Thursday, January 31, 2008

All training, no tennis for Yuki Bhambri in February

Teenage prodigy Yuki Bhambri, considered by many to be India's next tennis great, is taking a break from the Junior tour for a month of training before playing Asian circuit events in March.

The 15-year-old's dream run in the 2008 Australian Open Boys' Singles event came to an end in the semifinals, where he lost in three sets to eventual champion Bernard Tomic of Australia.

Bhambri, ranked 12 in the world after his exploits at Melbourne Park, told the Indian Tennis Blog he won't be playing any ITF Junior circuit events in February.

"I plan to train for a month and then perhaps play the Asian circuit - Thailand, Philippines - and the (Grade) B1 in Delhi in March and April," Bhambri said.

"Hopefully, I will be able to further improve my ranking then."

Currently, Bhambri is gearing up for the LTAT Junior Championships at Nonthaburi, Thailand (March 10-16) and the Mitsubishi-Lancer International Juniors Championships at Manila (March 25-30).

Meanwhile, Yuki's elder siblings Sanaa and Ankita are heading for training in Florida before trying their luck at the $25,000 ITF Clearwater tournament beginning February 18. Several Indian women players, led by Indian no. 2 Sunitha Rao, have entered the Florida event.

"...and then (we'll) probably come back and play the challengers (Delhi and Noida) and the WTA (Bangalore) in March," Sanaa told the Indian Tennis Blog.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sania Mirza gives Venus Williams a fright at Australian Open

A spirited challenge by Sania Mirza wasn't enough to prevent a 6-7, 4-6 loss to current Wimbledon champion Venus Williams in the third round of the 2008 Australian Open.

Mirza, whose previous best at Melbourne Park was a third round loss to Venus' sister Serena in 2005, gave millions of Indians hopes of an upset win as a flurry of her forehand winners sailed past the six-time Grand Slam champion.

But Venus wasn't going to let Mirza add to India's quota of impressive wins on Saturday - what with the Indian cricket team thrashing Australia in the Perth test earlier in the day.

The 21-year-old Hyderabadi had begun in promising fashion in a match delayed by several hours, breaking the American's serve at two-all in the first set.

A few minutes later, Mirza was up 5-3 as a Venus serve rocketed past her. She responded with a smile and an outstanding return of serve on the next point. At 30-30, the Indian was two points away from the set and an upset win loomed large.

But it wasn't to be.

The game went to deuce twice before Venus dug in to hold serve and Mirza found herself serving for the set.

A costly error by Mirza at 30-all set up breakpoint for the American. The eighth-seeded Venus revved up a notch, broke back and then sent down a flurry of aces to go up 6-5.

All seemed over when the Indian went down 15-40 but a bunch of winners and Venus errors saw Mirza take the match into the tiebreaker. The number 31 seed was all smiles as an ardent fan shouted "Sensational Sania" and the spectators in the Rod Laver arena settled in for a slugfest.

But the 27-year-old Venus played a flawless tiebreak (7-0) and grabbed the first set in 50 minutes.

Mirza's serve let her down and the more experienced Williams pounced on the Indian's weakness as she kept edging forward inside the baseline to face the weak second serves.

The momentum had clearly shifted in the American's favour but Mirza seemed determined to give a good fight. The opening point of the second set was the best of the match - the 19-shot rally ending in Mirza's favour.

Games went on serve till 3-3 when Williams broke Mirza in a game which saw two points challenged by either player and replayed. A costly doublefault (her fourth of the match) didn't do the Indian any good.

Mirza's unforced errors crept up - she was to make 30 of them in the 92-minute match. And Venus was serving better in the second set with more aces (5), more winners (10) and fewer unforced errors (8).

Her confidence back on track, the elder Williams was soon 5-3 up and two points from victory on the Indian's serve. But Mirza responded with an ace (her only ace of the match) to take the game.

Serving for the match at 5-4, Venus sent down two aces and wrapped up the match on the first of her three matchpoints.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Somdev Dev Varman's twin triumph at Florida

Mainstream newspapers in India may have ignored news of Somdev Dev Varman's triumph at the USA F1 Futures at Wesley Chapel(Florida) on January 13 but the 22-year-old Indian isn't complaining.

The reigning NCAA champion won the singles title at the $10,000 hardcourt tournament after going through qualifying for the 32-player event - a total of seven matches on the trot.

If that wasn't enough, Dev Varman partnered American Treat Huey to victory in the men's doubles event.

"I played a lot of tough matches beginning with my first round," he told the Indian Tennis Blog. "Overall it was a good learning experience for me and I'm glad I went to play."

Dev Varman is currently ranked a measly 1037 on the ATP Tour, thanks to his decision not to turn professional till mid-2008, when he finishes his stint at the University of Virginia.

"Over the next few months, I am focussed on finishing up school and helping my team to be at the very top of college tennis," he said.

"I'm not sure about what pro tournaments I'll be playing but I will be working on my pro schedule after I graduate soon."

Dev Varman won the NCAA championship in May 2007 - the first Indian to triumph at the premier American collegiate event and emulate the likes of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe.

In a poll conducted by the Indian Tennis Blog in December, 48 per cent picked Dev Varman as the "Indian player to watch out for in 2008".
Should Somdev Dev Varman turn professional?
Yes - he's wasting his best formative years
No - he will peak gradually this way
Can't say free polls
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With Somdev Devvarman (January 13, 2009 and October 4, 2007)

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