SPORT

Vanek too good for Prakash Amritraj

BAD LUCK MATE: Jiri Vanek of Czech Republic (right) seems to be saying so to Prakash Amritraj of India, whom he defeated in straight sets in the Tata Open in Chennai on Monday. — Photo: V. Ganesan

BAD LUCK MATE: Jiri Vanek of Czech Republic (right) seems to be saying so to Prakash Amritraj of India, whom he defeated in straight sets in the Tata Open in Chennai on Monday. — Photo: V. Ganesan  

Chennai Dec. 30. What's in a name. Charmed by Shakespearean logic and verse, perhaps a lot of us would like to believe that a name is a name and nothing more. So, what's in a name?

Now, try asking that question to young Prakash Amritraj and you will get an entirely new perspective. To the cheerful teenager, his surname is at once a passport and a burden, although he would hate to admit to the latter; at once a magic mantra that opens every door to possible stardom and a back-breaking piece of excess baggage.

And the 19-year old first son of Vijay Amritraj, looking for his own place in the sun in the unforgiving world of pro tennis, soldiers on with a smile, accepting both the fortune and the misfortune brought by the famous surname. Unfortunately for Prakash, there was not much to smile about on Monday at the Tata Open.

Attempting to take another step away from the huge shadow of a champion father, the young man went down 2-6, 2-6 to the experienced Jiri Vanek from the Czech Republic, a 24-year-old who is coming back from an injury-ravaged season with his ranking protected for tournament entry.

Another day, another age, in another sports-obsessed nation, one young man, overwhelmed by the power of his surname to burn his own individuality to ashes, quickly changed it. Fortunately, Prakash has no such problems as were encountered by the late Don Bradman's son in Australia more than 50 years ago. But he knows that the spotlights that are trained on him are not in place merely because he is an up-and-coming young player with some promise. And sons of famous fathers, pursuing the trail blazed by the parent, will always be evaluated by a special yardstick in sport. They simply have to live with it. But, to be fair to Prakash, it would be ridiculous to compare him — or where he is now as a player — to Vijay Amritraj at 19. And it was never going to be easy playing at a stadium which is a five minute drive from his grandparents' home and where his father grew up. Watched by his grandparents, his father and mother Shyamala, as well as the Krishnans, Ramanathan and Ramesh — apart from Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — Prakash, not surprisingly, started off rather nervously. He lost the first point of the match on a double fault and his second service game on two more double faults. But, through a match in which he seldom seemed to have the chance to dominate, the teenager did show heart and uncorked some winners that would have done his father proud. Yet, overall, Prakash was far too inconsistent and never really got his serve going.

The teenager played his best tennis late in the first set and early in the second. After holding serve to 2-5, the new Amritraj on the block had two breakpoints on Vanek's serve in the next game. But the Czech hit a few big serves when in trouble and then broke Prakash's serve in the very first game of the second set.

Once again, in the second, Prakash held his own for a short time before Vanek raced to the tape. ``It's like night and day. He played so much better in practice this morning,'' Vijay said to his wife Shyamala. Anand Amritraj too believed that the young man was capable of playing much better. "I think he played 40 per cent. The other guy was tough but Prakash can play a lot better.''

The jump from boy to man is often represented by the ability to carry your practice session form onto the match court and build on it on the big stage. How soon and how often Prakash can do this remains to be seen. ``I thought I gave away too many easy points to him on unforced errors. I was rushing things a bit,'' said Prakash. "The atmosphere was great. I just wish I'd put more first serves in and made a match of it.''

Among the early winners this evening were Rainer Schuettler from Germany, a finalist here in 1999, who raced past Julian Knowle of Austria 6-4, 6-1 and Jean-Rene Lisnard of France beat Kristian Pless from Denmark 6-2, 7-5.

Meanwhile, Jerome Golmard from France, champion here in 2000, once again fell victim to a back injury. Playing Albert Portas of Spain, the Frenchman hurt his back in the third game — at 1-1 in the first set — and conceded the match. The first seed to go out of the tournament did not play a single point. Sjeng Schalken, seeded three, injured his wrist in practice and pulled out of the event. He was replaced by lucky loser Noam Okun of Israel.

Tuesday's matches

Centre court: 5 p.m. start: Guillermo Canas (Arg) v Dick Norman (Bel); Michael Kohlmann (Ger) v Mark Philippoussis (Aus); Jan Vacek (Cze) v Paradorn Srichaphan (Tha).

Court 1: 4 p.m. start: Tomas Behrend (Ger) v Andrei Pavel (Rom); Albert Montanes (Esp) v Michael Llodra (Fra); Justin Gimelstob (USA) v Karol Kucera (Svk); Frantisek Cermak (Cze)/Leos Friedl (Cze) v Andrei Pavel (Rom)/Sargis Sargsian (Arm) (subject to change).

Court 2: 4 p.m. start: Juan Balcells (Esp) v Noam Okun (Isr); John van Lottum (Ned) v Olivier Patience (Fra); Cecil Mamit (USA) v Lars Burgsmuller (Ger).

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