SPORT

Sunil Kumar's dream run continues

Sai Jayalakshmy of Tamil Nadu essays a forehand return against Sonal Phadke of Maharashtra in the Senior National grass court tennis tournament in Kolkata on Friday. — Sushanta Patronobish

Sai Jayalakshmy of Tamil Nadu essays a forehand return against Sonal Phadke of Maharashtra in the Senior National grass court tennis tournament in Kolkata on Friday. — Sushanta Patronobish  

KOLKATA MARCH 29. The pruning of seeds reached its final stage as two fresh faces advanced to the title round in the men's singles category of the Indian Oil-Servo senior National grasscourt tennis championship here at the South Club courts on Friday.

The 19-year-old left-hander from Chandigarh, Sunil Kumar Sipaeya, continued his prodigious run in the tournament and made short work of last year's runner-up and his doubles partner Vishaal Uppal of Delhi in straight sets to progress to his first grasscourt final. Sixth seeded Manoj Mahadevan of Tamil Nadu outlasted a contest of temperament and endurance against seasoned Nitin Kirtane — the Maharashtra player seeded second in the tournament. For Mahadevan too it was the maiden entry to the final.

On the distaff side, the hierarchy was almost maintained as the top seeded Radhika Tulpule of Maharashtra overcame a first-set deficit to beat her fourth seeded challenger in Karnataka's Sheetal Gautam. The win put Tulpule on course of regaining the title she won in 2000. More so, the women's final on Saturday will repeat the line-up of the title clash year before last as third seeded Sai Jayalakshmi of Tamil Nadu swept aside second seeded Sonal Phadke of Maharashtra to put herself against Tulpule for the second time.

Sunil Kumar put up a good show of technique and precision against seasoned Uppal to underline an able graduation to the senior stage. Uppal, making a comeback after a prolonged lay-off with injury, appeared a bit rusty with a troubling knee and failed to match the alacrity of his youthful opponent. Uppal was in trouble right in his first service game — the second of the first set -- as he served three double faults to allow Sunil Kumar two break points. But Uppal put his experience to good use and salvaged the situation with deep angular serves that pinned his opponent on the baseline.

The crisis switched over to Sunil Kumar in the third game when the Chandigarh left-hander came back from a 0-40 deficit and five break points. The set went with serves forcing the tie-breaker. In the tiebreak Sunil Kumar raced to a 6-0 lead as Uppal made repeated unforced errors. The former wrapped it up 7-1 to win the first set. In the second set Sunil Kumar looked sharper and availed the second break point he earned in the ninth game. Uppal, who had a few close line-calls going against him, appeared to surrender at this points as Sunil Kumar won the 10th game without losing a point and won the match in style.

In the other men's semifinal, Mahadevan took two hours and thirty minutes to outlast a gritty Kirtane in three sets. The first set saw Kirtane losing his serve in the second game but broke back Mahadevan in the ninth game to restore parity before the set lapsed into tie breakers. Mahadevan prevailed in the tiebreaker racing to a 6-1 lead before he served an ace to wrap up the first set. With the ball getting soft and slowing down in the second set, Kirtane, used it to his advantage and reclaimed the set breaking Mahadevan in the second game while holding all his service games.

Mahadevan came back to his elements in the decider and obtained the crucial break in the sixth game when the Maharashtra player served two double-faults to let the former all the advantage. There was no looking back from this point for Mahadevan who held his serve to wrap up the match.

In the women's section, Gautam, who won the first set with a fine display of all-round tennis, stretched Tulpule to the decider. The second set saw Tulpule break Gautam in the 11th game and then held here serve to draw level. The third set was more closely fought and went on for 52 minutes. There were a lot of service breaks as Tulpule was broken in the sixth and eighth games. Tulpule won the set and the match getting an extra break when she broke Gautam in the third, fifth and ninth games.

In the shortest game of the day, Jayalakshmi proved her supremacy on grass disposing Sonal Phadke of in just 70 minutes to set herself on for her maiden senior's grasscourt title.# In the men's doubles, Saurav Panja pairing with Nitin Kirtane reached their fifth Nationals' final beating the pair of Sunil Kumar and Uppal in a hard-fought three-setter. Top seeds Rohan Bopanna and Vijay Kannan made short work of Mahadevan and Amod Wakalkar in straight sets. In the women's section Tulpule and Jayalakshmi as the top seeds beat fourth seeded pair of Shruti Dhawan and Radhika Mandhke in straight sets while the second seeded combination of Gautam and Maharashtra's Liza Pereira beat the third seeded opponents Phadke and Ankita Bhambri to make the final a clash of the top seeds.

The results (seedings prefixed):

Men: Singles (semifinals): Sunil Kumar Sipaeya (Chd) bt Vishaal Uppal (Del) 7-6 (7-1), 6-4; 2-Nitin Kirtane (Mah) lost to 6-Manoj Mahadevan (TN) 6-7 (1-7), 3-6, 6-3. Doubles (semifinals): 1-Rohan Bopanna (Kar) & Vijay Kannan (TN) bt Manoj Mahadevan (TN) & Amod Wakalkar (Mah) 6-3, 6-4; 2-Nitin Kirtane (Mah) & Saurav Panja (Ben) bt Sunil Kumar (Chd) & Vishaal Uppal (Del) 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-1).

Women: Singles (semifinals): 1-Radhika Tulpule (Mah) bt 4-Sheetal Gautam 4-6, 7-5, 6-4; 2-Sonal Phadke (Mah) lost to Sai Jayalakshmi (TN) 6-2, 6-4. Doubles (semifinals): 1-Sai Jayalakshmi (TN) & Radhika Tulpule (Mah) bt 4-Shruit Dhawan (Chd) & Radhika Mandhke (Mah) 6-4, 6-2; 2-Sheetal Gautam (Kar) & Liza Pereira (Mah) bt 3-Sonal Phadke & Ankita Bhambri (Mah) 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.

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