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`Steps' hopes to make a mark

Nandita Sridhar



KEENLY FOCUSSED: Radek Stepanek believes Rafael Nadal's pullout has boosted his chances at the Chennai Open. — Photo: Vino John.

Chennai: Radek Stepanek will look to do more than just `Czech' out Chennai. The No.2 seed won't mind checking out of his hotel on January 8 with some excess baggage, a slightly bulging wallet and an echo or two of `Radek' ringing in some corner of his tired mind. But first things first. He had to smash the jetlag out, and he thought that some bleary-eyed racket work is better than no work at all.

"I got here early in the morning, and it's great to be here. The last time I was in India was seven or eight years back, when I took part in a Challenger event in Chandigarh," Stepanek said. `Challenger' now will ring a Ljubicic, Moya or Srichaphan tune, and `Steps' as he is known back home, has to do just that, step it up in the big games.

"After losing to Nadal three times in 2005, I am glad that he won't be there. Still, I have to play well against some strong players," added the world No. 19. With the knees and the joints subjected to a six-week rest, he is ready for all the court-work that the tournament requires. "Having just got here, I wanted to sweat it out as soon as possible," said the 27-year-old. About his performance in 2005, he said: "satisfied, but not happy."

Jetlag

The jetlag bug has also bitten the 23-year-old American Bobby Reynolds, whose 17-hour journey meant that it would take some tough training and a good sleep to get over it. "I don't have too much expectations from the tournament, but it would be a good preparation for the Australian Open," he said.

Indians warm up

The Bopannas, Mankads and the Rastogis got down to the business of warming their strings prior to the qualifiers, which will be held on December 31 and January 1. "The qualifiers for any ATP event are always going to be tough, specially with everyone working hard and doing well. I will be trying my best to qualify," said Harsh Mankad.

"It's good to be back after two years. It was just a bad day that cost me the National grasscourt title, but I will do my best here," said Rohan Bopanna, after a practice session with Prakash Amritraj.

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