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Vinod tames Lobanov for semifinal berth

Vinod Sridhar in action against Russia's Pavel Lobanov in the quarterfinals of the ITF tennis tournament in New Delhi on Thursday. — Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Vinod Sridhar in action against Russia's Pavel Lobanov in the quarterfinals of the ITF tennis tournament in New Delhi on Thursday. — Photo: Sandeep Saxena  

NEW DELHI NOV. 7. Have grit, will go some way. That seemed to be his dictum as National champion Vinod Sridhar tamed Pavel Lobanov of Russia 6-4, 2-6, 6-1 in an hour and a half in the quarterfinals of the MTNL $10,000 ITF Futures tennis tournament at the DLTA Complex here on Thursday.

Vinod provided the bright speck, as two other Indians Jaco T. Mathew and Ajay Ramaswami overcame Indian opposition to make it three in the semifinals.

Second seed Juraj Hasko of Slovakia proved too strong to be humbled by the serve and volley tactics of the National grasscourt champion, Manoj Mahadevan, and sailed through in the second set tie-break.

The day belonged to the left-handed Vinod who played to a plan, and stroked with conviction despite the fortunes swinging the other way in the second set.

The advantage with Vinod this day was the fact that he was able to put the ball where he wanted and at a pace that was not much to the liking of his opponent, who struggled to strike a rhythm.

To be fair to Vinod, it has to be admitted that he hit the ball nicely on both flanks, and ran down the balls to make it as difficult for the Russian as was physically possible.

Lobanov was unable to be at his fluent best as was the case when he beat Sunil Kumar for the loss of two games in the first round. He was perhaps not ready for the sharp game of Vinod and lost the first set rather quickly, by getting broken in the fifth game.

The Russian did scare Vinod a bit by saving a setpoint in the ninth game, and held serve with a string of screaming winners. Vinod served quite well to take the set in the tenth game, at 15.

Vinod, a Krishnan Centre trainee from Chennai who works with the GAIL, had done a lot of work in that first set to get a good start, and was understandably a step slow in the second set. More than that, Lobanov played freely in the second, as he had to come out of the rut that was partially self-inflicted.

Thus, Vinod was unable to capitalise on the break in the first game of the second set, and got broken thrice in the fourth, sixth and eighth games, despite having his chances in those games.

Into the third set, Vinod was back at his shrewd best, and was hitting deep all over again to exasperate Lobanov who was unable to handle the climax properly, and caved in meekly.

The crucial point was the second game of the third set when Vinod hung on with all the resolution that he could muster, saving two breakpoints. That proved the key to the whole contest, as the Russian was unable to win another game in the match, and perished in a heap of errors, half of which was caused by his annoyance at his own bad game.

``Suddenly I felt tired, and that was how I could not play well in the second set. I also took it easy, to regain my breathe and attack in the decider. The idea was to make him run and that seemed to have worked,'' said Vinod, quite pleased with the manner in which he was able to handle the Russian challenge.

Vinod also sounded pretty confident about his chances in the semifinal, the third of his career, against Juraj Hasko.

Hasko played his patented back court game with conviction though National grasscourt champion, Manoj Mahadevan, tried to tease him with sliced floaters, and sharp volleys. Manoj, however, was not that sharp to push Hasko beyond the tie-break in the second set.

Though he was making his second successive semifinals in two tournaments, Hasko has looked vulnerable, all along. He is playing better here, and it will be interesting to see how Vinod tackles him.

It was a pleasure to see the manner in which the 18-year-old Jaco T. Mathew tackled Rishi Sridhar. It was Rishi who had his chances to take the first set when he broke Jaco in the 11th game. But, the BAT trainee from Chennai came up with resounding returns in the twelfth to take the set into the tie-break. Jaco played smart and sharp to clinch the tie-break after it was 4-4, and that proved decisive.

Rishi was a break up at 3-1 in the second set, but was unable to hold on to that advantage, as he was not moving as fluently as he had done the previous day.

Perhaps, the long-drawn doubles match that stretched late into the previous evening under the flood-lights had taken its toll, but Rishi was gracious in defeat, as he gave credit to Jaco for the nice game.

``I couldn't play as well as I would have wanted, but the good part was that I was able to make the shots,'' said Jaco, who did come up with a few impressive passing shots and lobs at the crunch.

Jaco will have to be at his best if he fancies his chances against the National Games champion, Ajay Ramaswami. The strongly-built Ajay played a solid game to cut the run of Kedar Tembe in straight sets.

Ajay delivered eight aces to emphasise the power and accuracy of serve, and stroked deep and hard, to overwhelm the left-handed Tembe.

In doubles, the top-seeded Vijay Kannan and Vishaal Uppal came back from being a set down to beat Amod Wakalkar and Mohammed Yasser Arafat. The duo will meet the National champions Nitin Kirtane and Saurav Panja in the final, to be telecast `live' on Friday from 3 p.m. The singles semifinals will also be telecast `live', one after the other, from 9 a.m.

The results: Singles (quarterfinals): Jaco T. Mathew bt Rishi Sridhar 7-6 (7-5), 6-3; Ajay Ramaswami bt Kedar Tembe 6-3, 6-4; Vinod Sridhar bt Pavel Lobanov (Rus) 6-4, 2-6, 6-1; Juraj Hasko (Svk) bt Manoj Mahadevan 6-4, 7-6 (8-6).

Doubles (semifinals): Vijay Kannan and Vishaal Uppal bt Mohammed Yasser Arafat and Amod Wakalkar 4-6, 6-4, 6-2; Nitin Kirtane and Saurav Panja bt Anton Kokurin (Uzb) and Pavel Lobanov (Rus) 6-1, 6-4.

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