Monday, October 15, 2007

Sunitha Rao falls at final hurdle in San Francisco

A brilliant run in the $50,000 ITF San Francisco Tennis Classic ended with defeat in the final for India's Sunitha Rao. The eighth seed couldn't keep the magic going against top seeded American Ashley Harkleroad and went down tamely 6-1, 6-2.

The loss was a disappointing one for Rao but it was still her best result for 2007 - gaining her $3,990 in prizemoney and 25 valuable WTA points. Her latest ranking shot ten places up to 175 and Rao is now within striking distance of her career-best ranking of 152 (achieved in July 2003).

The Florida-based player had started the year ranked 232 and had dipped as low as 278 in June before jumping 100 places in just four months. Rao had also been the losing finalist in a $25,000 ITF event at Tampa in July.

The San Francisco result had not been an unexpected one. Harkleroad, although now ranked just 92, is a former Top 40 player and not one to be taken lightly. Interestingly, Rao had won their previous encounter in the 2003 Australian Open qualifiers, albeit in three sets.

Rao, who will celebrate her 22nd birthday on October 27, also had luck on her side - she didn't face anybody ranked higher than her in the four matches till the final.

In the latest WTA rankings (October 15), Rao led an army of Indian women moving up the list. Tara Iyer moved one place up to 358, Rushmi Chakravarthi gained two places to be ranked 368 and Isha Lakhani moved up three spots to 432.

But Indian number one Sania Mirza dropped one spot to 30, thanks to a first round exit at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.

In the doubles, Mirza moved up one spot to 19, while Rao lost three places to be placed 141. The biggest loser of the week was Shikha Uberoi - who slid 43 places to 209.

Rohan Bopanna, the best Indian player in the men's singles, was down nine places (260) while Prakash Amritraj slid two spots (270). The big gainer - no. 343 Karan Rastogi who moved up four places.

In the doubles rankings, Bopanna's semifinal run at ATP Stockholm saw him jump seven places to 79 while Leander Paes(17) and Mahesh Bhupathi(21) retained their spots on the list.

Middle-level Indian players have a chance to earn valuable points at the men's $15,000 India F9 Futures event at Bellary, Karnataka which kicked off on Monday.
Can Sunitha Rao ever match Sania Mirza's achievements?
Yes - the way she's playing, anything is possible
No - Rao doesn't have what it takes
Can't say - we'll have to watch her in 2008 free polls

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With Somdev Devvarman (January 13, 2009 and October 4, 2007)

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