SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

High hopes from Sania & Co
In-form Sania Mirza and doubles veterans Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi will spearhead India’s challenge at the US Open, writes Ivninderpal Singh
Indian tennis fans have much to hope for at the US Open, this year’s last Grand Slam event, which begins on August 27. Sania Mirza has been sensational in the run-up tournaments, with her ranking rising to a career-high 28. The 20-year-old looks fitter and faster than she was during a forgettable 2006.

Time for an encore
Vikramdeep Johal
F
OR the first time in the history of the men’s hockey Asia Cup, India will be playing as the defending champions. They won their first title four years ago in Kuala Lumpur, and now, in the seventh edition beginning in Chennai on August 31, they are keen to do an encore.

IN THE NEWS
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I
T needed no less than the world number one and eventual champion to end Anup Sridhar’s dream run at the World Badminton Championship in Kaula Lumpur recently. He had shocked Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat and world number 16 Malaysian Muhd Hafiz Hashim en route to the quarterfinals, where he went down to Chinese numero uno Lin Dan.

  • Jumbo performance

  • Badminton feat

 





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High hopes from Sania & Co

In-form Sania Mirza and doubles veterans Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi will spearhead India’s challenge at the US Open, writes Ivninderpal Singh

A good performance in this year’s last Grand Slam event will be the icing on the cake for Sania
A good performance in this year’s last Grand Slam event will be the icing on the cake for Sania

Indian tennis fans have much to hope for at the US Open, this year’s last Grand Slam event, which begins on August 27. Sania Mirza has been sensational in the run-up tournaments, with her ranking rising to a career-high 28. The 20-year-old looks fitter and faster than she was during a forgettable 2006.

It remains to be seen if she can equal or better her best-ever Grand Slam show — the fourth-round finish at the 2005 US Open, where she lost to top seed Maria Sharapova.

Doubles experts Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi haven’t won a Grand Slam title this year, so they will be determined to end the 2007 season with a bang.

All eyes, no doubt, will be on Sania, who has found the US hardcourts much to her liking recently. She made it to the final of the Bank of the West Classic and won the doubles title with Shahar Peer. She reached the quarterfinals of the Acura Classic after defeating top-20 players Peer and Dinara Safina. Then she stunned former world number one Martina Hingis in the East West Bank Classic.

In women’s doubles, she is partnering Bethanie Mattek, with whom she won the Western & Southern Financial Group Open. She has a chance in mixed doubles, too, where she is paired with Bhupathi, who has 40 doubles titles in his kitty, including 10 Grand Slam crowns. The Indian duo didn’t do well at Wimbledon, losing in the second round, but hopefully they will put up an improved performance.

Bhupathi, who won the men’s doubles title at Flushing Meadows with Max Mirnyi in 2002 and mixed doubles titles with Ai Sugiyama (1999) and Daniela Hantuchova (2005), hasn’t had a great year so far. He has changed partners frequently without much success.

Paes won the US Open men’s doubles title last year with his Czech partner Martin Damm. As the defending champion, he will be eager to do it again.

Apart from the experienced hands, three youngsters — Rohan Bopanna, Prakash Amritraj and Sunitha Rao — are vying for berths in singles. Though Bopanna has proved his worth as a doubles player with Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi — the pair is popularly known as "Indo-Pak Express" — he is yet a make much impression in singles. Among the three, only Prakash has earlier played at the US Open (in 2002, when he lost in the first round).

India haven’t had a decent men’s singles player ever since Paes decided to focus on doubles. Let’s see if things will change this time.

Intense rivalry

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battled it out in the finals of the French Open and Wimbledon this year, winning one title each. Federer, the reigning US Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, will attempt to become the first man to win four consecutive US Open men’s singles titles in the Open Era. On the other hand, Nadal will surely love to shed the tag of a "claycourt specialist" and halt Fed-Ex’s run to clinch his maiden US Open title.

Another top contender will be Novak Djokovic of Serbia. He made a splash at the Canada Masters, beating top seed Federer in the final. Moreover, he achieved the remarkable feat of defeating the world’s top three (Federer, Nadal and Andy Roddick, respectively) on three consecutive days during the tournament. This is the first time a player has done it since Boris Becker in 1994.

Among women, Justine Henin, the 2003 US Open champion and the finalist in 2006, and defending champion Maria Sharapova are the favourites. However, they cannot afford to ignore Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, this year’s French Open finalist and Wimbledon semifinalist.

Another Serbian, Jelena Jankovic, who has done fairly well on hardcourts of late, is also likely to give the big guns a run for their money.
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Time for an encore
Vikramdeep Johal

India begin their Asia Cup campaign against China, who shocked them at the Doha Asian Games in December last year
India begin their Asia Cup campaign against China, who shocked them at the Doha Asian Games in December last year

FOR the first time in the history of the men’s hockey Asia Cup, India will be playing as the defending champions. They won their first title four years ago in Kuala Lumpur, and now, in the seventh edition beginning in Chennai on August 31, they are keen to do an encore.

Three teams that can stop them from going all the way are Pakistan, South Korea and China. Incidentally, Korea and China played in the Asian Games final at Doha in December last year, with the former emerging champions.

Since Joaquim Carvalho took over as the chief coach, India have finished third in two tournaments this year — the Sultan Azlan Shah Cup in Ipoh (Malaysia) and the Champions Challenge in Boom (Belgium).

Baichung Bhutia (in blue) led India to victory against Cambodia and Bangladesh in the Nehru Cup football tournament, scoring a goal in both matches
CAPTAIN’S TREAT: Baichung Bhutia (in blue) led India to victory against Cambodia and Bangladesh in the Nehru Cup football tournament, scoring a goal in both matches — Photo by AFP

This was a marked improvement compared to their poor show last year, when they finished 11th among 12 teams at the World Cup in Monchengladbach (Germany) and failed to win a medal at the Doha Asiad as well as the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. However, low rate of penalty-corner conversions, as usual, remains a major problem area.

Prabodh Tirkey will lead the side, which has experienced strikers in Rajpal Singh, Prabhjot Singh and Tushar Khandekar. Shivendra Singh, India’s top goal scorer at the World Cup last year, will be expected to deliver when it matters the most.

Drag-flicker Sandeep Singh, who made a comeback after recovering from a freak bullet injury, is out of action again and has been replaced by V. Raghunath.

The defence will be marshalled by veteran Dilip Tirkey, while in the midfield, there are two talented youngsters — Gurbaj Singh and Sardara Singh.

India will begin their campaign against China, who are no longer regarded as pushovers in world hockey. In fact, China had shocked India at Doha. However, the latter avenged the defeat at the Azlan Shah Cup earlier this year.

The other teams in India’s Pool B are South Korea, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Thailand. It goes without saying that India would have to get past Korea and China to make it to the semifinals.

Pool A comprises Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.

A title triumph would definitely boost India’s morale ahead of the Olympic qualifiers early next year. The hot and humid conditions would favour them. The big question is: Can they rise to the occasion?
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Anup Sridhar raised his game several notches to scalp two top players at the World Badminton Championship
Anup Sridhar raised his game several notches to scalp two top players at the World Badminton Championship
— Photo by Reuters

IT needed no less than the world number one and eventual champion to end Anup Sridhar’s dream run at the World Badminton Championship in Kaula Lumpur recently.

He had shocked Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat and world number 16 Malaysian Muhd Hafiz Hashim en route to the quarterfinals, where he went down to Chinese numero uno Lin Dan.

Anup became the third Indian after former All England champions Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand to make it to the last-eight stage in the World Championship. Prakash had done it four times (1977, 1980, 1983 and 1985). In 1983, Prakash had even entered the semifinals.

Gopichand had reached the quarterfinals in 2001, the year he was crowned the All England champion, becoming only the second Indian to do so after Prakash.

Sridhar said, "My training in Malaysia, before the commencement of the World Championship, helped to improve my performance and learn new techniques."

"I was too tired to fight against Lin," the lanky shuttler from Karnataka admitted.

Sridhar will now be seen in action at the India Open tournament which begins in Hyderabad on September 4.

His exploits have not surprised his coaches, who nurtured the precocious talent and waited patiently for 13 long years to see the temperamental kid blossom into a level-headed player.

With Sridhar attaining the much-needed maturity, now they do not want him to slide from here.

"We have groomed him since he was a kid and so it was a very special satisfaction for us to see him reach the quarterfinals of the World Championship," says Vimal Kumar, who along with Prakash Padukone shaped Sridhar as a player at the TATA Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore.

"When he was young, he was very short-tempered. That was his biggest problem. He would get angry whenever he lost. We did not know how to tackle this boy," says Vimal, fondly reminiscing Sridhar’s stint under his tutelage.

"It was only when he played away, in Denmark three years ago, that he started to have control over his temperament. He has worked very hard to change his nature," remembers Vimal.

"He has to keep his head down, focus and move ahead — and he can do that," says the former national coach. — Agencies
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SPORTS MAIL

Jumbo performance

ACE leg-spinner Anil Kumble made history by scoring an unbeaten 110 in the third Test against England at the Oval. His jumbo feat will be remembered for a long time.

His valiant maiden century helped India raise a mammoth total of 664, which paved the way for their first Test series win in England in 21 years. After having failed to do much in the first two Tests, Kumble chose the right moment to emphasise his worth to the team.

Thus, the 37-year old veteran became the eldest Indian to hit a maiden ton. He also struck with the ball, overtaking Glenn McGrath’s tally of 563 wickets to become the third highest wicket-taker in Test history after Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan.

Tarsem S. Bumrah
Batala

II

Captain Rahul Dravid owes an explanation to Indian cricket fans as to why he did not enforce the follow-on in the Oval Test. Did he expect England to wipe out the first-innings deficit of 319 runs and then post a formidable and insurmountable score on the last two days?

Was he not aware of the Meteorological department’s forecast of the possibility of rain on the fifth day? In any case, he should have enforced the follow-on to give Indian bowlers enough time to dismiss England. Under the circumstances, even Australia with their battery of fast bowlers would have asked England to bat again.

England players must have been grateful to Dravid for his shortsightedness, which enabled them to turn a defeat into a tame draw.

Dravid had always looked upon Greg Chappell for decision-making at crucial junctures — his dithering continues even now. He undid the superb performance of Anil Kumble, the man of the match.

An innings victory, and hence a 2-0 result instead of 1-0, would have been the icing on the cake.

D.K. Aggarwala
Hoshiarpur

III

Kudos to Anil Kumble for becoming the first cricketer to have a century and over 500 wickets in Test cricket to his credit. He scored his maiden ton in his 118th Test match. His last series in England proved to be a memorable one.

Kumble deserves praise for his majestic innings. Witnessing his batting, it seemed as if a world-class batsman was playing.

Subhash C. Taneja
Rohtak

Badminton feat

Congratulations to Anup Sridhar for reaching the quarterfinals of the World Badminton Championship in Kuala Lumpur. He became the third Indian to go this far after Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand. It remains to be seen if he can emulate them by becoming the All England champion one day.

The way Sridhar defeated Indonesia’s Olympic gold medallist Taufik Hidayat and world number 16 Malaysian Muhd Hafiz Hashim, one can say with confidence that the Karnataka shuttler can do it.

He must work harder to improve his game and temperament.

Arvinder Singh
Mohali

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