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December 11, 1998


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Big-serving Japanese smash India out of Asiad team tennis

Harpal Singh Bedi in Bangkok

India's hopes of gold in the tennis team event in the Asian Games went up in smoke as Prahlad Srinath and Mahesh Bhupathi bowed to the big-serving Japanese in the semi-final of the competition and had to settle for a bronze.

Japan's Satoshi Iwabuchi and Hideki Kaneko played power-packed tennis to put their side in the final of the team event.

Iwabuchi, ranked 351 by the Association of Tennis Professionals, came from behind to overwhelm Srinath who dominated the first set and part of the second before running out of steam.

To make matters worse for him, a bad line call affected Srinath's concentration. After that Iwabuchi just took over.

Srinath broke Iwabuchi in the second and fourth games while losing his third service game to win the first set 6-3.

The Indian played so well that it looked as if Iwabuchi was in for a drubbing. But he could not sustain the pace in the second set, as a superbly fit Iwabuchi played attacking tennis.

Time and again Iwabuchi rushed to the net to earn a point, but Srinath found it hard to do so. Twice he tried, but ended up netting his volleys.

The left-handed Iwabuchi served powerfully and Srinath found it tough to return. And many a time, the Japanese's thundering cross-court returns left Srinath stranded.

Iwabuchi broke Srinath in the eighth game in which the Indian player double-faulted at 40-30. The Japanese then held on to his serve to win the set 6-3 and draw level.

Iwabuchi was in complete command in the third set with Srinath tiring. He broke Srinath in the very first game with two stunning backhand cross-court returns.

Srinath managed to break back in the fourth game in which Iwabuchi committed some unforced errors and double-faulted at 0-40.

But Iwabuchi broke the Indian in the very next game to take a 3-2 lead. Srinath double-faulted at 30-0 and then sent the easiest possible volley into the net.

After that, Srinath just threw in the towel. At that stage he had neither the will nor the stamina to carry on.

Srinath failed to hold on to his fourth service game and Iwabuchi fired an ace in the next to win the set and seal the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in 135 minutes and give his side a 1-0 lead.

Much depended on Mahesh Bhupathi in the second match, but he too failed to deliver the goods.

Bhupathi started with an ace and using his big serves held on to his game.

He opened the third game again with an ace, but his rival Hideki Kaneko, ranked 372, was unruffled. The Japanese broke Bhupathi in the fifth game in which the Indian committed some unforced errors.

Bhupathi's backhand return got stuck in the net and when Kaneko sent back a powerful cross-court return, he could do nothing but stand and watch.

The Indian had a chance to draw even in the fifth game when he had three game points, but he could not convert them and allowed the Japanese to hold his serve in the next.

Kaneko took full advantage of the fact that his rival was not fully fit and increased the pressure.

Bhupathi finally caved in to Kaneko's powerful serves and shots, losing his serve in the ninth game to lose the first set 3-6.

The Indian played better in the second set, but it was not his day as his rival could do nothing wrong and he lost the set by an identical margin.

Coach and non-playing captain Jaideep Mukherjea later said that though his boys played well, the Japanese were better.

Praising Srinath, Mukherjea said the way he started, he should have wrapped up the match in straight sets, but he lost a few points in the second and that sealed his fate. "It is such points that make all the difference," he said.

As for the second match, Mukherjea was of the view that it was Kaneko's day. "Everything went well for him, he did nothing wrong and committed no unforced errors. He also served well."


Mail Sports Editor