nurtures their dreams
IN THE NEWS
Who will steal the show at the February 7-12 Hyderabad Open — India’s new tennis sensation Sania Mirza or all-time great Martina Navratilova? That is the $140,000 question being asked by aficionados.
Two tennis generations separate Sania and Martina. The 18-year-old Hyderabadi girl was not even born when Martina was setting courts ablaze worldwide, winning one Grand Slam title after another.
The 48-year-old Prague-born American boasts of a record Sania would love to emulate. Martina has played the most singles tournaments (over 375) and matches (1,650), and has also won the most matches (1,438). She also holds the women’s record of 167 singles titles, not to forget her 174 doubles titles.
This would be Martina’s first visit to India, but she does have an Indian connection. Her mixed doubles partnership with Leander Paes has been quite fruitful.
The never-say-retire Martina is all set to make a full comeback. She proved to be too good for an injury-plagued Monica Seles in an exhibition match in Auckland earlier this week. Martina beat her 17-year-younger rival in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.
Fresh from her record-breaking performance at the Australian Open, Sania would be eager to excel in her home town. No doubt she would be under pressure, but she seems level-headed enough to handle it.
Sania, who has got another wild card entry, had mixed luck in this WTA tournament last year. She lost in three sets in the first round to the 54th ranked fourth seed Nicola Pratt of Australia, who went on to win the title. Sania more than made up for her early exit by bagging the doubles crown with Liezel Huber of South Africa. Sania thus became the first Indian woman and the youngest player to win a Tour event.
On the whole, her home town has been a happy hunting ground. She won her first ITF title here in September, 2002, and claimed a double in the first Afro-Asian Games in 2003. Like Martina, she is good in singles as well as doubles.
More than 30 world-ranking players will be vying for honours at the six-day tournament, which is the only WTA event to be held in South Asia. Another star attraction would be former world number four Jelena Dokic. The 21-year old Serbian’s ranking has slipped to 126, but she has still made it to the main draw without a wild card.
The former Yugoslav player took the tennis world by storm when she upset the then world number one Martina Hingis in the first round at Wimbledon in 1999.
According to tennis star Mahesh Bhupathi, managing director of Globosport, the organisers of the event, Dokic is the lowest-ranked player in recorded tennis history to defeat the world No. 1 in the first round of a Grand Slam event.
Having five WTA singles titles to her name, Dokic has defeated top players like Mary Pierce, Venus Williams, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Conchita Martinez, Kim Clijsters and Jennifer Capriati over the years.
Serena Williams did a lot more than make Sania Mirza a mini celebrity in the centenary edition of the Australian Open Tennis Championship. She helped herself to a much-needed Grand Slam crown — her seventh — to silence her critics who had almost written her off as a falling star.
Serena had not won a Grand Slam title after the 2003 Wimbledon and the Australian Open triumphs. She had been dogged by injuries and a personal tragedy (one of her sisters was shot dead by miscreants), and the Australian Open title win came as a rejuvenating potion.
Serena is perhaps the only player in the history of the women’s Grand Slam to come back from a match point down to win two Grand Slam titles. She achieved this feat this time against Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in the semifinal to repeat the act she had enacted against Kim Clijsters in the title clash of the 2003 Australian Open.
When Serena received the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy — after rallying back from a set down to pip top-seeded Lindsay Davenport in the final — from the legendary Margaret Court, it was the realisation of a dream, and the rediscovery of her worth and self-belief.
Marat Safin, the big Russian with an equally imposing game, got his act together against Australian Lleyton Hewitt to emerge third-time lucky, after crashing at the final hurdle twice in the past. For Safin too, it was a moment of reckoning and elevation of his self-worth and pride when he held aloft the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup.
Safin has left an indelible mark of the ‘Russian brigade’, who invaded the 100th Australian Open as never before, though in the end, only he was left to fight for the big prize.
Safin’s career had rolled unpredictably for long as he had experienced a title drought after winning the US Open title over an ageing Pete Sampras in 2000.
For the first time in Grand Slam history, a record 128 men took to the court, where striplings and veterans battled it out in the soaring heat and humidity for the crown.
The best lasted the distance, and truly, Serena and Safin fully deserved the honours they wrested after great struggles.
The fourth-seeded Safin saw off local hero Lleyton Hewitt in four sets in the men’s title clash to deny the hosts a home champion, yet again. Hewitt was hoping to become the first Australian Open champion after Mark Edmondson claimed the tile in 1976. But it was not to be, and Hewitt’s defeat virtually caused a ‘national mourning’.
The Australian Open singles crown was Safin’s second Grand Slam catch after his podium finish in the 2000 US Open. The title win this time compensated for Safin’s heart-breaking losses in the finals of the 2002 and 2004 championships.
It was sweet revenge when Safin scalped his tormenter in 2004, Roger Federer, in the semis in a match being hailed as the ‘greatest ever’ played at the Melbourne Park. Safin ended Federer’s 26-match winning streak, and the Swiss ace’s dream of clinching his third consecutive Grand Slam title melted in the hot air of Melbourne.
Safin bested Federer after squandering six match points to earn himself a nice present on his 25th birthday, on way to the final. The odds for a Federer victory was 4/6. And many a punter must have gone broke after Safin’s amazing turnaround to oust the defending champion.
Four-time champion Andre Agassi, at 34, did well to progress into the fourth round, after overcoming an hip injury he suffered in a warm-up game, but found out that he could not match Federer. Agassi, winner at the Melbourne Park in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003, seems to have lost his last chance to regain the Australian Open singles title.
Eight-time Grand Slam winner, Agassi, however crashed against Roger Federer in straight sets in one hour and 39 minutes in the quarter-final and promptly conceded that Federer’s "level was way beyond mine".
But some other top players could not even enact the Agassi act as Spanish fifth seed Carlos Moya, a two-time Chennai Open champion, lost in the first round, as did former women’s champion Mary Pierce.
The seventh-ranked Serena was not given much chance to succeed this time as the punters were putting their money on dazzlers like Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport, French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Australian prospect Alicia Molik and even Venus Williams. But all of them fell by the wayside, one by one, as Serena coursed the treacherous path to climb the summit.
The Indian challenge was led by Sania Mirza, who took on Serena in the third round after defeating Cindy Watson and Petra Mandula in the first and second rounds, respectively.
Leander Paes pulled out of the men’s doubles and the mixed doubles due to a ligament injury. Paes had achieved lots of success in the Australian doubles, particularly the mixed doubles, in the company of Martina Navratilova.
Mahesh Bhupathi, pairing with veteran Australian Todd Woodbridge, did well to progress into the quarters before falling to eventual champions Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett.
nurtures their dreams
The idea of securing a future through education never occurred to 13-year-old Francis Isiakho. His daily routine in Laini Saba, the filthiest part of Nairobi’s sprawling Kibera slum, involved lazing around and occasionally smoking or smelling glue.
His impoverished parents were spared the burden of paying school fees when the NARC Government came to power in December, 2002, but still there were books, stationery and uniform to buy.
Gradually, Isiakho’s attendance at the Raila Educational Centre within the slums became inconsistent.
But thanks to Isiakho’s sporting talent, he was spotted doing what he liked most — beside partaking of the myriad vices that preoccupy most boys in the slums — playing soccer in the dusty grounds.
Now the teenager is one of the star pupils under the wing of the Sadili Oval Sports Club, which is providing a haven for many Nairobi youngsters.
Built on land reclaimed from a sewage-filled swamp nine years ago by a former Kenya national tennis player Elizabeth Odera and her architect husband James Odera, Sadili has a clay tennis court, basketball court, swimming pool and soccer and rugby pitches.
It has been chosen by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) as the first centre in Africa to run training camps aimed at boosting environmental and cultural awareness among children.
UNEP’s Nature and Sports Camps give
6,400 children an opportunity to aspire, get training and become
environmentally conscious as well as act as role models for other
children in their communities. — Reuters
IN THE NEWS
‘Whispering Death’, the title of legendary West Indian bowler Michael Holding’s autobiography, could just as well apply to ace racer Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first driver to qualify for Formula One.
The 28-year-old speaks slowly and in a husky tone that belies the deadly speed he generates behind the wheel of his car.
Karthikeyan also boasts of a perfect pedigree — he is a product of France’s prestigious ELF Winfield Racing School and is now ready to go through the litmus test of Formula One racing.
Born on January 14, 1977, in Chennai, it was but natural for Karthikeyan to take to car racing as his father GR Karthikeyan, a former national rally champion, initiated him into the expensive sport.
As a first major step towards realising his dream of becoming the first Indian to race in F1, Karthikeyan joined the ELF Winfield Racing School, which had produced world champions like Alain Prost and Damon Hill.
Karthikeyan also completed his education in business administration in order to become a genuine all-rounder, on and off the racing track.
On the track, Karthikeyan gave the first evidence of his capabilities when, aged only 15, he became a finalist in the Pilote Elf Competition for Formula Renault cars in 1992.
Boosted by this, Karthikeyan continued to climb the ladder with his eye firmly fixed on the ultimate goal, Formula One, the most exhilarating and speedy - as well as the most watched - form of car racing.
In 1996, he became the Formula Asia champion and finished sixth overall in the British Formula Opel Championship the next year.
He then achieved two third-place finishes, at Spa-Francorchamps and Silverstone, out of eight in Formula Three races in 1998.
The next year, the ever-smiling Karthikeyan finished overall sixth in the British Formula Three Championship. The season comprised two wins and three other podium finishes to make another strong statement.
In 2000, the Indian ended up fourth in Formula Three Championship and then test-drove a Formula One car for Jaguar and Jordan. Three years later, Karthikeyan got his first offer to drive in Formula One after he test drove for Minardi. But he had to decline the offer because he could not raise the money required to seal the offer.
Last year, he raced in the Nissan World Series and scripted two wins. It was also the year in which he got married to Pavarna.
With age catching up with Karthikeyan, murmurs started that it would be difficult for him to realise his dream of racing in the highest echelons of motor racing.
And just when the murmurs were gaining strength, administrative changes took place at Jordan, which apparently went in the Indian's favour.
A boost for Indian tennis
Sania Mirza created history at the Australian Open by becoming the first Indian woman to enter the third round of a Grand Slam event.
The previous best performance by an Indian woman in a Grand Slam competition was a second round appearance by Nirupama Vaidyanathan in the 1998 Australian Open.
This was the first time in over six years that an Indian player progressed to the third round. Leander Paes had entered the third round at the US Open in 1998.
Sania’s stupendous performance has given a much-needed boost to Indian tennis.