Indian boys lose to Thailand in final

NEW DELHI, MAY 8. The fine run by the Indian boys came to an end as they fell in the final, 0-3, to host Thailand in the Asia- Oceania World Junior (under-14) qualifying tennis tournament at Nonthaburi on Sunday.

They, along with the girls, who finished tenth among 15 countries, returned to a joyous reception by the members of their family in the wee hours here on Monday.

Having confirmed their qualification by winning the first round of the knock-out against China, the Indian boys, seeded fifth, went on to beat the second-seeded Australia, 2-1, in the semifinals.

Tushar Liberhan gave a flying start with a 6-1, 6-1 win against Todd Ley of Australia, and Karan Rastogi confirmed the entry into the final with a 6-4, 6-4 triumph over Patrick Jozwik. In the doubles, however, Tushar and Karan, went down fighting 6-2, 6-7 (3-7), 2-6.

The Indians did put up a good fight against the eighth-seeded Thailand in the final, but were perhaps a bit overawed by the local support for their rivals, the crowded atmosphere of the centre-court which had about 1000 spectators much in contrast to a handful in the earlier matches.

Tushar Liberhan lost to Kirati Siribut 4-6, 4-6 and Karan Rastogi failed to stop Natapong Pongkunsub, losing 3-6, 5- 7. In the doubles, Siribut and Pongkunsub scored a 6-3, 6-0 win over Tushar and Karan.

``Overall it was a very good experience. China was tough, but we managed to beat them. Australia played hard, but we beat them also. Me and Karan have beaten both the Thai players in the tournaments in Vietnam, but at home they were tough. Basically, both are hard hitters, and were right on top'', said the 13-year- old Tushar, who swept three of the four singles titles in the South Asian and East Asian circuits earlier in the season.

``No other Indian team has done this well. So, we were not disappointed about losing the final'', said Tushar.

The captain of the boys team, Suman Kapur, was all praise for the lads. He said it was a heartening experience as the Indians were making the final of the regional qualifying tournament for the first time.

``Our boys had the consistency and control. Other teams had better players, shot to shot, but our boys were disciplined and receptive to ideas. Only disadvantage is that our boys are weak physically while others like the Australians and the Thai are very powerful,'' said Suman Kapur.

Saying that it was a team effort, Suman Kapur stressed that it was important to keep it as a three-member team. Divij Sharan, the third member, did well to win all his doubles matches.

``We wanted to try out Karan and Tushar before the final in doubles and that was how we played them against Australia. They were tired in the end,'' said Suman Kapur.

The captain of the boys team, who allowed coach Manoj Vaidya to sit on the chair for the semifinals and final, said the boys were told before the semifinals that they had nothing to lose as the qualification berth had been confirmed and there were no medals at stake.

Suman Kapur said the boys courageously overcame health problems - Tushar had fever on the day before the competition and Karan was ill on the first day of competition - to perform with distinction.

There was no lack of courage in the girls section either, but the team was not in strength in the absence of the No. 1 Sania Mirza, who had failed to report for the selection trials and missed out on the tour.

``We had only the No. 2 and No. 3. If Sania had been there our team would have been seeded and would have definitely qualified from the group,'' said Suman Kapur, who had to double up as the manager of the team while Manoj Vaidya took care of the girls team during the league.

The Indian girls failed to make the knock-out stage but did well to beat Malaysia 3-0, with Sanaa Bhambri beating Naiam Kay Suan 6-1, 6-4 and her sister Ankita defeating Dalila Binti Hassan 6-4, 6-0. In the doubles, Ankita and Kartiki Bhat prevailed over Dalila Binti Hassan and Norzafirah Binti Taufek 6- 0, 6-3.

In the fight for the ninth spot, the Indian girls put up a good fare before losing 1-2 to Indonesia.

Sanaa lost to Maya Rosa Ariana Stefanie 4-6, 5-7, but Ankita put the teams on par with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win over Linda Arumsari. However, in the doubles, the Bhambri sisters, lost to Maya and Linda 3-6, 2-6.

``We had a close fight against Uzbekistan in the first league match. We were, in fact, part of one of the toughest groups as the second-seed Chinese Taipei and seventh-seed Uzbekistan were with us. If Sania Mirza had been there we would have got the seeding, and it would have been easier for us,'' Ankita Bhambri said.

``If Ankita had played in the first matches instead of the 12- year-old Sanaa, we would have been through'', said Suman Kapur.

Of course, there is no question of taking the credit away from Sanaa, who was adjudged the `most promising' player in Islamabad during the South Asian circuit.

``The others girls were really good, with fluent movements and were really hitting hard. We tried our best to fight them,'' said Ankita.

Sania Mirza and Ankita Bhambri had done well in the South Asian circuit. Later, Ankita missed the East Asian circuit in Vietnam because of illness. Thus, the Indian girls have not been in strength in the last two events, which has perhaps cost them a place in the World junior tournament.

The boys, both Tushar and Karan, are sure to be selected for the ITF Asian team on the European circuit in July, apart from shouldering the responsibility of representing the country in the World Junior tournament to be held in the Czech Republic in August.

``We are looking forward to the European tour and the World Junior tournament. We will train hard and prepare well for these events,'' said Tushar, who had to stay back in Delhi on return as his baggage was misplaced.

Japan and Australia were the other teams to qualify for the boys section, while China, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Japan qualified in that order from the girls section.