Monday, June 30, 2008

Twin triumph for Somdev Dev Varman at Rochester

Wimbledon 2008 may have ended early for some of India's tennis stars but across the Atlantic Ocean a lanky 23-year-old proved just why he is the country's next big tennis hope.

On Sunday, Somdev Dev Varman won both the singles and doubles titles at the $10,000 Buffalo Bills tournament in Rochester. The double NCAA champion had been playing his first professional tournament since passing out of the University of Virginia last month.

And the victory, his second Futures title on US soil this year, was especially sweet -- the eighth seed breezed through his five matches in straight sets. In fact, his first two opponents couldn't win a single game.

After he beat American Alexander Domijan 6-2, 6-2 in the singles final, Dev Varman was back on court with college mate Treat Huey, eking out a 6-1,4-6,12-10 win over Americans Bryan Koniecko and Justin Kronauge to claim the doubles title.

Dev Varman, currently ranked 797 on the ATP list, is expected to soar up the rankings thanks to his performance at Rochester and also possibly at the Futures Tournament in Pittsburgh, where he's playing this week.

Dev Varman won the NCAA championship in May for the second year running -- the first Indian to triumph at the premier American collegiate event and emulate the likes of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe. See INTERVIEW (Oct 2007)

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".

In Ireland, Harsh Mankad was a match away from returning to the winner's circle once again, but a 3-6,4-6 loss to second seed Conor Niland of Ireland put paid to his hopes.

The 28-year-old, making a slow comeback to the Tour after injuries, had earlier upset the top and third seeds at the $15,000 Futures at Limerick.

Another name missing out on tennis action this month was Karan Rastogi. Back problems are becoming Rastogi's bane and the 21-year-old is finding it a challenge just to keep fit.

"I'm in Australia getting it treated so might be out for a little longer," the 609-ranked Rastogi told the Indian Tennis Blog.

Back at Wimbledon, a quick exit in both men's and mixed doubles events finds Mahesh Bhupathi preparing for tournaments in the United States.

Leander Paes and Sania Mirza still survive (as of now) in their respective doubles events but the 2008 grasscourt Grand Slam hasn't been too kind to Indians.

(Photo of Somdev Dev Varman: from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)
(Photo of Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi: from

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wimbledon 2008 starts with four Indians in focus

Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna are in action at Wimbledon this week although it's tough to predict whether any of them will survive till the second week of the grasscourt Grand Slam.

Prakash Amritraj and Sunitha Rao crashed out in the second round of singles qualifying but two other Indians - Yuki Bhambri and Poojashree Venkatesh - will also be battling it out in the junior events.

Mirza, returning from a long break after wrist surgery, will be hoping to better her previous showing at Wimbledon -- reaching the second round in 2005 and 2007.

She's played two tournaments since rejoining the WTA tour and her performance hasn't been exactly impressive.

But the number 32 seed has a slightly easier draw at Wimbledon this year and her most formidable opponent should be defending champion Venus Williams in the third round.

Beating Venus on grass would seem impossible for the Indian number one but Mirza should be more than happy if she makes the elder Williams sweat it out over three sets on Centre Court.

As usual, there's no representation from India in the men's singles - although Bopanna would have been a good bet to make it through the qualifiers, had he played them. But a low ranking forced him to miss the Grand Slam this year. Last week, Bopanna replaced Amritraj as India's number one and hopefully he should be around for the U.S. Open qualifiers.

Bopanna, 28, will be making his debut at Wimbledon in the men's doubles with Pakistan's Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

Mahesh Bhupathi is recovering from a few injuries of his own and it remains to be seen if he and Mark Knowles, seeded fourth here, can recapture the form that saw them bag two doubles titles earlier this year.

Leander Paes, who turned 35 last week, seems to be in better form after breaking his lacklustre partnership with Australian Paul Hanley. The Kolkatan partnered Bhupathi to the Ordina Open final last week and reached the Halle final with Czech player Lukas Dlouhy in their first outing. Paes and Dlouhy are seeded ninth here.

This week, Indian tennis fans will also be keeping an eye on the USA F15 Futures in Rochester where double NCAA champion Somdev Dev Varman is playing his first professional match since leaving college.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sania Mirza says road to total recovery tough

Sania Mirza's loss in her comeback match at the DFS Classic at Birmingham this week suggests that India's number one tennis player may need some more time to return to top form after undergoing wrist surgery.

Marina Erakovic is no pushover. After all, she won the Surbiton event last week. But Mirza's straight-set loss to the Kiwi player was still surprising.

"There is some pain in the wrist when I play particular strokes and there are still a few movements that I find difficult," Mirza told the Indian Tennis Blog via email.

"I hope to get back soon to the level I was playing at before the injury but the road to total recovery is going to be longer than I thought."

Coming just two weeks before Wimbledon, it wasn't quite the start the 21-year-old was looking forward to on her return to the WTA Tour after three months of inactivity.

To top it all, Mirza might just miss getting seeded for the premier tennis Grand Slam after slipping to 33 in the WTA rankings.

Mirza and her American partner Bethanie Mattek also lost in their doubles opener at Birmingham.

"Even though Sania's recovery has been swift, her wrist will still need some time to adapt to and to generate high intensity power in high pressured match situations," Mirza's trainer and physiotherapist Renuka Pinto said.

"The only way this can be achieved is by allowing the wrist to be exposed to match situations in a phased manner."

Monday, June 9, 2008

No French luck for Indians, moving on to grass now

No luck at the 2008 French Open for India. Even Mahesh Bhupathi, the only player from the country to survive the first week, was forced to concede his mixed doubles semifinal after injuring his calf muscle.

Will this affect his chances at events in the run-up to Wimbledon?

"Hopefully not" was all that the doubles specialist told The Indian Tennis Blog.

Bhupathi, who turned 34 on Saturday, is partnering Rohan Bopanna at the Artois Championship in London this week.

Arch rival Leander Paes (that's still how the media describes the split halves of the Indian Express) continues his not-so-old partnership with Czech player Lukas Dlouhy at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle.

Playing together for the first time, the duo put up a decent show at Roland Garros, losing to eventual champions Horna and Cuevas in the pre-quarterfinals.

Even tennis prodigy Yuki Bhambri stumbled in his opening encounter of the boys' singles. Was India's next tennis hope, so impressive in his run to the semifinals of the Australian Open in January, a no-show on clay courts?

The 15-year-old didn't think so and that's what he told the Indian Tennis Blog after his early ouster.

"I'm fit and fine. I think it was just lack of match practice cause I don't feel that there is anything wrong with my game right now but unfortunately I also ran into some very good clay court players. I played before in Europe on numerous occasions and I can definitely play on clay."
This week's tennis spotlight will be on Sania Mirza when she makes her long-awaited comeback after wrist surgery at the DFS Classic in Birmingham.

Sunitha Rao made it a double delight with a superb show in the qualifying rounds and a hard-fought main draw victory to join Mirza in the second round. The Indian number one enjoyed a bye in her first match.

Away from the media glare, Prakash Amritraj and Rohan Bopanna clashed in the final qualifier round at Surbiton. Bopanna emerged the winner - a sign that perhaps he is once again ready to don the mantle of being India's best men's player, an honour he lost to Amritraj earlier this year.

Harsh Mankad had another disappointment at the Yuba City Challenger, though his 0-6,1-6 loss in the opening round was at least understandable since he was playing the second seed. Also down on his luck is Stephen Amritraj, the lesser known of the two Amritraj cousins, who has been struggling with his doubles game for some time now.

Back problems are also becoming Karan Rastogi's bane and the 21-year-old might find it a challenge just to keep fit.

"I am scheduled to play in Iran in a couple of weeks. But will go only if I am a 100% fit," Rastogi told the Indian Tennis Blog.

On the domestic front, most of the country's second-rung women players are battling it out at a $10,000 tournament in Gurgaon this week.

ATP RANKINGS (9 June 2008)
(in brackets - positions lost/gained since last week)
282 (-22) Amritraj, Prakash
293 (+17) Bopanna, Rohan
468 (-18) Sipaeya, Sunil Kumar
481 (-22) Rastogi, Karan
540 (-4) Singh, Ashutosh

13 (-4) Bhupathi, Mahesh
23 (+1) Paes, Leander
52 (-1) Bopanna, Rohan

WTA RANKINGS (9 June 2008)
(in brackets - positions lost/gained since last week)
33 (-1) Mirza, Sania
160 (-5) Rao, Sunitha
310 (-4) Lakhani, Isha
441 (+5) Iyer, Tara
502 (-3) Bhambri, Ankita

20 (0) Mirza, Sania
120 (-9) Rao, Sunitha
326 (-4) Iyer, Tara
For everything ever written on The Indian Tennis Blog, click here
For posts on Sania Mirza, click here
For posts on Leander Paes, click here
For posts on Somdev Devvarman, click here
For posts on Tara Iyer, click here
For posts on Mahesh Bhupathi, click here
For posts on Rohan Bopanna, click here
For posts on Prakash Amritraj, click here
For posts on Sunitha Rao, click here

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

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