Can the Indians break the jinx?

AHMEDABAD, MAY 20. Can an Indian triumph here? That will be the million dollar question, in the third leg of the Satellite circuit at the AGETA Complex here.

It has been an encouraging circuit for the Indians, as the lads have a shown a lot of courage in tackling foreign opposition in trying conditions, though it has to be admitted that none of the Indians have managed to cross the semifinals in singles - so far.

Yet, Nitin Kirtane underlining his hunger with a semifinal appearance in Thiruvananthapuram and a quarterfinal entry in Bangalore, apart from Mustafa Ghouse showing his growing confidence with a quarterfinal and a semifinal fare in the first two legs, have provided a spell of fresh air in this particularly exacting summer.

Quite significantly, both the young Mustafa Ghouse at 950 and the seasoned Nitin Kirtane, with an unflattering ranking of 1049, have beaten the champions of the first two legs, Lars Uebel of Germany and James Auckland of Britain respectively. Both have also beaten the second-seeded Ivo Klec of Germany.

It shows that both, who lost to the eventual champion Auckland in the second leg, have the ability to go all the way and clinch the title, if they manage to maintain a high degree of self-belief, keeping the desire burning.

``I have been taking one match at a time. I see no reason to change that here. I love the weather. These are medium paced courts, but more than the courts we need to get used to the lighter balls here'', said Mustafa Ghouse.

The first two legs were played with Wilson balls and it is suspected that the Tretorn balls being used here may perhaps behave more to the liking of the foreigners. In fact, Cosco was used during the qualifying event of the second leg, when the players gave in writing that they wanted Wilson balls as published in the tournament fact-sheet. It is a shame that the same brand of standard balls cannot be used in the whole circuit.

``I have not crossed the semifinals in the Satellite. I want to break that jinx. I hope to continue playing well, despite the change of balls which may make the game slow'', said Nitin Kirtane.

Spotlight on Fazaluddin

With Prahlad Srinath and Harsh Mankad not in action, the focus is naturally on Syed Fazaluddin, who did well to recover from an unceremonious first round exit in Thiruvananthapuram to reach the semifinals in Bangalore.

It has been a mystery as to why a man of Fazaluddin's ability is languishing at 609 on the ATP computer with 24 ATP ponts, when his game warrants a regular entry in the Challengers. It is for Fazaluddin himself to solve the puzzle, as he seems to have restricted his ambition in recent times to retaining his place in the Davis Cup team rather than break into the big league.

Had Vishaal Uppal been around, instead of nursing an injury, Ghouse would have been able to make light of the relatively weak doubles field. In the event, Fazaluddin did well to win the title in the first leg with Rishi Sridhar, and the combine of Nitin and Rohan Bopanna have managed to make the final in both the legs.

Prakash Amritraj, viewed as the possible saviour of Indian tennis, is yet to win a match after four wild cards in the senior circuit. The 17-year-old Prakash has been meeting the seeds in the two Challengers in Mumbai and Chandigarh, apart from the first two legs in the present circuit, but the bright youngster with a delightful serve and volley game must be assimilating the lessons fast.

There are a clutch of others who are anxious to make a mark, but have generally been finding time running faster than their own speed of improvement. With only 24 making it to the Masters in Chandigarh, it will be a last ditch attempt for some here.

The wild cards have been given to Shivang Mishra, Neel Shah and Devender Bhusari. The fourth wild card Tushar Gautam has pulled out of the third leg, and his place will be taken by a lucky- loser.

Only doubles matches will be played on Monday, and the singles main draw will start on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the referee, Hany El Khafief has slapped a fine of $500 on Anton Kokurin of Uzbekistan for his ``aggravated and flagrant behaviour that put the tournament in jeopardy'', when he was asked to play under the floodlights during the second leg in Bangalore by umpire Puneet Gupta. The referee has also recommended to the ITF a three-month suspension for Kokurin, who had abused him over the phone after the referee had moved to Ahmedabad to conduct the qualifying event of the third leg.

The results (qualifying event):

Second and final round: Colin Bennett (GBR) bt Daniel Tegg (GBR) 6-3, 6-1; Manoj Mahadevan bt Vijayendra Laad 7-5, 6-1; Nipun Gupta bt S. K. Shivshankar 7-6 (8-6), 6-4; Ibrahim Kimmerling (Ger) bt P. Ravikrishna 6-3, 2-6, 6-1; Dhananjay Kawade bt Daniel Tjondronegoro (Ned) 7-6 (9-7), 6- 4; P. Vishal bt P. Vishwanath 6-0, 7-6 (7-4); Anant Sitaram bt Joshua Fonseca 6-0, 6-3; Mathew Snowdon (Aus) bt Kunal Bhojwani 6-1, 6-2.

First round: Daniel Tegg (GBR) bt Harshit Sharma 6-3, 6-4; Vijayendra Laad bt Kshtij Gujarati 6-0, 6-4; Nipun Gupta bt Gautham Dhar 5-0 (retired); P. Ravikrishna bt Nishank Mishra 6-4, 6-2; Dhananjay Kawade bt Siddharth Sharma 6- 2, 2-6, 6-4; P. Vishwanath bt Rafique Paruthi 6-0, 6-2; Anant Sitaram bt Parantap Chaturvedi 6-4, 3-6, 6-4; Joshua Fonseca bt Gajapathi Pillay 6-3, 6-2; Mathew Snowdon (Aus) bt Ritesh Chitlangiya 7-6 (8-6), 6-2; Kunal Bhojwani bt Naga Pritish Lagauaraen 6-1, 6-1.