Special Correspondent

CHANDIGARH: Wild card Harsh Mankad fought it out against the third-seeded Hyun-Woo Nam of Korea for a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 win in the semifinals of the ITF Futures tennis tournament at the CLTA Complex here on Friday.

With another wild card, the top-seeded Rohan Bopanna, riding his explosive game in warding off a spirited challenge from the gutsy left-hander Divij Sharan for a 6-4, 7-5 victory, it will be a match-up between two of the best players who have represented India in recent years.

While Bopanna has perhaps the best serve in the country, Mankad, who enjoys a 3-2 head-to-head record against the strapping young man from Coorg, has the best return of serve. The two have not met in the last four years.

Hard work pays off

Mankad has been working so much on his physical fitness — possibly compensating for the lack of interest in this department when he was young — he has the legs to challenge anyone for a battle, at least at this level.

That was precisely what he showed against the talented Korean who could run all day and hit with the same intensity from start to finish — particularly creditable as Mankad dropped serve at love in the first game of the decider.

Having put himself back in the match in the nick of time breaking the Korean in the 10th game to wrap up the second set, Mankad wore down Nam’s backhand by pinning him to that corner in the third set, and broke him in the sixth and 12th games to emerge a deserving winner.

On hitting a forehand inside-out return winner on matchpoint, Mankad jumped for joy and let out a final war-cry with a clenched fist. It was a job well done.

Big hitting

Bopanna dropped serve twice. Yet, he packed so much punch in his game that it was tough for Sharan to hang on, despite fighting with all his heart — he saved as many as 12 breakpoints. A couple of double-faults saw Sharan dropping serve in the 11th game of the second set, and Bopanna served it out at love, converting matchpoint with an ace. He had 15 aces in the match.

Mankad put himself in line for a double as he clinched the doubles title with Rupesh Roy in the evening.

The results: Singles (semifinals): Rohan Bopanna bt Divij Sharan 6-4, 7-5; Mankad Mankad bt Hyun-Woo Nam (Kor) 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. Doubles (final): Mankad Mankad and Rupesh Roy bt Rohan Gajjar and Purav Raja 6-3, 6-4.

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