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Playing by instinct

Be it the snowy terrain in Japan or smouldering courts in Vizag, Hayoto Furukawa has learnt to keep his cool and play his game, and won a few fans along the way.

KEEPING COOL: Hayoto Furukawa beats the heat and his opponents with élan.

AS A junior, he would hurl his racquet in frustration, when things didn't go his way.

``Now that I'm 21 and grown up, I've realised it is like destroying my own weapon,'' says Hayoto Furukawa. He prefers to kick the wall instead.

On court any trace of emotion is like spilling a closely guarded secret. With just a little crouch, his focus on the ball and his opponent is unflinching. A few steps to look at a surface mark after an adverse line call and a sagely shake of the head follows, oriental in mystique.

Temperament seems his truest ally as he lets nothing upset his rhythm. In the absence of any exceptional skill, Furukawa has little choice maybe. His serves don't boom, nor do his smashes scorch the clay. Neither is he built like a Greek god. His alert eyes lead his little feet, fastening him in the right place at the right time.

In the opening round of the International Tennis Federation Satellite tour's recent Vizag leg, Furukawa's composure was in stark contrast to that of his Israeli opponent Roy Sichel.

The first set swung Sichel's way without much sweat. In the second, not only was the temperature soaring (above 40 degrees) but Sichel's temper as well. "Towel,'' the Israeli would scream and the much tormented ball boys became a lesson in tolerance.

Across the net, a hatless Hayoto looked heavenwards, hoping for respite from the sun's blazing rays. From his native Japan, where it snows, court No. 1 was little different from a bubbling cauldron. If the changeovers provided a reprieve now and then, his beach umbrella collapsed !

No hail of expletives marked this misfortune, just a few more sips of water. The ordeal lasted nearly three hours but at the end of it, all was forgiven. Hayoto even had a pat on the shoulder for his adversary, who'd been no better than a lousy loser.

No complaints or whining. Nobody had a clue that he was plagued by tennis elbow after every match. He would just retire to the players lounge and request for some ice. So pleasing was his plea that volunteers would run to wherever a block could be found and fetch one for him gladly.

If the crowd got partisan, when he faced an Indian player, he reacted just once. With patience and a countenance as calm as that of the Buddha, he gave his version, which soon won him quite a few hearts. Soon applause for his winners matched those reserved for the natives.

Hayoto is no hermit. He has no philosophy or principle to guide him. Nor does he meditate or immerse himself in zen. Like the average teenager, he's a party animal, an outdoors man and a homebird too, who loves to shake a leg in the disco and freak out with friends over the weekend.

He's no pushover either. In Mumbai, he stuck to his price against a haggling cabbie. "Money maybe a great motivator, but I hate squabbling for it,'' he says.

Ask him what his greatest disappointment is and he says splitting with his girlfriend.

And yet he's proved himself a worthy winner. If not a victor of any crown or lofty title, he's conquered conditions that had others cringing or crying for the doctor.

If sport is a course and its players thoroughbreds, Hayoto Furukawa is a stayer, bound to go a long way.


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