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HARD GRIND: Spain’s Carlos Moya, seen practising on Sunday, looks forward to the Chennai Open with optimism.
HARD GRIND: Spain’s Carlos Moya, seen practising on Sunday, looks forward to the Chennai Open with optimism.

Nandita Sridhar

Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya back for another try

Chennai: Rafael Nadal took his practice session very seriously on Sunday. His trademark grunts and low-key rituals were put through their tests, as his taped knees held fort. The World number two’s forehand carried no off-season rust.

Carlos Moya was next in line with a tapered down version of his forehand. The familiar indiscernible banter made its way across the Centre Court.

Through its 12-year history, the tournament has frequently sought the support of a group from miles away, to make up for a thin local presence. In some ways Moya’s consistent presence has lent the event shape and lifted it out of public apathy.

The tournament’s profile had taken a beating after some lacklustre matches. But Moya’s and Paradorn Srichaphan’s entertaining battles have brightened up the tournament in recent times. Their regular presence has endeared them to the Chennai crowds.

Highpoint

Nadal’s presence in the 2007 Chennai Open ATP tournament, which starts on Monday, is the highlight. Improved facilities lead to better draws.

The Spaniards, by sheer numbers, have fancied their chances here. That is why Moya’s role in bringing his compatriots to the city cannot be underestimated. With a strong ‘mentor’ culture in their tennis, Spanish unity has worked well for the tournament.

Nadal was troubled by the Belgian Xavier Malisse last year, but the Spaniard has learnt to deal better with flat hitting since then. His year has gone along expected lines, with a stunning clay season, and a Wimbledon final appearance followed by mixed results.

Second seed Marcos Baghdatis will bring in flair, style and personality; all much needed after defending champion Malisse’s new-found calm. The Belgian has promised maturity and control, robbing the tournament of tantrum-bursts. “People have been asking me this for years. I was a bit strange when I started my career, but I have changed because many people didn’t like the way I reacted. I realised the importance of controlling my emotions and I am a more mature guy now,” he said.

The draw has put him alongside potential threats and players ranked higher. “In tennis, pressure will be more on the reigning champion. But I am confident of doing well here. After a rough season, I am fit and feeling healthy, so I can play long three-setters. I am an unseeded player here so every match will be tough. Top players such as Baghdatis, Mikhail Youzhny and Nicolas Mahut are on my side of the draw.”

Twitchy, hyperactive and unpredictable, Baghdatis is a showman. His tennis is thrilling, sometimes bordering on the idiosyncratic, but never short of entertaining. Should he last through the course of the tournament, a visual treat is guaranteed.

As is the case with any field, the Indians will have it tough. Prakash Amritraj has had no match practice since his wrist surgery in August and will be up against a qualifier. Vishnu Vardhan, coming off a title win at the National grasscourt championship, will face Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin (ranked 97). If nothing more, Vishnu’s first appearance at an ATP singles event should serve as a good experience.

Indians disappoint

No Indian made it to the final qualifying round of the Chennai Open on Sunday. Kamala Kannan, Stephen Amritraj and Karan Rastogi all suffered straight-set losses in the second round, while Mustafa Ghouse retired when 0-3 down in the second set.

Second qualifying round results (Indians unless otherwise specified): Igor Kunitsyn (Rus) bt Mustafa Ghouse 6-2, 3-0 (retd.); Kristian Pless (Den) bt Sonchat Ratiwatana (Tha) 7-6(3), 6-3; Harel Levy (Isr) bt Kamala Kannan 6-2, 6-1; Stefano Galvani (Ita) bt Stephen Amritraj 6-1, 6-1; Alexander Peya (Aut) bt David Martin (U.S.) 7-6(5), 6-3; Rajeev Ram (U.S.) bt Michal Mertinak (Svk) 6-2, 7-5; Alexandre Kudryavtsev (Rus) bt Karan Rastogi 7-5, 6-3; Lovro Zovko (Cro) bt Denis Matsukevitch (Rus) 6-3, 1-6, 61.

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