From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.34 :: NO.03 :: Jan. 20, 2011

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TENNIS / CHENNAI OPEN

Lundgren's Wawrinka!

Stanislas Wawrinka took the singles title that had eluded him last year, while the evergreen Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, back in business together, bagged the doubles crown. Raakesh Natraj reports.

R. RAGU

Stanislas Wawrinka...second time lucky.

This story began where last year's tale ended. In 2010, Stanislas Wawrinka lost a close but predictable final to Marin Cilic, who had claimed back to back titles with the win.

This year, Wawrinka came with his obvious agenda, and, possibly, domestic discontent as he had tweeted his separation from wife of one year, Ilham Vuilloud. The Swiss arrived four days in advance, and with him came his coach Peter Lundgren, with girth, a French beard, hair like Boticelli's Venus and a resume that boasts of Marcelo Rios, Roger Federer and Marat Safin for proteges. Lundgren promised Wawrinka a few things — a better forehand, a bigger serve, the ability to last and, presumably, a title.

Cilic, unfailingly courteous, the one who has probably never been late for a coaching session in life, let alone miss one, was seen around the same time. The media, essentially a combination of regulars who use the event to renew acquaintances, was hungry for stories and in the absence of one, was more than willing to prop up a half spiffy one. This edition, the press went with the graveyard-of-the-seeds theme. Whether Cilic was aware of this is arguable, but he was not taking chances. He was there early and was hitting the courts too.

After the unfortunate experience with the marquee Robin Soderling last year, the organisers expected — in the absence of variation in other factors except inclination — at least a more serious looking guy in Tomas Berdych to fill in. The world No. 6 finished his lucrative assignment in Doha, and as if in repentance, settled for Chennai, in place of Brisbane or Abu Dhabi, which host tournaments at around the same time. Incidentally, Soderling, who was handed a thrashing in the first round in 2010, followed the same schedule last year — a fact the media did not overlook.

Before the tournament starts, four qualifiers, who will join the main draw if successful over three rounds, are to be ascertained. Their lot, unless they are doing it for kicks, is wretched. You get to take home close to $4,000 if you make it to the main draw. Someone like Somdev Devvarman, if one were to set aside the really good PR he has, and probably deserves, is probably making about enough from the sport to warrant the continued effort at it. He is ranked No. 108 in the World. If a lot of top players know of him only in passing, he will not be surprised. He qualified for this tournament on the merit of his ranking. These guys didn't, and are neither young nor very talented. But this year, they had a bit of a windfall. One of them lined up against Richard Gasquet, becoming an expected casualty, but the luckier ones drew Devvarman, Yuki Bhambri and Dustin Brown in the first round.

The three who did — David Goffin, Alexandre Kudryatsev and Yuichi Sugita — indeed went on to encash their vouchers. It made news, Goffin's win over Somdev especially so, but the press was going to town on another story.

PTI

Xavier Malisse... unable to deliver the killer punch.

Cilic had gone down to Kei Nishikori in the first round and the banners were up again. Scourge of the seeds. Nishikori, 20, has a compact game backed by a lot of athleticism. He is regarded highly in the circuit and boasts a style that is currently a slightly low-key version of Jo Tsonga's. Nishikori then got the better of Alejandro Falla in a farcical second round match. After the chair umpire mis-awarded his point to Nishikori in the decider, the Colombian tanked. Nishikori's run was eventually halted by Janko Tipsarevic, who's got ‘Beauty will save the world' tattooed on his arm in Japanese instead of Dostoevsky's Russian because the former ‘looked better.' This story is another that does its rounds in the papers circa Chennai Open, purely for recall value.

Gasquet took care of the unfortunate qualifier but ‘Gasquet-ed' away his next match against Bjorn Phau. Throwing the match away after looking unassailable, the swearing, the racquet abuse and code violations, the second round exit, the works.

Phau didn't progress far. Malisse, 30, and a winner in 2007, who described his career in the intervening years as ‘just misery,' accounted for the German and had ground his way to the semifinal. He had dropped the fewest games in doing so.

Berdych mowed through his quarter of the relatively easy draw and met Wawrinka in one semifinal while Malisse and Tipsarevic faced off in the other.

Wawrinka crushed Berdych, out-hitting him from the baseline, forehands and backhands, outwitting him at the net and as a final insult, even out-aced the big man. Wawrinka finished off the match with a delightful lob and was into his second consecutive final at the Chennai Open.

Malisse, who was playing his first match in the stadium court, is not really a mover. He stands his spot and with that oak of a torso for an unmoving base, swishes his powerful arms around the ball to make his strokes. He started slowly but soon found his hitting rhythm. In the end he indulged himself even, throwing in an ace or two as Tipsarevic faded away.

The final was a bit of a letdown. Malisse was up a break in the first set, but the tennis was patchy. Wawrinka, who served huge just hours back, couldn't find his radar. Worryingly, he touched his bandaged thigh after losing a long-ish rally. He however got the break back and riding on a few of Malisse's errors, closed out the first set.

R. RAGU

Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes... bonding and winning.

The Belgian recaptured his form in the second, and was even venturesome, making a few of his visits to the net. Wawrinka fought on, his forehands deep, his serve kicking up and he ran without discomfort, even when it was a lost cause. He lost the second set but ensured that there was no momentum shift. The week's accumulated fatigue finally began to tell in the third set and it was the 30-year-old who blinked first as Wawrinka broke him twice. The match won, it seemed, the coach had also got him the title he promised.

The doubles draw is a bit of an add-on. The journeymen, the has-beens, the discards from the singles draw, the hangers on, all make up the fray. This one had its stars in Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, back in tandem, and Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi.

The first day of the singles round eliminated all Indian interest and the crowds turned to the doubles action. Rohan and Qureshi did not last long, going out in the second round, but Paes and Bhupathi, together after more than seven years, gave the crowds some joy. The Indian Express got off to a shaky start, saving a few match points before moving to the quarterfinals — the only match that the duo won with any degree of comfort in the tournament. The semifinal against Cilic and Ivan Dodig went to the super tie-break, and like in the first round, Paes and Bhupathi prevailed.

The crowds packed the stadium and the doubles final started with the Indians on fire. Paes and Bhupathi raced to the net and forced Robin Hasse and David Martin to pass or lob them from areas that made either option fraught.

The first set was won 6-2 but the second saw the lanky Hasse and border-line portly Martin match the Indians shot for shot. The super-tie break came into effect once again, but down 4-1 Paes and Bhupathi turned it around with what Paes called “magic”.



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