Bopanna blows Fazaluddin off court

PUNE, NOV. 1. There is invariably a steady breeze blowing across the Deccan Gymkhana courts. On occasions it gets stronger, forcing the chair umpire, perched on an elevated structure, to take evasive action, even as the players grapple with the changing conditions.

Strangely, there was no such wind sweeping through the courts, here, on Thursday. However, Indian Davis Cupper and third-seed Syed Fazaluddin had a slight problem.

He had to grapple with a different kind of a gale force in the form of the heavy-hitting Rohan Bopanna. And the Bangalore lad is running hot these days.

Well, it was yet another happy scalp-hunting day for the unseeded but dangerous Bopanna as he knocked out Fazaluddin 6-2, 7-6 (4) to enter the semifinals of the MSLTA-ITF Futures tennis tournament. ``I have never met Fazaluddin before, so it was a good win for me,'' said Bopanna later.

He will now take on the second-seeded Israeli Eyal Erlich, who demolished a completely off-colour Jurek Stasiak, seeded eight, of Poland 6-0, 6-1. The versatile Erlich passed Stasiak at will, and the lop-sided contest concluded in just 40 minutes.

In other interesting quarterfinal results, Uzbekistan's fourth seeded Abdul-Hamid Makhkamov, first lost his temper over some line-calls, and eventually fell 4-6, 5-7 to Slovakia's unseeded Michal Varsanyi.

And Sunil Kumar, going though the transition period, was given a lesson or two about competing at the Futures level by top-seeded Lior Dahan, the power and precision of the Israeli's groundstrokes proving too much for the young Indian, as he went down 2-6, 0-6.

The doubles final will see the Prahlad Srinath-Ajay Ramaswami duo bidding for a hat-trick of title wins in the Futures, after they put it across the fourth-seeded pair of Manoj Mahadevan and Rishi Sridhar 6-4, 6-4 in a last four duel.

Srinath and Ramaswami will take on the Israeli combination of Lior Dahan and Eyal Erlich, who outplayed compatriots Meir Deri and Eliran Dooyev 6-4, 6-0.

Back to the Bopanna-Fazaluddin duel. It was a contest between two players of similar styles - serve and volley - on the hard court. There was also more pressure on Fazaluddin to deliver against a younger rival.

Simple strategy

The 21-year old Bopanna's strategy was simple. He would serve and volley and then attack Fazaluddin's forehand, his weaker flank. The ploy worked.

It was crucial for Bopanna, a finalist at both Mumbai and Indore Futures, to begin well against a more-experienced opponent, and he did just that breaking Fazaluddin in the third game, firing in scorching returns.

And Bopanna went further ahead in the first set, breaking Fazaluddin in a long-drawn seventh game. It was also a game, where Bopanna rallied well from the back of the court - an aspect he has worked on - apart from producing a couple of sizzling back-hand cross-court winners. A big-forehand is his strength, but the youngster is putting more sting into his backhands as well of late.

Bopanna served out the set in the eighth game, keeping the approach shots deep, and winning the final point when Fazaluddin put a volley into the net.

The second set witnessed Fazaluddin, realising that time was running out, putting more pressure on Bopanna's serves. But the Bangalore boy, despite not getting enough of his first serves in, hung in there.

With Fazaluddin too holding his serve, the set entered the tie- breaker, and Bopanna, a product of the Nike-Bhupathi clinic, was ready, rediscovering his serving rhythm.

He raced to a 3-0 lead, helped by two big serves, and though Fazaluddin made it 2-3, Bopanna went 5-2 up again, though an ace and a lovely backhand volley.

Soon he had two match points at 6-3. Fazaluddin saved one of them, but Bopanna clinched it moments later, when his opponent buried a forehand into the net. A creditable win it certainly was for the youngster.

Baseliners' battle

The tussle between Makhkamov and Varsanyi was essentially a battle between two baseliners, but the latter also displayed a dash of innovation on this day, giving him the winning edge. Indeed, Varsanyi ventured up to the net to win some key points, while Makhkamov was pretty one-dimensional in his methods.

The first set went with serves till the 10th game, when Varsanyi, returning well, turned on the heat against his Uzbekian opponent.

This was a phase, when Makhkamov, upset with some of the calls, began arguing with the chair umpire, and it actually made things worse for him. Varsanyi achieved the crucial break, and the first set was his at 6-4.

The second was a roller-coaster affair, with Makhkamov breaking his Slovekian rival in the fifth game, but Varsanyi hit back in the eighth. And the two traded breaks in the ninth and tenth games. Varsanyi held in the eleventh, and the onus was on the Uzbekian to take the set to a tie-breaker.

Makhkamov failed, once again blowing his top over a ruling, and the resultant lapse in concentration cost him dear. Varsanyi broke Makhkamov, closing out the contest with a cracking forehand volley.

Coming to doubles semifinals, the all-Indian encounter was the more interesting one, producing quite a few attractive rallies. Two breaks of serve decided the match - Manoj Mahadevan failing to hold in the third game of the first set and Rishi Sridhar in the seventh game of the second. Srinath and Ramaswami complemented each other well, with the latter's return of serve being particularly impressive.

The last two days of the competition can be seen on Doordarshan Sports.

The results:

Singles: Quarterfinals: 1-Lior Dahan (Isr) bt Sunil Kumar (Ind) 6-2, 6-0; Michal Varsanyi (Svk) bt 4- Abdul-Hamid Makhkamov (Uzb) 6-4, 7-5; Rohan Bopanna (Ind) bt 3- Syed Fazaluddin (Ind) 6-2, 7- 6 (4); 2-Eyal Erlich (Isr) bt 8- Jurek Stasiak (Pol) 6-0, 6-1.

Doubles: Semifinals: Prahlad Srinath & Ajay Ramaswami (Ind) bt 4- Manoj Mahadevan & Rishi Sridhar (Ind) 6-4, 6-4; Lior Dahan & Eyal Erlich (Isr) bt Meir Deri & Eliran Dooyev (Isr) 6-4, 6-0.

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