IN THE NEWS
THE Australian Open, the first Grand Slam event of the year, is round the corner. The Melbourne Park is being spruced up to host the centenary edition of the tournament from January 17 to 30.
Roger Federer of Switzerland, the defending champion, has been in amazing form in the past year or so. Apart from the Australian Open, he won the Wimbledon and US Open crowns in 2004. Having begun the new year with a victory in the Qatar Open, he looks set to retain the title in Melbourne.
His nearest rival will be Ďson of the soilí Lleyton Hewitt, who has made no secret of his current focus of winning this prestigious Grand Slam event he used to watch as a young boy, sending out threatening signals to Federer.
Four-time champion Andre Agassi will be having another crack at the title as he claims to nurse a deep Ďhungerí to claim the title for the fifth time.
Joachim Johansson of Sweden, winner of the Australian hardcourt tournament title recently, could spring a major surprise.
Marat Safin, finalist in 2002 and 2004, will be itching to capture the title that has eluded him while World No. 2 Andy Roddick, French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, 1997 finalist Carlos Moya and the in-form Tim Henman will be eyeing the title too.
In the womenís section, the withdrawal of title holder Justine Henin-Hardenne and last yearís runner-up Kim Clijsters has left the field open for the Russian brigade, which includes French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The surprise package could be another Russian, Elena Dementieva, who was the runner-up in last yearís US Open and French Open. She is in good form, having defeated both Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams last week to win the Hong Kong Challenge Championship.
Adding to this awesome array of talent will be 2003 champion Serena Williams, World No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo and 2000 winner Lindsay Davenport. However, there wonít be Jennifer Capriati, the back-to-back champion in 2001 and 2002, who has pulled out due to a recurring shoulder injury.
The 28-year-old Davenport feels that she is in form to chase a fourth Grand Slam title to add to the 2000 Australian Open, 1999 Wimbledon and 1998 US Open crowns.
Former No. 1 Serena Williams, who has slipped to the seventh place after an injury-marred season, is keen to make the Australian Open her Ďre-launchí pad. The Australian challenge will be provided by World No. 13 Alicia Molik.
The players will vie for a record prize money of A $ 19.1 million, with the menís and womenís title winners picking up A $ 1,206,620 each. Tennis greats Rod Laver and Margaret Court will present the menís and womenís singles trophies. Both players are legends of the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame, Australian Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Rod Laver, the only player ever to have won the Grand Slam (US Open, Wimbledon, French Open and Australian Open) twice ó in 1962 and 1969 ó will present the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup to the menís singles title winner on January 30. It will be an apt gesture as Laver won the Australian Open singles title three times among his tally of 20 Grand Slam titles ó 11 singles, six doubles and three mixed doubles.
Margaret Smith Court, who won more Grand Slam titles than any other player in history, including the Grand Slam in 1970, will present the Daphne Memorial Cup to the winner of the womenís singles title on January 29.
Court won the Australian Open titles 11 times between 1960 and 1973, including seven titles in a row from 1960 to 66, and her first victory had come at the young age of 17 years.
Level playing fieldThe Australian Open provides a level playing field to the young and the old. Fitness, skill and resilience separate the winners from the also-rans.
When Ken Rosewall lifted the menís singles title in 1972 at the age of 37 years and two months, he became the oldest player ever to win the singles title of one of the grandest of the Grand Slam events, though Norman Brookes was the oldest man to feature in a title win, in the doubles.
Brookes was 46 years and two months old when he won the doubles crown in 1924. But the champions are getting younger and younger, and that shows the evolution of the game over the years.
Rosewall was 18 years and two months when he first lifted the singles title in 1953 while Martina Hingis had just got out of the cradle, so to speak, when she emerged the womenís singles champion in 1997 at the age of 16 years and three months.
The Australian Open has thrown up some surprising and not so surprising and predictable winners who have scripted memorable chapters to the history of the game.
The Open has produced the oldest champion, successive champions, youngest champion and champions after large gaps, and champions abroad, but not at home!
New meets old
"See 100 years of history packed into two weeks of world-class tennis and entertainment", remarked Tennis Australia president Geoff Pollard about the event.
The first edition of the championship was held in 1905 as the Australasian Championships. It was renamed the Australian Championships in 1927 and the Australian Open in 1969.
The centenary tournament sees the Open become the first Grand Slam to feature the menís singles final as a night match, starting at 7.30 pm on January 30.
The players will be able to look their best, on and off the court, as the tournament committee has struck a sponsorship deal with leading health and beauty brand of Australia, Garnier, which will be giving a make-over look to the players during the championship.
Tennis for a cause
It will not be all play and no work for the players and the backroom boys. The Open will be contributing to help the tsunami disaster victims as the tennis community has tied up with UNICEF to help raise funds to the victims of the devastating calamity.
Australiaís seven tournaments, leading upto the Grand Slam event, will be working with UNICEF to run fund-raising days at each of the tournaments, with all money raised going to the disaster relief fund.
Pollard said the tennis community in Australia had been "deeply shocked and touched by this tragedy". "With the backing and support of the ITF, WTA and ATP, we will be working with UNICEF to help raise funds for the (tsunami) victims", he added.
Such gestures are likely to make the upcoming Australian Open an event to savour and cherish.
Sania Mirza in the fray
Indiaís top woman tennis player Sania Mirza has got a wildcard entry to the main draw of the Australian Open. The 18-year-old, ranked 169th in the world, will follow in the footsteps of compatriot Nirupama Vaidyanathan, who advanced to the second round of the Open in 1998.
Sania was in super form last season, winning six singles titles in the ITF circuit, besides three doubles titles. She is only the second Indian woman after Nirupama to break into the top 200.
Sania got the wild card as the Asian champion, Li Na of China, got a direct entry into the Open by virtue of her No. 78 ranking.
of the phoenix
IT is difficult to think of a more deserving and popular winner last week than Stuart Appleby, who completed a successful title defence of the Mercedes Championships in Hawaii.
The personable Australian has suffered more than his share of adversity since he turned professional in 1992, and almost had to pull out on the eve of the PGA Tourís season-opening event with a hip injury.
Appleby, who held off a furious late charge by Vijay Singh to win last yearís title at Kapalua by a shot, was unable to hit a golf ball two weeks ago because of a sciatic nerve problem in his left leg.
However, he regained flexibility after a programme of stretching exercises and was able to tee off in the opening round at the Plantation Course.
Although he was one of just four players in the elite winners-only field of 31 to finish above par on day one, he never looked back after that.
The 33-year-old vaulted into contention with a sparkling nine-under-par 64 in the second round and went on to clinch the sixth PGA Tour title of his career with closing scores of 66 and 67.
Very few people, if any, would begrudge the former Australian Rules Football player his rousing start to 2005 ó both professionally and domestically.
Just under seven years
ago, his first wife Renay was killed in a traffic accident outside a
London train station. Appleby had missed the cut in the 1998 British
Open at Royal Birkdale and the couple were preparing to go away on
His life was totally transformed by Renayís untimely passing. Almost two years later, he was still struggling to come to terms with it.
"At itís worst, itís really, really tough," he said during a teleconference on the PGA Tour. "Somehow you manage, whether that is an inner strength or something else, I donít know. Other times you donít.
"Sometimes you say flat out: ĎListen, I canít do this. Itís just too much for me right now,í and you just donít. You take weeks off.
"Itís at your own speed. Thereís no time frame except what is comfortable."
Time passed, though, and the likeable Australian found some solace on the golf course.
He won the 2001 Australian Open and produced his best finish at a major the following year when he tied for second in the British Open at Muirfield, after Ernie Els had won the title in a four-way playoff.
In 2003, Appleby clinched the Las Vegas Invitational before ending the PGA Tour season 12th in the money list with earnings of $2,662,538.
Most significantly, though, he also found personal happiness and the highlight of that year was his marriage to Ashley.
"Iím very much looking forward to this year. I think there are certain principles about that that Iíve taken in my life, knowing that Iíve always had the mentality that itís one shot at a time, one shot at a time."
GREAT players have a special quality ó they manage to win even when they are not at their best. Carlos Moya proved that he was one of them when he retained the Chennai Open tennis title last week with a hard-fought 6-3, 4-6, 6-7 (7/5) win over Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand.
The top seed admitted that he did not play perfect during the tournament but still he was good enough to come up trumps. Down 2-5 in the third set, he held his nerve to outplay his determined opponent.
In a kind gesture, Moya fulfilled the promise he had made on the eve of the championship by donating his prize money of $ 52,000 (about Rs 24 lakh) for tsunami victims.
Not the one to rest on his laurels, the 28-year-old Moya bagged the title barely a month after he realised his long-cherished dream of winning the Davis Cup. He outclassed Andy Roddick in the reverse singles match in Seville to bring Spain their second Cup victory. Moya had unfortunately not been a part of the squad which did it for the first time in 2000.
The next challenge for
this 1998 French Open champion is the Australian Open. Moya made it to
the final in Melbourne in 1997 , but lost to Pete Sampras. This time,
the hot favourite is no doubt Roger Federer, but the Swiss cannot afford
to take Moya lightly. Especially not when the Mallorcan seems to have
found the Midas touch.
Check dangerous play
REGARDING the death of footballer Cristiano Junior, whatever may be the guarded opinion of various sports authorities, the fact remains that Subroto Paul, the goalkeeper of Mohun Bagan, indulged in dangerous play which led to the tragedy. Except for Bhaichung Bhutia, nobody has directly blamed the goalkeeper or the sport authorities for the death.
I remember an incident about 25 years old. I was watching a match between JCT and Mohun Bagan at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi. There was a wrong tackle in the ĎDí of Mohun Bagan by their full-back Bhattacharya. When the referee signalled a foul, Bhattacharya got furious and hit the referee on his back with his leg. To the utter surprise of the crowd, the referee did not reprimand Bhattacharya and the match went on with the player on the field. We expected some action against him afterwards, but Bhattacharya also played the meet match.
It is surprising that even 25 years later, players are getting away with dangerous play. In cricket, there is at least an effort to maintain discipline on the field.
The sports authorities must learn a lesson. All ĎAí class matches should be watched by a disciplinary committee and at the end of the match suitable action against erring players must be taken.
Baldev Singh, Panchkula
It is good to see that Sachin Tendulkar has regained his batting touch. For a long time he continued to be dismissed in the initial overs and his fans were very upset due to his poor batting. He cracked a double century against Bangladesh and also equalled the record for most number of Test centuries held by Sunil Gavaskar.
Subhash C. Taneja, Rohtak
India crushed Bangladesh by an innings and 140 runs and created many records against the hosts. Sachin regained his form and equalised Sunil Gavaskarís record of 34 Test centuries. He also scored his career-best Test score (248 n.o).
Anil Kumble surpassed Kapil Devís record and became Indiaís highest Test wicket-taker. Zaheer Khan made a record for the highest score by a No. 11 batsman. He was also involved in a record partnership with Sachin Tendulkar for the 10th wicket. This victory will definitely boost the morale of Indian players.
Raman Deep Chawla, Abohar
Sunil Gavaskar made 34 Test centuries, including four double centuries, as an opening batsman against strong teams. The same cannot be said about Sachin Tendulkar, even though he deserves praise for equalling Gavaskarís record. Tendulkar made his 34th Test century against a weak team, Bangladesh.
Gurudev Singh Jain,