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Tennis Set to Dazzle the Commonwealth

Regular readers of TennisGrandstand will know that my first steps in this esteemed company were tracking the progress of players from the former Commonwealth countries as they did battle the world over in search of fame, success and prize money.

Now, starting October 4, all that changes for these players who bare the colours of their homelands and descend on Delhi as tennis makes its debut in the Commonwealth Games schedule.

The sailing certainly hasn’t been plain. The bad press and setbacks have almost derailed the games altogether and have led to accusations of outdated concepts and an existence as a poorer little brother to the Olympics.

There have been withdrawals, hissy fits and refusals to play but finally the pens and insults can be dropped and the racquets lifted in the search for Commonwealth gold.

There will be no Andy Murray. No Sam Stosur. No Marcos Baghdatis. No Lleyton Hewitt.

But the home stars have all stood firm and the likes of Sania Mirza, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Somdev Devvarman will fly the Indian flag in to competition and they will be hoping that performances and medals silence the critics.

All singles and doubles matches will be the best of three tie-break sets, including the finals. The male and female singles draws will consist of 32 players while the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles competitions will see 16 teams fight for gold.

Each country can enter a maximum of four men and women (of which three can compete in singles play) and two teams in each of the doubles events. Players from the same country will be placed in separate quarters of the draw.

Despite all the high-profile withdrawals there is still plenty of talent to feast our tennis-hungry eyes upon. Australia’s Peter Luczak has troubled the higher echelons of the men’s game and Scotland’s Colin Fleming is one of Britain’s formidable ‘Flemski’ doubles partnership alongside Ken Skupski of England.

Mirza will be one to look out for in the women’s draw as will the recently christened Aussie Anastasia Rodionova.

Then we have Paes and Bhupathi in the doubles who have two French Opens (1999 and 2001) and a Wimbledon title (1999) won together under their belt. Devvarman will also link up with US Open finalist Rohan Bopanna to give India a fantastic chance of gold in the men’s doubles.

Then there’s also British doubles number one Sarah Borwell to look out for and former singles and doubles Top 50 player Marina Erakovic lining up for New Zealand.

Wales have two players in the draw – Josh Milton and Chris Lewis. Milton is in fact the eighth seed in the men’s singles. Lewis faces Fleming in the first round which will be a difficult encounter but I’m hoping for the best for both of them.

While there might not be enough top world talent to tempt the eyes of some peripheral tennis fans there is certainly enough to keep tennis fanatics occupied throughout the tournament.

We hope that the games run according to plan, like the football World Cup in South Africa, and that the critics are put firmly in their place. We hope there are no problems, no collapsing structures, and no serious injury.

It is time for the players to put all the hoo-hah behind them and focus fully on winning medals for their friends, family and countrymen. Good luck to them all.

AusOpen 2008: A Dose Of Controversies

The first week at the Australian Open was a controversial one with Cypriot and flamboyant player Marcos Baghdatis playing the lead role in what should be a Razzie nominated movie. In the movie Baghdatis was seen with friends at a barbecue holding a flare while chanting “Turks out.” Bluntly put: This is racism. And the strange part is he won’t apologise for what he did. Endorsing racism when you are a celebrity and especially the kind of celebrity he is in his own country can get nasty.

Kids following his example come to tolerate racism thinking it’s an acceptable way to emulate their idol. Even though it’s a tough task to lead by example while keeping your political views to yourself when you are in the spotlight, it would be wise for him to be more aware of his actions.

His actions also caused upset with the Turkish Cypriotic community. Specifically, the “Australian Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association” in Australia and its members will actively seek to get Baghdatis expelled from the Australian Open for abusing his celebrity status.

Baghdatis himself says in a statement issued by the Australian Open organisers that he was defending the interests of his country Cyprus but that he would like to focus on his tennis.

Something he should have done in the first place rather than chanting simply because he is a much better player than a chanter.

Another controversy revolving Marcos Baghdatis is the fact that on the video there is a man in his company who got ejected from the Australian Open during the Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) versus Konstantinos Economidis (GRE) match.

The fans got ejected for rioting during the match and were ejected by the police with pepperspray. I believe it’s the first time that pepperspray has ever been used at a tennis match.

Tennis has enough problems than to deal with nationalistic fans and players who can give the sport a black eye.

Sania Mirza

Another player who is under fire in her native country is Sania Mirza. She was caught on photo with her feet up after a long and hard match during the Hopman Cup earlier this month.

Sania Mirza 1

Mirza is a girl who can’t do anything right in the eyes of orthodox Indian Muslims back home country India. She is either too naked or reveals too much with her tennis attire. Wearing scant attire is the lest of her troubles when considering that she shouldn’t be playing tennis at all because, well, she is a woman.

For shame.

This time it’s different and what bothers me most is that you can’t take a rest anywhere anymore these days. You can’t take a rest on a bench in the park without the police stopping to suspiciously ask what you are doing – as if you’re a criminal. You can no longer sit on a sideway to take a rest after a long walk and you sure as hell are not allowed to get your feet up after an intense match at the Hopman cup with the Indian flag present.

Indeed, places to rest are becoming scarce. Perhaps next year the tournaments can just put the Indian flag like 50 feet away from Sania Mirza so she can get her feet up.

The issue is reaching the point where Mirza even considered quitting the game. This is unfortunate. I would hope not because she is a real asset to tennis and is definitely a proper example for Asian muslim women all over the world regardless of what Orthodox Indian Muslims say.