had a breakpoint. And then another. But Mirza recovered to win the set in less than 30 minutes.

Mirza hadn't lost a first round match in nine straight hardcourt tournaments and it seemed the record would be safely extended.


Unforced errors continued to pile up for Kanepi as she handed Mirza a break in the third game of the second set.

But the sixth game marked a turning point in the match as Kanepi, adjusting to Mirza's game, produced an array of shots to hold her serve. And then promptly broke Mirza in the next game.

With Sania's game unravelling and the momentum swinging Kanepi's way, the unseeded Estonian held her serve to go 4-3 up. And then 5-4.

The experienced Indian, who reached the Last 16 here two years ago, showed no sign of nerves as she served to save the set. An ace and a well-timed topspin lob was followed by an unlucky double-fault. Even under pressure - Kanepi was two points from the set - Mirza stuck to her guns and produced a textbook forehand shot and then an ace to even out the second set at five games apiece.

Kanepi, who seemed to be giving Mirza a taste of her own medicine with some smoking forehands, took control of the tie-breaker two games later, quickly going 6-3 up. The Indian saved the first setpoint with a killer serve. An error cost the Estonian the second. But an unforced error on Kanepi's serve by Mirza sent the match into the deciding set.

A dejected Mirza stepped up the pressure, displaying some good foot movement to win the first game of the third set.

Th momentum had swung Mirza's way again. She won the next 3 games as well - with Kanepi double-faulting on breakpoint to leave Mirza serving at 4-0.

Mirza made full use of her forehand - the best weapon in her arsenal. Her successful stint playing doubles also seemed to help, making her react faster at the net and adding to her confidence as the match progressed.

The fifth game was decided by errors. Mirza double-faulted thrice but still won - thanks to unforced mistakes by the 22-year-old Estonian.

Kanepi came up with an ace to get on the scoreboard in the next game. But Mirza wasn't about to let her come back into the match. She quickly set up two matchpoints on her serve and whooped as a Kanepi return hit the net. It had taken Mirza an hour and 40 minutes to make it safely to the second round.

She now faces American Laura Granville, an experienced player with a solid game but not a forehand like Mirza. But the Indian can't afford to lose concentration like she did in her hiccup against Kanepi.

Mirza finished with 28 winners and an astonishing 32 unforced errors. Her 8 aces were more than compensated for by an equal number of double-faults. In the end, experience counted and Kanepi was sent packing. But Mirza's next opponent might just capitalise on these mistakes so the Indian should watch out.

Mirza's opponents in the coming rounds

Monday, August 27, 2007

Leander Paes to pair up with Jamie Murray

Doubles specialist Leander Paes has asked British player Jamie Murray to pair up with him in at least two ATP tournaments following the US Open.

Paes and Martin Damm of the Czech Republic are the defending champions at the year's final Grand Slam in New York and are seeded fourth in the men's doubles.

Jamie, the older brother of Britain's number one Andy Murray, is an accomplished doubles player in his own right having won three tournaments this season in partnership with American Eric Butorac.

Murray will now pair up with world number eight Paes for ATP tournaments in Bangkok (September) and Tokyo (October).

"I have a talent for spotting something special in people," Paes was quoted as saying by The Times. "I spotted it a year ago when he was relatively unknown. It's that X-factor thing."
Paes should know. He and Mahesh Bhupathi were one of the best doubles pairs ever and even after their infamous split the Indian duo have won several titles in partnership with other players.

Interestingly, even Bhupathi has played with Murray this year, teaming up with the world no. 28 in the Cincinnati Masters where they lost to the world's best pair - Bob and Mike Bryan - in the second round.

Murray told The Times Paes had approached him several times.

"I didn't think about it too much because I was playing with Booty (Butorac) and we were playing well. He kept asking me and I thought, 'It's a great opportunity to try and play with someone like that.'"
But Murray's regular partner Butorac, who is playing with the 21-year-old Scot at the US Open, didn't sound too happy about the new pairing.

"Paes is 34. It might be fun to play a couple of tournaments with him, but in a year or two I'm probably going to be the better player," Butorac told the paper. "I hope Jamie realises that."
Who should Paes pair up with?
Martin Damm
Mahesh Bhupathi
Jamie Murray
David Rikl
Rohan Bopanna
Nenad Zimonjic free polls

Watch out for Sania Mirza at US Open

That's tennis writer Peter Bodo's prediction on ESPN - Sania Mirza is on his list of players likely to make a splash at the 2007 US Open.

With action starting today at Flushing Meadows, Bodo points out that "Mirza has shown signs of maturity that her game has sorely lacked, and she likes this surface."

The number 26 seed also carries the heavy burden of being India's only representative in the singles events.


She's in great form though and currently enjoys her highest ever career ranking - 27 (in singles) and 20 (in doubles).

Mirza begins her US Open campaign on Tuesday with a 4-2 win-loss record at the Grand Slam, already looking ahead to a possible third round clash with the in-form Russian Anna Chakvetadze.

Will Mirza repeat her dream run of 2005, when she lost in the fourth round to top seed Maria Sharapova?

Well, her doubles victory at the Pilot Pen tournament over the weekend should keep her spirits up. After all, Mirza and Italy's Mara Santangelo beat the best women's pair of 2007 - Cara Black and Liezel Huber - in straight sets 6-1, 6-2.

At the US Open, Mirza will be partnering American Bethanie Mattek in the women's doubles. The number 16 seeds face the unseeded pair of Jelena Jankovic and Severine Bremond in the first round. But their real test lies in a possible encounter with second seeds Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur in the third round. Mirza and Israel's Shahar Peer had lost to the duo at the same stage at Wimbledon.

In the mixed doubles, Mirza is partnering doubles specialist Mahesh Bhupathi, who's won the event twice before - with Ai Sugiyama in 1999 and Daniela Hantuchova in 2005.

India can also hope for good results from Bhupathi and Leander Paes in the men's doubles. Both have won it in the past though with different partners - Bhupathi with Max Mirnyi in 2002 and Paes with Martin Damm last year.

This year, Bhupathi and Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic, fresh from their victory at the Pilot Pen tournament, are seeded sixth and could run into defending champions and fourth seeds Paes and Damm in the quarter-finals.

Both Bhupathi and Paes haven't won a Grand Slam title this year and would be eager to finish the year on a high.

However, Indian fans would be disappointed that Rohan Bopanna won't be playing in the men's doubles. Bopanna, who along with Pakistan's Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi notched up four straight ATP doubles titles this season, could not qualify for a place in the doubles draw. The 27-year-old player is now ranked 87 in doubles, having jumped 40 places on the ATP list in the last two months.

Earlier this week, Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj crashed out in the qualifying rounds for the men's singles while Sunitha Rao came agonisingly close to joining Mirza in the women's singles draw.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bhupathi picks up Pilot Pen doubles title

In a morale-booster ahead of the US Open, Mahesh Bhupathi and Serbia's Nenad Zimonjic have won the men's doubles title at the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven.

The top-seeded duo, who hadn't dropped a set all week, made short work of no. 4 seeds Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski in the final, beating the Polish pair in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.

The facile win gave Bhupathi his second doubles title this season and 41st overall. The title at New Haven comes 10 years after he first triumphed there in partnership with Leander Paes.

Earlier this month, the 33-year-old Indian had also struck gold at the Montreal Masters with Czech partner Pavel Vizner.

Interestingly, the Pilot Pen title was the first win for Bhupathi in partnership with Zimonjic. They had played together sporadically in the past - a total of four tournaments in seven years.

The Bangalore-based Bhupathi is currently ranked 20 on the ATP doubles list.

There could be more good news in store for India from the Pilot Pen tournament. Sania Mirza is partnering Italy's Mara Santangelo for a shot at the women's doubles title against top seeds Cara Black and Liezel Huber.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sunitha Rao's US Open dream shattered

Seven years. Seven attempts. Seven failures. Sunitha Rao had been on the verge of making it to the 2007 US Open singles event, but a 6-4, 6-4 loss to 78th-ranked Zi Yan of China put paid to her dream.

Rao has been playing in the qualifiers at Flushing Meadows each year since 2001, but had never gone past the second round. This year, the US-based Indian had come closest to her goal - just one match away from the main draw.

The 21-year-old's third round loss was not unexpected given the wide gap that separated the world number 219 from the second-seeded Zi in terms of WTA ranking. But Rao's wins over players ranked above her in the first two rounds of qualifying had raised expectations of the Florida-based player joining India's Sania Mirza in the singles main draw.

Ironically, the Chinese player had also beaten Rao in the first round of qualifying at the 2003 edition of the Grand Slam. Zi now leads their head-to-head tally 3-1 with Rao having snatched a lone win at Strasbourg in 2005.

Earlier this week, Rao had defeated 125th-ranked Varvara Lepchenko of Uzbekistan and 218th-ranked Romanian Monica Niculescu in the US Open qualifiers.

With Neha Uberoi (playing for the US) also succumbing in the first round of qualifying, Sania Mirza remains the only Indian-origin player in the singles main draw of the year's final Grand Slam.

Friday, August 24, 2007

No singles for Indian men at US Open

With both Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna bowing out in the qualifiers, India will not be represented in the men's singles main draw at US Open 2007.

Amritraj, ranked 270th in the world, lost in the first round of the qualifiers to 17-year-old Kei Nishikori of Japan. Amritraj won the first set before Nishikori, ranked just one place above him on the ATP list, rolled out a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win.

In all fairness, Amritraj was hampered by a torn ligament on his left wrist which restricted him to a one-handed backhand. The 23-year-old son of former tennis star Vijay Amritraj is scheduled to have surgery in Los Angeles after he returns from New York.

In 2002, just before he turned pro, Prakash made it to the main draw of the US Open before losing to Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan in straight sets.


India's no. 1 Rohan Bopanna did one better than Amritraj this year, reaching the second round of qualifying before losing to 19th seed Pablo Cuevas. The 21-year-old Uruguayan was made to work hard before carving out a 6-4, 6-7 (7-9), 7-5 victory.

The 223-ranked Bopanna had beaten Frenchman Julien Jeanpierre in straight sets in the first round.


But there was hope yet for India in the women's singles qualifiers with 219th-ranked Sunitha Rao just one match away from the main draw.

Rao beat 125th-ranked Varvara Lepchenko of Uzbekistan in the second round of qualifying. A hard-fought first set went 7-5 in Sunitha's favour before she blanked Lepchenko in the second to record her second career victory over the Tashkent girl. Their head-to-head tally now stands at 2-2.

In the first round, Rao had beaten Romanian Monica Niculescu, ranked one place higher than her on the WTA list, in a three-setter 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

The draws for the doubles events at the 2007 US Open were yet to be announced at the time of writing this post.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Good and bad news for Sania Mirza

The Good News: Sania Mirza is the first Indian woman to be seeded at a Grand Slam; the world number 28 is seeded 26 for next week's US Open.
The Bad News: Sania Mirza is unlikely to progress beyond the third round at the Grand Slam where she shockingly reached Round 4 two years ago.

Of course, miracles do happen and we really pray that Mirza will steamroll past Russian star Anna Chakvetadze in the third round. Unfortunately, sixth-seeded Chakvetadze is currently the hottest player on the tour, apart from compatriot Maria Sharapova, and has beaten Mirza three times in 2007.

Two of those victories came at the Cincinnati and Stanford legs of the American hardcourt season last month with the Hyderabadi lass just about managing to take a set off her Russian nemesis.

But is Mirza guaranteed to make it to the third round? Well, on current form she should easily sweep aside her first-round opponent Kaia Kanepi - the world number 44 from Estonia. The two have never met before.


Round 2 should be slightly tougher. American Laura Granville, who plays a qualifier in the first round, will have the advantage of a home crowd if she comes through to play Mirza in their first head-to-head meeting. Granville may be ranked 60 now but the experienced player was once number 28 in the world - which is incidentally also Mirza's highest career ranking.


If Mirza safely negotiates these two hurdles, she will most probably run into Chakvetadze. Which should ideally be the end of the singles competition for the Indian.


But suppose a miracle does happen and Mirza beats the Russian star, she could face Swiss player Patty Schnyder. The momentum should swing Mirza's way here, considering she beat the number 11 seed in last month's Stanford quarters.

There are too many ifs here already but if Mirza were to make history by reaching the quarterfinals, she could bump into another Russian rival - defending champion Maria Sharapova. The 20-year-old has beaten Mirza twice in her career, including in the match which ended the Indian's dream run at the 2005 US Open.

Well, no match is won until the last point and we can safely hope Sania's stinging forehand should spring some surprises at Flushing Meadows.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

It's raining aces for Indian tennis

It's been a good month for Indian tennis. Sania Mirza finally displayed some of her early promise, rocketing up to number 30 on the WTA rankings following an impressive run in the American edition of the tour. Her scalps at Stanford and San Diego include known names like Dinara Safina, Shahar Peer and Patty Schnyder.

The plucky lass from Hyderabad figured in the WTA Top 10 Power list for the Acura Classic and we can be sure her fearsome forehand may pack some punch yet. Add to this her second career victory over Martina Hingis at the ongoing East West Bank Classic in Los Angeles and Mirza's surely gonna be the first Indian woman to be seeded at a Grand Slam.

The US Open, which starts on August 27, is also the Grand Slam where Mirza achieved her best showing yet - a fourth round loss to Maria Sharapova in 2005. And who knows, if her form continues, a quarter-final berth at Flushing Meadows may just be within her reach.

In the men's singles, Prakash Amritraj is also inching towards his highest ranking yet - he was 220 in 2004 and is now at 268, after impressive runs at the ATP Hall of Fame Championships and the Comerica Challenger. He's vaulted up 200 positions in the rankings in just one month. Though it remains to be seen whether Prakash will ever match the achievements of his father Vijay, being India's numero uno is still very much within his grasp.

That position currently belongs to Rohan Bopanna. The 27-year-old reached his highest ever ranking of 213 this July after winning his maiden Challenger title at Dublin. But Bopanna is more in the limelight for his doubles victories in partnership with Pakistan's Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi. In one month, the duo notched up a hat-trick of doubles titles at Segovia, Manchester and Nottingham - making Bopanna the first Indian after Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to break into the top 100 in the ATP doubles rankings.

After Bopanna and Amritraj, the next Indian in the ATP singles list is 340th-ranked Karan Rastogi. A victory at the ITF Futures tournament in Morocco is Rastogi's claim to fame. Keep him on your radar as this 20-something resident of Mumbai may have some more wins up his sleeve.

There's more good news in store with 15-year-old Yuki Bhambri. This sibling of the Bhambri sisters won an ITF event in Cairo and is now headed for a stint at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. Yuki has a shot at playing the U.S. Open Juniors and I feel we'll be hearing a lot about this talented youngster in the coming years.

In the women's singles, Shikha Uberoi is going through a slump. She's currently at 333 in the rankings, having reached a personal best of 122 two years ago. Apart from Mirza, the US-based Sunitha Rao is the only other Indian woman in the Top 300, coming in at 218.

(Current rankings based on August 6, 2007 ATP and WTA list)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

FORUM: Should Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi get back together?

It's been ages since the 'Indian Express' broke up and India's medal prospects at the 2008 Beijing Olympics look pretty bleak if Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi don't team up.

Should the two players patch things up for a shot at Olympic gold or should Bhupathi fancy his chances with rising star Rohan Bopanna? Have your say.

Post your comment here
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With Somdev Devvarman (January 13, 2009 and October 4, 2007)

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