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Kiefer and Santoro advance with ease

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POWER AND PRECISION: Nicolas Kiefer of Germany had little trouble in disposing of Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the first round.
POWER AND PRECISION: Nicolas Kiefer of Germany had little trouble in disposing of Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the first round.

Nandakumar Marar

Purav Raja gets a place in the main draw on a wet day

MUMBAI: Fabrice Santoro dismantled fellow Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin in straight sets 6-1, 6-2 on the second day of a rain-affected Kingfisher Airlines Open here on Tuesday.

Paul-Henri Mathieu, another French player to make an appearance on court when light conditions were okay for play at the CCI hardcourts, crumbled in the face of Nicolas Kiefer’s forceful game, losing 6-4, 6-3.

Australian Lleyton Hewitt, the biggest name in the draw and world No. 21, remained in his hotel room as Tour mates ripped apart rivals on another damp, cloudy day. Rainer Schuettler messed up seventh seed Julien Benneteau’s ambitions with a 7-5, 6-3 win, leaving fans scurrying from court to court in search of excitement, something to munch on.

Four straight games

The German, striving to recapture form which fetched him the Australian Open runner-up spot in 2003, trailed 3-5 in the first set before reeling off four straight games.

The 61st ranked French player got back into groove in the second, but a vital break in the eighth game was enough to carry Schuettler through.

Purav Raja became the second Indian qualifier, after Navdeep Singh, to get a place in the main draw.

The National grasscourt champion last year comes in comes in as lucky loser after stumbling at the final hurdle in the qualifiers against Toshihide Matsui. The Japanese won the rain-affected tie, spanning two hours, 32 minutes and spread over two days, 6-7(7), 6-4, 6-3.

Raja’s presence among the big guns has happened at the right time, two seasons after entering the senior ranks. Coach Sandeep Kirtane, working with the Mumbai teenager since 2005, felt that Matsui’s experience tilted the balance.

“Rain disruptions can be tough on players. You need to be sharp straightaway and by the time you are set, the match is over. It is like a 100m dash spread over two days, doing the final 30m the second day. Matsui has been around longer on the circuit and so was able to hang in there.”

Competent

Raja, comfortable with working the angles against the hard-hitters, handled Matsui’s serve-and-volley game competently to win a tough first set in the tie-breaker, hitting three aces and assertive in the service returns.

“Purav has a feel for the game and so has lot of options against the power-players. The focus is now on strength training and performing at the Challenger level,” said Kirtane, looking forward to his ward’s ATP main draw debut against Spain’s Ivan Navarro. The India-Pakistan pair of Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi began doubles action with a 6-3, 6-2 first round victory over Stephen Amritraj and Somdev Varman on Monday night.

The results: Singles (first round): Nicolas Kiefer (Ger) bt Paul-Henri Mathieu (Fra) 6-4, 6-3; Fabrice Santoro (Fra) bt Edouard Roger-Vaselin (Fra) 6-1, 6-2; Rainer Schuettler (Ger) bt Julien Benneteau (Fra) 7-5, 6-3; Viktor Troicki (Srb) bt Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi (Pak) 6-2, 7-6(4).Qualifying (final round): Toshihide Matsui (Jpn) bt Purav Raja (Ind) 6-7 (7), 6-4, 6-3.

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