Wednesday, Nov 12, 2003
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By Nandakumar Marar
Though tennis breeds exponents of such extremes and attempting a co-relation between these two appears far-fetched, yet both were top-of-the-mind names in Pune on Tuesday.
The unseeded Indian, with no major weapons in her arsenal except a sharp mind, stroked out top seed Chin-Bee Khoo 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 after an exhausting, absorbing two-hour 29-minute marathon. Most of her rivals were watching with rapt attention as Archana won by keeping the ball in play somehow and waiting for the kill after long rallies.
The low-profile victor deserves more accolades than grudging respect from opponents for combating fever-induced weakness and a highly-ranked Malaysian to barge into the pre-quarterfinals.
A few kilometres away from the action at the Deccan Gymkhana, a ravishing Russian was poised to become the centre of attraction at Lonavala's Amby Valley for qualities which have nothing to do with tennis exploits, more because of her knack of attracting eyeballs and millions of dollars in endorsements.
Archana, preparing to take on Sonal Phadke in the next round, is not even interested in Anna Kournikova's high-profile arrival in the same city and doesn't wish to meet the Russian unless there is a practise opportunity.
The blunt Indian professional, a graduate in business management, has an explanation for her indifference to Kournikova's presence in the vicinity. "I don't want to meet anybody just to say hello. It is okay if there is an opportunity to play against her since she is ranked so high in the WTA list. I don't fantasise about meeting anybody, except maybe a Steffi Graf for her power strokeplay," Archana said to a query whether she was looking forward to an encounter with the Russian.
"At the same time, I learn watching others, each one of my fellow rivals at Deccan Gymkhana have something of use to me. I would rather watch their games and improve," she said.
Archana is no advertisement for the game, the way Kournikova is being projected to be without achievements to back the hype, but Chin-Bee Khoo will testify that her Indian rival has few equals on the circuit when it boils down to mindgames.
The Malaysian lost to an opponent who had almost withdrawn from the Pune leg due to weakness, then listened to mother's advise and ended up surviving an intense three-setter in the first round itself.
The Indian gave insights into her training and mental preparation after pulling off the sensational upset. "I train to handle long matches, so my mind and body are prepared for situations when tiredness may set in," said Archana, admitting to shortfalls in specific areas of her game like the serve and power but revealed confidence in spotting weak points in rivals.
"I can't serve like Akgul because I am not built like her, so observe each player and try to prey on their limitations. I had trained with Chin-Bee after coming here, so knew what to expect," she said.
The Malaysian, athletic and mobile, had the strokes and craft to dominate the contest, but got into her groove only after losing the first set due to impatience against the Indian's awkward, effective retrieving from the baseline. Archana double-faulted four times in the first set and yet won.
Chin-Bee varied the length of her returns in the second set, her sliced backhand drops across the net or down-the-line proving effective. The decider lasting all of 55 minutes turned into a waiting game, with the patient Indian grafting her way to victory against the tired top seed whose sharpness had been replaced by monotonous volleying.
Second seed Akgul Amanmuradova remained on course with a show of powerplay in the first round tie against Liza Pereira and won in straight sets. Unseeded Preeti Rao suffered a twisted knee when going for a drop against Thassha Vitayaviroj after trailing in the first set and went out of the event.
The Pune leg is being sponsored by the National Egg Co-ordination Committee.
The results (Indians unless specified):
Singles (first round): Archana Venkataraman bt 1-Chin-Bee Khoo (Malaysia) 6-4, 2-6, 6-4; 8-Maria Penkova (Bul) bt Kartiki Bhat 6-0, 6-1; Thassha Vitayaviroj (Thn) bt Preeti Rao 5-4, concd.; 4-Rushmi Chakravarthy bt Iciri Rai 6-3, 6-4; Sai Jayalakshmy bt Punam Reddy 6-1, 6-0; Montinee Tangphong (Thn) bt Krushmi Chedda 6-2, 6-0; 7-Isha Lakhani bt Sheetal Goutham 6-0, 6-1; 2-Akgul Amanmuradova (Uzb) bt Liza Pereira 6-3, 6-2.
Doubles (first round): Rushmi Chakravarthy/Sai Jayalakshmy bt Lata Assudani/Rati Kumar 6-1, 4-6, 6-3; Anupama Rajur/Chirashanti Rajur bt Kartiki Bhat/Shraddha Lodha 6-1, 6-1.
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