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Schoolboy Wagh stretches Tursunov

Last updated on: September 27, 2006 23:05 IST

When schoolboy Akash Wagh walked on to the court 10 minutes early for his first round match, he only had his family and a handful supporters sitting by the courtside. By the time he left, an hour later, he had won over several fans in the growing crowd on court No.1, including his mentor, Mahesh Bhupathi.

The boy had shown heart.

Playing his first match on the men's tour, the left-handed Wagh stretched world No 23 Dmitry Tursunov before going down 2-6, 5-7 in the first round of the Kingfisher Airlines Open, at the Cricket Club of India in Mumbai on Wednesday.

Also entering the second round of the singles were top seed Tommy Robredo of Spain, third seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and France's Nicolas Devilder.

Robredo beat Alexander Peya of Austria 6-4, 6-2 while Berdych trounced Poland's Lukasz Kubot 6-2, 6-2.

Devilder battled his way past Rik De Voest of South Africa, winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

"I wouldn't mind even if the results would have been 0 and 1," said a delighted Bhupathi after Wagh's match.

- Also see: Images from Tuesday's matches

"What matters is that he gets to know the pace of the game he's going to face two years from now; but, as he showed, it may not even take two years. His performance was exciting. To show no fear when put in a situation like this, playing against a guy who's hot, is great."

Bhupathi also marked Wagh out as someone "special".

A smooth and effortless service motion -- which won him seven aces to Tursunov's six -- and strong groundstrokes saw Wagh stay afloat in what threatened to be a hopelessly one-sided encounter.

Save the first game, where the 16-year-old lost his serve, Wagh never seemed overawed by the situation. He didn't care for his opponent's reputation and focused on the job at hand. If Wagh hadn't been so disarmingly honest, he could even run the risk of sounding cocky.

"I had heard that Tursunov is one of the hardest hitters, but when I actually faced him I thought I could handle him," he said.

He also did not express any surprise over his superb performance.

The Indian lad won his first point in the second game, off Tursunov's serve, when the Russian served a double-fault. But followed it up with four straight service winners to get himself on the board.

Tursunov, coming in from a marathon four-hour 48-minute battle against Andy Roddick in the Davis Cup semi-finals, did not look in best shape though he managed to outpace the Indian youngster. His made a lot of errors on his backhand and seemed surprised by some of the pacy serves by Wagh.

Wagh had a chance to break Tursunov in the first game of the second set but the Russian served two aces to level at deuce. The players traded breaks in the next two games, with Wagh showing great power to stay in the rallies and induce errors from the Russian.

The set went on serve till 5-5 till a double-fault by Wagh gave Tursunov a break point. He grabbed the chance and served out the match easily, taking the second set 7-5.

"I went for my shots; I had nothing to lose," said Wagh, who last December shifted to Bangalore from Pune in order to train at the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academy.

"I need to work on my fitness because I know I am hitting the ball well. I made errors on my forehand because I was not positioned well. But if I play him again I won't make as many mistakes."

Only time will tell if Wagh will be able to turn the early potential into results. The start though has been encouraging, certainly!

Deepti Patwardhan in Mumbai