Saturday, August 2, 2008

Stephen Amritraj, Mustafa Ghouse pair up for Europe summer

Stephen Amritraj, the lesser-known Amritraj in contemporary tennis, is partnering Mustafa Ghouse in doubles events for the rest of the European summer.

While the Indian contingent (Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza and Sunitha Rao) start their Olympic campaign on August 11, Stephen and Mustafa will be pairing up at a challenger in Istanbul and then playing the Italy challengers in Manerbio and Como the following weeks.

"Musty and I are pretty much best friends and have a lot in common including good results together. We believe that the way to do it is to stick with one partner so we have given it this summer in Europe together," Amritraj told the Indian Tennis Blog.

Last month, he reached the doubles semifinals of Challenger tournaments at Rimini (with Mustafa Ghouse) and Medjugorje (with Matwe Middelkoop).

Getting good results in doubles means Stephen ends up missing singles qualifiers for the following week's events, thus forcing him to put his singles career on the backburner.

"I want to play singles when I can, but it isn't my top priority right now just because of goals and financial status," the 24-year-old said.

While cousin Prakash is currently India's highest-ranked tennis player, Stephen is ranked a lowly 1622 (as on July 28) in singles. But he's ranked 285 in doubles, 44 rungs short of a career-high he achieved in November 2007.

Last year, Stephen won four doubles trophies -- at the Kaohsiung challenger in Taiwan and three Futures events. At the very least, he'll have to match that performance to move into the Top 200.

It won't be easy, considering Stephen is yet to salvage his career from a clutch of injuries sustained over the years.

On February 16, 2003, while still a student at Duke University, Amritraj injured his knee while playing Mark Henderson. Rehabilitation after surgery forced him off the courts for three months.

Two years later, during his last match at college, Stephen tore ligaments in his knee. The result -- more time spent at the hospital.

"I have had three surgeries on my knees...and this has hampered my movement on slippery surfaces and has hurt in long, grinding matches," Amritraj said.

In May this year, just before the Carson challenger in the US, Stephen took a fall and broke it with his left hand, injuring his wrist.

"Basically played a whole month with just a one-handed chip backhand. I took a cortisone shot and went to Europe but after eight weeks, it's worn off so I have needed rest and therapy from time to time," he said.

That's also one of the reasons he won't be playing anywhere the coming week.

Amritraj, who grew up in the Californian city of Calabasas, is skipping both the challenger events in New Delhi, a decision he arrived at after changing his mind "at least four times each week".

"(I was) pretty much expecting to win both and nothing less, especially the second one because no one will stick around for doubles and my record last year against other Indians was something like 27-3."

After losing their opening match at the Graz challenger in Austria, Stephen and Mustafa opted to take a fortnight off before they rejoin the Tour in Istanbul.

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Somdev Devvarman misses out on ACC player honour

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

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