IN THE NEWS
with the Midas touch
Look beyond Leander
overdependence on the stalwart in Davis Cup encounters has made
INDIAN men’s tennis has been dominated in the past decade by Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. They have excelled not only in Grand Slam tournaments but also in the Davis Cup. Paes’ heroics in singles as well as doubles have won the day for India time and again.
However, the humbling 1-4 loss to South Korea in the Davis Cup Asia/Oceania Group 1 tie has brought to the fore India’s overdependence on Paes. Players of his class are hard to find, and it appears that we don’t have his replacement as far as singles matches against quality players are concerned. As he will turn 33 this June, Paes hasn’t got many playing years left.
The young brigade of Rohan Bopanna, Harsh Mankad and Prakash Amritraj are not doing badly but they are not yet world class. Rohan and Prakash lost all four singles against the Koreans. They also ended up winless against Sweden last year in the World Group playoff. Prakash and Harsh fared much better against not-so-formidable rivals like China and Uzbekistan in 2005.
As an outcome of these reversals, India will now have to battle it out in a playoff to avoid relegation from the Asia-Oceania Elite Group 1. This downward movement in the Davis Cup chart would continue unless our players do well in singles. (Paes and Bhupathi are there to deliver in the doubles).
Paes’ importance for the Indian team cannot be overestimated. He has played the sheet-anchor role in the Davis Cup umpteen times. In 39 ties, he has recorded an incredible 76 wins, with India emerging victorious on 25 occasions. His success rate in the Davis Cup is even higher than that of Ramesh Krishnan and Vijay Amritraj. While Paes has a success rate of about 72 per cent (won 76, lost 30), Vijay’s rate is about 61 per cent (won 73, lost 45) and Ramesh was successful in 58 per cent of the ties (won 29, lost 21).
The young trio’s Davis Cup record is nothing to boast about. Harsh Mankad, ranked 230 in singles, has won just six matches out of 16 in 10 Davis Cup appearances. The success percentage of the other two is even poorer. Rohan Bopanna, who is ranked 233 in singles, has made six Davis Cup appearances and managed just two wins in 10 matches. Similarly, Prakash Amritraj, No. 247 in singles ranking, managed just four wins in 12 Davis Cup matches.
Paes, who turned professional in 1991, enjoyed his highest singles ranking of 74 in August, 1998. Today, his ranking is way below that of the three youngsters — Paes hardly plays singles these days — but their performance hasn’t been as good as that of the veteran.
Coach Nandan Bal, reacting to India’s loss to Korea last week, said the defeat had showed that India still relied on Paes to win singles matches, adding that the team needed to unearth new singles talent quickly. Till then, India have no choice but to look up to captain Paes to deliver the goods.
"It is clear that one doubles win is not getting us anywhere. Paes himself has another two years in him. Hopefully, by that time we will have a few players to take his place," Bal said.
Paes’ contribution to Indian tennis is immense. He won a bronze medal in the Atlanta Olympics, where he stretched Andre Agassi before losing in the semifinals and then beat the higher-ranked Fernando Melgeni in the match for the third spot. He is known for beating top players like Wayne Ferreira, Goran Ivanisevic, Henri Leconte and Marc Rosset, who all had a higher ranking than him.
As the young players are struggling, Paes will find it hard to pass the baton to them very soon.
In women’s tennis, too, the situation is similar. Sania Mirza has won accolades at Grand Slam events but there is no other Indian girl who can match her performance. We have names like Shikha Uberoi, Sanaa Bhambri and Isha Lakhani but there is unbridgeable gap between these players and Sania. They can’t serve as her replacements.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer. With tennis being a popular sport in India, there is no dearth of talent. The vital thing is to groom the youngsters so that they can hold their own against the world’s best and take Indian tennis to greater heights.
IN THE NEWS
HE is the namesake of a boxing legend. Muhammad Ali Qamar, who ranks among India’s best boxers, is inspiring scores of backstreet children in Kolkata to put on the gloves and enter the ring.
Qamar, who was at the National Institute of Sports (NIS) in Patiala for the national camp being held in preparation for the Commonwealth Games, is perceived to be India’s most talented pugilist since the likes of Dingko Singh and Gurcharan Singh.
Qamar first made his presence felt during the 1999 World Championship in Houston. In 2002, he created history by becoming the first Indian boxer to win a medal, and that too a gold, at the Manchester Commonwealth Games. Since then, the plucky Kolkatan has gone from strength to strength.
Harpreet Singh, a senior boxing coach of the Punjab Sports Department, who accompanied the squad as technical adviser at Houston, thinks that Ali’s strong point is his varied and intelligent combination of punches. "He mixes the right upper cut and the straight right-left hook to devastating effect. And this lethal combination makes him a difficult boxer to beat. Look out for him in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games. His aim is to attack and wear out his opponent. With his quick footwork and combination of punches, he may well win the title in the 51 kg class."
Qamar became hooked on boxing when was an eight-year-old kid in downtown Kolkata living in a two-room tenement amid squalor. Ever since his father took Qamar to Cheena Bhai, a boxing coach, at the Kidderpore School of Physical Education 14 years ago, the youngster has indeed come a long way.
At Manchester, in the title match, with just 43 seconds remaining, Qamar outlasted England’s Darren Langley after taking a standing count in the last round to give India its first boxing gold in the Commonwealth Games.
Incidentally, before leaving for Manchester, Qamar had lost in the quarterfinals of the President’s Cup to Suban Pannoam, a world-class Thai boxer and the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games champion. Stirred but not shaken by this defeat, he tasted victory in the Commonwealth Games.
In 1991, Qamar was crowned the inter-district champion at Howrah and he followed it up by winning sub-junior titles in the light flyweight class from 1992 to 1996.
With the flamboyant Dingko Singh sliding into oblivion, Muhammad Ali Qamar is India’s best bet in boxing at Melbourne. And with a name like that, the sky is the limit.
SHIVA Keshavan might not have come close to winning a medal at the Turin Winter Olympics, but his creditable 25th-place finish in the luge event and his outburst against Indian officials has brought into sharp focus the sport and its sorry state in India.
The Manali-based Keshavan was only
about six seconds slower than Italy’s Zoeggeler Armin, who won the gold medal.
But before that, he caused a stir of sorts by pulling out of the opening
ceremony due to the "apathy and opportunism" of the officials, who
allegedly divested him of the honour of carrying
His resentment was justified. This was his third Olympics in the luge (French for sled) singles competition, which is no mean feat considering that his sport is barely known, let alone played, in India. He was the only athlete to represent India at the last two Winter Games — Nagano (1998) and Salt Lake City (2002). In Turin, he was joined by three skiers.
He was at Lawrence School, Sanawar, when scouts from the International Luge Federation came looking for talent in India. Being familiar with skiing, Keshavan went to a selection camp and impressed the coaches with his run on an asphalt road. Consequently, he was chosen to attend a course in Austria.
With just four months of training, 16-year-old Keshavan finished 28th among 34 contestants in Nagano, 1998, and was only 10 seconds behind the winner. Four years later, in Salt Lake City, he was placed 33rd out of 50 competitors.
Keshavan, who has a Malayali father and an Italian mother, bagged his first international medals at the Asia Cup in Nagano in December last year. He won the bronze medal in the singles and then teamed up with Korea’s Kim Min Kyu to bag a silver in the doubles.
Funding for this sport has always been virtually non-existent in India. Against all odds, Keshavan has been competing with dignity at the highest level.
Giving recognition to the man and his sport is the least that the Indian authorities can do to improve the situation. After all, if Formula One racer Narain Karthikeyan can become a household name just by driving on the Formula One circuit, why not three-time Olympian Keshavan?
JESS’ father must have suffered racial abuse when he first came to England and was ridiculed by his cricket team for wearing a turban in Gurinder Chaddha’s Bend it Like Beckham, but Monty Panesar has already written a new chapter in the history of English cricket by becoming part of the team touring India.
A classical quality about his bowling action has done enough to impress the English selectors. Monty could find himself making his Test debut in Nagpur on March 1. It would be an uphill task bowling to the Indian batsmen, who are very good against spin.
Northamptonshire’s slow left-arm orthodox spinner Monty does not have any pretensions as a fashion model, but he has the potential to develop as a model for other left-arm orthodox spinners to follow. Born in Luton, Monty learned his cricket in Bedfordshire and then got a sports scholarship at Loughborough University. He has played for Northamptonshire, British Universities, ECB National Academy, Loughborough University and Centre of Cricketing Excellence.
After missing the flight to Pakistan a few months ago, Monty spent almost a month in Nanaksar farm near Edmonton in Canada to firm up his mental preparedness for cricket at the highest level. He turned to a guru of the Nanaksar sect of Sikhism to get a better perspective of life.
Just over six feet tall and loose-limbed, Panesar bowls mostly round the wicket, delivering traditional finger spin, a top-spinner and the one that goes on with the arm, and achieves further variation by using the width of the crease.
The early learning process had helped him feature in the England under-19 side twice and his rise to the top has not been so rapid.
Sixteen wickets in two matches, including nine as they beat Worcestershire in their first championship success of the season, have reminded everyone about a player who is still only 23.
Monty has quickly established himself as one of the next generation of spinners in English cricket and Northamptonshire have recently agreed a new two-year contract with Monty, though he would be available on a part-time basis, because of his university studies.
Panesar has been
criticised in the past for not working hard enough on his batting and
fielding. But he spent time before Christmas at Darren Lehmann’s
academy in Adelaide working on those aspects of his game.
Man with the Midas touch
KUDOS to Mahesh Bhupathi for annexing his 10th Grand Slam title. He paired with "Swiss Miss" Martina Hingis to outplay Daniel Nestor of Canada and Elena Likhovtseva of Russia 6-3, 6-3 in the Australian Open mixed doubles final.
This was his third mixed doubles in a row. Ironically, Likhovtseva was his partner when he won his Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 2002. Of his 10 Grand Slam crowns, six are mixed doubles, each won with a different lady. That’s why he has earned the sobriquet of "Ladies’ man". Interestingly, leading ladies of tennis have found him dependable because of his Midas touch.
Of late Mahesh has emerged as the most successful tennis player of India. He has won three more Grand Slam titles than his former partner Leander Paes. The two have together captured three men’s doubles titles.
The indefatigable and indomitable Mahesh has made mixed doubles his forte which in turn has made him an Indian tennis icon. Despite that he remains an unassuming and down-to-earth person. Perhaps in that lies the secret of his success.
Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala
Sania vs Serena
Sania Mirza climbed two rungs to claim the 32nd spot in the latest WTA Tour rankings. The Indian tennis ace is currently sitting five place above former Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Serena Williams.
Sania had earlier dropped to 34 following her disastrous Australian Open campaign where she was knocked out in the second round of the singles competition. However, she regained the 32nd spot with 592.75 ranking points, above 37th ranked Serena, who has 537 points.