Top seed Harsh Mankad crashed out in the second round while Tushar Liberhan extended his winning run to reach the quarter-finals in his maiden entry in the $10,000 ONGC ITF Futures men's tennis tournament at the Doon School complex in Dehradun on Thursday.
Uzbekistan's Dmitry Mazur netted the big fish, defeating Mankad 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 while the 18-year old Liberhan, playing in his first $10,000 event, made up for the disappointment by scalping fifth seed Matwe Middelkoop of The Netherlands 6-3, 6-1.
That left Pakistan's Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi as the only seeded player to advance to the quarter-finals.
The third seed overcame a late challenge by Mustafa Ghouse to win 6-4, 7-6(7/3).
"Who's this guy, who's this guy," Middelkoop kept muttering and cursing himself while seated on the chair, his face buried in a towel, after the shock defeat to Liberhan.
The Dutch could not be blamed, as the chasm between the two players in terms of ranking was too huge. Middlekoop is ranked 583 on the ATP computer while Liberhan is unranked and had to come through three rounds of qualifying.
This was also the first time he had entered the main draw of a Futures event, although he did reach the final qualifying round of a more competitive $25,000 event in Delhi earlier this year.
Even among the juniors, Liberhan is ranked only 120 after playing mostly Grade 4 events rather than the higher-rated Grade 1 tourneys.
"I went into the match with an open mind and played some really good tennis," Liberhan said after the match.
Liberhan had a high percentage of first serves, and played shots on both flanks without fear. In the second set, in particular, his game reached a higher level, and the teenager cruised to a surprisingly smooth win.
Uzbek Mazur had once been ranked as high as 380. But a combination of injury and mandatory service in the army kept him off the courts for one year, resulting in his current ranking of 826.
The lay off, however, had obviously whetted his appetite. Now armed with a degree in sports medicine, the 24-year-old clinically dissected Mankad.
A powerful baseline player, Mazur was slow off the blocks. The conditions in practice and playing courts were vastly different and the Uzbek took his time to "get a feel" of the surface.
"There was more bounce and speed on this surface [at the match venue], and I had to get into a rhythm," Mazur said.
Mankad pounced on his sluggish start and broke him in the fourth and sixth games to take the set at 6-1. The Indian rarely returned to Mazur's strong forehand though the latter said he "took more on the backhand to get into a rhythm".
Whatever the truth in his remark, the complexion of the game definitely changed from the second set when Mazur began to keep the balls short but still hit with power. He also played the volleys to perfection, which upset Mankad's rhythm as the Indian dropped his serve in the sixth game.
Having found a chink in his opponent's armour, Mazur began to unleash his full artillery in the third set. Mankad decided to fight fire with fire, increasing the pace of the game but Mazur was too good to give in easily. He did not flinch even when he was 0-40 down on serve in the fifth game and gained break of serve in the eighth game before closing out the match without any hiccups in the next.