SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


Indian hope on grass
Leander Paes is in high spirits after winning the French Open doubles titleM. S. Unnikrishnan on Indian tennis stars likely to shine in the Wimbledon this year
Indian tennis is on a roll, after winning three Grand Slam titles this year. As Wimbledon — the third Grand Slam championship of the year — to begin from June 22, tennis fans expect the tried and tested stars to play an encore.  Indian hopes revolve around Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza. The junior Australian Open champion Yuki Bhambri has opted out of the Wimbledon boys’ event, preferring to rough it out in the men’s ATP circuit.

Leander Paes is in high spirits after winning the French Open doubles title

Symonds goes back
Amit Khanna
Players and controversies go hand in hand. Some are planted, while some just wait to happen. Both, however, do the just the same damage. Andrew Symonds’ extended but vulnerable relation with Cricket Australia took. A turn for the worse just days before Australia was to begin its quest for an all elusive Twenty20 title. Symonds was sent packing after it emerged that he had been drinking while watching the opening State of Origin rugby league game. Owing to a string of alcohol-related behavioral offences, the temperamental all rounder’s rapport with his cricket board was strained for quite some time.

Rural soccer
Amarjit Thind
The second edition of the seven-a-side football tournament at Government Senior Secondary School for Boys at Mahilpur was more than a tourney. It was a six-day festival, with entire families trooping in from the nearby villages to cheer their teams, 12 in all.

Paldi boys with the winning trophy. — Photo by Pawan Sharma

   

 

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Indian hope on grass

M. S. Unnikrishnan on Indian tennis stars likely to shine in the Wimbledon
this year

Sania Mirza has been in good nick this year but recurring injuries have shackled her progress
Sania Mirza has been in good nick this year but recurring injuries have shackled her progress
Mahesh Bhupathi (right) has won 11 Grand Slam titles so far
Mahesh Bhupathi (right) has won 11 Grand Slam titles so far

Indian tennis is on a roll, after winning three Grand Slam titles this year. As Wimbledon — the third Grand Slam championship of the year — to begin from June 22, tennis fans expect the tried and tested stars to play an encore. Indian hopes revolve around Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza. The junior Australian Open champion Yuki Bhambri has opted out of the Wimbledon boys’ event, preferring to rough it out in the men’s ATP circuit.

Yuki had also skipped the French Open, due to a sprained ankle, after winning two ITF titles within a month this season, to improve his singles ranking to 661 from 897. No surprise, he’s now keeping away from junior events, to focus on the men’s circuit.

Leander Paes, too, had majored into the men’s circuit after winning the Wimbledon and US Open junior titles in 1990 and 1991, respectively.

Rohan Bopanna withdrew from the Wimbledon qualifying event as he had not recovered from an injury, while Somdev Devvarman crashed out in the first round. Prakash Amritraj has won the first match of the qualifying round, but may not be able to make as much impact as his father, Vijay Amritraj, had done at Wimbledon in 1973 by reaching the semi-final.

And Prakash also cannot flaunt his “Indian” identity, as the Union Sports Ministry had some time back issued a fiat barring NRIs like Prakash from “representing” the country.

Leander Paes, who bagged the Junior Wimbledon boys singles crown in 1990, is in high spirits after winning the French Open doubles title with his Czech partner Lukas Dlouhy. Leander and Dlouhy first teamed up at the Roland Garros (French Open) last year, losing in the last 16. They 
entered the semis of the Wimbledon, beating the third-seeded Israeli pair of Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich. They then finished runners-up to Mike and Bob Bryan in the US Open, though Leander had partnered Cara Black to lift the mixed doubles title.

The grass courts at the All-Engalnd Club have always proved to be greener for Leander, who lifted the men’s doubles title with Mahesh and two mixed doubles crowns (with Lisa Raymond and Martina Navratilova there. Last year, Leander’s was the best display among the Indian players, featuring in the semi-finals of both the men’s and mixed doubles events. With Leander enjoying No 5 ranking and Mahesh slotted at the ninth place, both are favourites to give a good shot at the doubles trophy.

For Indian tennis the year 2009 began on a rollicking note with Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza fetching the first all-Indian mixed doubles Grand Slam title at the Australian Open following Yuki’s triumph in the boys singles event. Last year, Mahesh and Sania had come closer to winning their first Grand Slam title together, but lost to Sun Tiantian and Nenad Zimonjic in the summit clash. Though both Mahesh and Sania failed to make an impact in the French Open, they can be counted upon to spring a surprise or two at Wimbledon, where Sania had won her first major career title — the girls doubles title in 2003 — partnering Alisa Kleybanova of Russia.

Since then, the pretty Hyderabadi lass had promised much, entering the quarter-final of the Australian Open singles event and won a few Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour events, but they did not add up to much, till she and Mahesh claimed the Australian Open early this year.

Though Sania has been in good nick this year, recurring injuries have shackled her progress. She suffered a hip strain during her game against Alexandra Dulgheru and retired at 4-6, 2-3 in the first round of the Aegon International, Eastbourne, near London. And at the Birmingham grass court event, she wasted a one-set lead to crash against 13th seed Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia in the semi-final. She thus missed a chance to play her second final of the year. She also entered the semis of the doubles, partnering Taipe’s Chia-Jung Chuang. The good run in the tournament fetched her 130 ranking points. She jumped 20 points to be 78 at the WTA singles ranking, while her doubles rating has progressed to the 35th slot.

This was Sania’s best singles display since making to the final of the Pattaya Open (Malaysia) in February. She made a second-round exit in the Australian Open singles and crashed out in the first round of the French Open.

In a career spanning over a decade, Mahesh Bhupathi has won 11 Grand Slam titles as against nine by Leander. He was the first Indian to win a Grand Slam title when he paired with Rika Hiraki of Japan to lift the French Open mixed doubles title in 1997. In 1999, he added to his kitty the US Open mixed doubles with Ai Sugiyama of Japan, and also won the French Open and Wimbledon men’s doubles with Leander Paes, the US Open men’s doubles (with Max Mirnyi) in 2002 and the women’s mixed doubles title with Elena Likhovtseva and the Australian Open mixed doubles crown in 2006 with Martina Hingis.  Mahesh and Mirnyi also entered the Wimbledon doubles final in 2003. The Indian ace pairing with Mirjana Lucic, had finished runners-up in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1998, losing to Serena Williams and Max Mirnyi.

Leander, Mahesh and Sania have put Indian tennis on a pedestal, but despite their achievements, not many talented players are coming up from the assembly line, though the cities across the country are dotted with tennis academies and coaching centres.

Lakhs of young boys and girls play the game, but the emergence of one Yuki Bhambri once in a blue moon is not enough to fill the void once Leander and co. fade away from the scene.
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Symonds goes back
Amit Khanna

Andrew SymondsPlayers and controversies go hand in hand. Some are planted, while some just wait to happen. Both, however, do the just the same damage.

Andrew Symonds’ extended but vulnerable relation with Cricket Australia took

A turn for the worse just days before Australia was to begin its quest for an all elusive Twenty20 title. Symonds was sent packing after it emerged that he had been drinking while watching the opening State of Origin rugby league game.

Owing to a string of alcohol-related behavioral offences, the temperamental all rounder’s rapport with his cricket board was strained for quite some time.

His extraordinary ability to wreck any bowling attack explained CA’s patience with him. A gifted player capable of affecting the course of a match with bat, ball and in the field very few can compete with him in the limited over format of the game.

Symonds’ trouble with the bottle surfaced in June 2005 when he turned up drunk for an ODI against Bangladesh. He mentioned in his autobiography, Roy, Going for Broke that he was told in no uncertain terms after the incident “any further misdemeanors would see me sent packing. For good.” Yet the aberrations continued as he referred, in a drunk interview, to New Zealand wicket-keeper Brendon McCullum as “a lump of s..t”.

There were apologies and vows to mend ways, counseling sessions were arranged by CA and more promises were made. But nothing changed, except his form, which dipped. He was reportedly upset after being overlooked for the forthcoming Ashes tour. His explosive stroke play was deemed an asset for the Twenty20 World Cup and so he was given a final opportunity to prove himself. At each time he was provided support and with each return there was a relapse.

The long handle of leniency seems to have been snapped once and for all with the CA officials describing the event as a ‘final straw’. As none other than Ricky Ponting put it: “He has let himself down, let all his team mates down and Cricket Australia down.”

With Aussies already out of the Twenty20 World Cup, how much this incident affected them on the field is anybody’s guess.

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Rural soccer
Amarjit Thind

The second edition of the seven-a-side football tournament at Government Senior Secondary School for Boys at Mahilpur was more than a tourney. It was a six-day festival, with entire families trooping in from the nearby villages to cheer their teams, 12 in all.

The matches were held under floodlights after 8 p.m for six nights consecutively. “The matches were so timed as to draw entire families to the field,” explained Gurkamal Bains, general secretary of Mahilpur Sporting Club, that organised the tournament.

Mahilpur is known as the cradle of Indian soccer. At the village’s Khalsa College, there are three football grounds, but none is in a good shape. Young players are barred from using the grounds for practice. Soccer lovers have now turned to the lush green ground at the boys’ school that has been carefully nurtured by coach Ali Hasan, one of the organisers of the tournament.

The “Doaba football league,” is the brainchild of NRI Gurkamal Bains who played for the Asian Cup (under-19) in 1993. There are seven players instead of 11. Consequently, the ground is smaller than the normal football field and the duration of a half is 30 minutes (not 45). Rules, too, have been altered to make the game more racy and hence more appealing.

The tournament is unique in more ways than one. Here, complete novices get a chance to play alongside international and national stars. Almost every team has star appeal with players from clubs such as the JCT Football Club (Phagwara), Mohan Bagan and Football Club (Pune). These star players play here to give a boost to the sport in the area.

The teams have teenaged boys who are daily wage earners. They work during the day and play under the floodlights in the evening. The lush green ground on which the matches were played caught the attention of Pargat Singh, who opened the tournament.

“The floodlights are the icing on the cake. The ambience alone is enough to set the pulse racing,” he remarked.

For the final match, despite the home crowd getting disappointed with their team losing the semi-final, several people reached the venue simply for the love of the game. They expected a good game and that is what they got to see with Paldi emerging winners.

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