Prakash, at end of tunnel

In Los Angeles less than seven months ago, Prakash Amritraj was dabbling in a few entrepreneurial ventures and had a growing number of friends in Hollywood. Life was good. But that itch of returning to tennis courts, to test his body once again had been resurfacing. The more he tried to ignore this restlessness, the more it grew. Until one day, he eventually decided to listen to that voice in his head and picked up a racquet for the first time in two years.

And 181 days after that first outing on an LA court with his cousin Stephen Amritraj, Prakash faced Go Soeda in the second round of the Chennai Open - his first ATP event post the break.

The 29-year-old stretched his opponent in the match, but not his stay in the tournament, losing to the Japanese, who's No.60 in the world, 7-6 (2) 3-6 4-6.

But this loss must be seen in proper context. It was Prakash's fifth match in four days and he had beaten a top-100 player, Guillaume Rufin (world No.92), in a grueling three-setter less than 24 hours prior to his Wednesday loss. Before that, Prakash's latest entry (ninth overall) into the Chennai Open main draw wasn't as easy as his last seven annual visits to the Nungumbakkam Stadium when he had received a wild card to the ATP 250 event. This time Prakash had to go through the qualifiers.

Not many gave him a chance against the world No. 116, Yuichi Sugita, in Round 1 of the qualifiers, but not only did Prakash's bandaged legs last for five gruelling sets on Sunday, they overcame another three on Monday to make the main draw.

"This is a new beginning for me and I have at least learnt that physically I can handle the rigours of the Tour level. Now it's just about doing the same for the next 365 days and staying healthy. I even played the qualifier of a $10,000 Futures on my return, where they have no linesmen, no umpires, so I am just stopping to smell the roses this time and that makes me appreciate things a lot more," Prakash said.

On Wednesday, Prakash had his chances against Soeda both in the opening and the deciding sets, but each time the eighth seed shut the door on the Indian. Having broken Soeda in the sixth game of the match, Prakash, at 5-3, had two set points but the Japanese them both. Then, aided by some unforced errors from the Indian's racquet, Soeda took a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker before pocketing the set in 59 minutes. In the third game of the second set, Prakash hit an overhead smash off his third break point to take the lead and held on to it to push the match into the decider.

In the third set, while Prakash frittered away his only break point with a backhand into the net, Soeda got the break to go 5-4 up in what was the longest game of the match. Prakash saved six game points on his serve, but Soeda tactically drew him to the net before hitting a passing winner.

"I didn't have anything left in the tank after that first set. I constructed points well, and the match could have gone straight sets in my favour but Soeda is like a top-50 player for some reason and he showed that today," Prakash said.

Tipsarevic has it easy

Through much of the third set of Prakash's match, second-seed Janko Tipsarevic was sitting on the sidelines, anxiously waiting for his turn. Despite beating Andy Murray in the Abu Dhabi exhibition a few days ago, the Serbian confessed he was very edgy before his first competitive match of the season after getting a first round bye.

However, he betrayed none of that in his 6-2 6-3 win over France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin, as he broke the Frenchman twice in each set and never faced a break point in the entire match.

"There are not many tournaments on the Tour in which I have participated as many times as I have in Chennai and I am waiting to win it this time," Tipsarevic said after the match. Also winning on Wednesday was fourth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka beat German qualifier Cedrik Marcel-Stebe 6-4, 6-3.

Haase upset

Dutchman Robin Haase, has been the biggest upset in the singles draw so far as the sixth seed was sent out by Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene 7-5 6-3. Haase didn't have his luck in the doubles either as he and his countryman Igor Sijsling put up a listless show against Somdev Devvarman and Sergiy Stakhovsky. After the 7-5 6-3 win, Devvarman and Ukraine's Stakhovsky will play the Ratiwatana twins, who upset second seeds Leander Paes and Roger-Vasselin. Meanwhile, Rohan Bopanna-Rajeev Ram beat Y Lu/G soeda 6-4 6-3 and Mahesh Bhupathi-Daniel Nestor beat Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan 6-3 6-0.

Today's key matches:

Singles Round 2: M Cilic vs S Stakhovsky, D Sela vs B Paire, T Berdych vs S Devvarman, R Bautista-Agut vs M Bachinger; Doubles Quarter Final: A Bedene/ B Kavcic vs A Begemann/M Emmrich, R Bopanna /R Ram vs B Paire/S Wawrinka, M Bhupathi/ D Nestor vs R Klaasen/ N Monroe

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Players haven't said they won't play: AITA CEO

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) said on Wednesday that there was no threat of a Davis Cup pull-out by the players ahead of the tie against South Korea in February.

Following a December 30 meeting with the players who are asking for a greater say in deciding Davis Cup venues and demanding a larger share of revenues AITA CEO Hiranmoy Chatterjee said that there was no cause for panic and that the players were ready to wait till Monday for a response.

Chatterjee added that none of the players, including Somdev Devvarman, had even suggested that they were unwilling to play the February tie in New Delhi against South Korea.

"I challenge any one to show me any record of a player telling AITA that they do not plan to play Davis Cup unless such-and-such demands are met. We have had a very straightforward discussion with the players and the federation is not trying to play hide and seek with them on any issue. I had conveyed to the players that the federation is willing to consider their demands from here on. Even in future if these demands, due to some administrative reasons, are unable to be implemented they should not feel aggrieved about it and the players have understood that," Chatterjee said.

Among the demands of the players is a change in coach. The players want Aditya Sachdeva to be appointed coach to replace Nandan Bal, who the current squad believes is a Leander Paes loyalist.

They also believe that Bal is not doing enough to value-add to the games of the young players. Sachdeva, who has coached Yuki Bhambri since his junior days was the only name unanimously suggested for the post of coach.

Options aplenty

The players' suggestion for a new non-playing captain has come as a surprise as one of the names to surface is that of Anand Amritraj, who after Paes's 22, holds the record for most years as a Davis Cup player. During his 19 years of playing for India, Anand has played 39 ties. Rohit Rajpal is also another name suggested by players for the post of non-playing captain.

Chatterjee agreed that the overall demand of the players is that they want to "feel more comfortable while playing Davis Cup" and said that since times are changing AITA sees no harm in that request. However, Chatterjee made it clear that the federation will not be able to increase the revenue sharing percentage of the players in Davis Cup but will see what best can be done.

AITA officials will meet in Delhi on January 4 to discuss these issues and a selection committee will meet on January 11 to decide who makes the cut for the Asia-Oceania Group 1 tie.

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