Top names snub CGames tennis

The Commonwealth Games tennis competition will be devoid of any top names, but interest could still be high locally with Indian players set to capitalise by producing a golden haul.

In the best of worlds, the sport’s debut at the Games would have seen the likes of Andy Murray, Marcos Baghdatis, Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur all vying for top honours, but none of these players have put their names forward.

Instead the women’s top seeding is likely to go to Scotland’s Elena Baltacha, who has just broken into the world top 50 for the first time at the advanced age of 27, while no member of the men’s world top 100 will compete.

Baltacha, who owes her allegiance to Scotland through the travels of her Ukraine-born father Sergei who plied his trade with St Johnstone and Inverness, says she is up for the challenge and damn the consequences for her immediate WTA career.

“Yes, I will miss out on ranking tournaments,” she said.

“But the way I look at it, this will be my last chance to represent Scotland at something like the Commonwealth Games and ever since I heard it might be a possibility I have been adamant that I would be doing it.

“I may not live in Scotland anymore, but my family is still up there and I love the idea of representing Scotland again.”

The big threat to Baltacha’s hopes is likely to come from India’s Sania Mirza, whose exploits on the WTA circuit over the last few years have turned her into a mega-star in her home country.

A chronic wrist injury has stalled her rise this year, but she has been showing signs of getting back to near her best in recent weeks and New Delhi will be a huge target for her.

“Coming back to the highest level of international competition from a serious injury was never going to be easy, but having won six of my last eight singles matches, I have gained momentum,” said Sania.

“International tennis is all about pressure and it is something that one learns to deal with.”

Others to look out for in the women’s draw are Anastasia Rodionava who will fly the Australian flag in the absence of Stosur and Alicia Molik and promising Kiwi Marina Erakovic.

The men’s tournament is wide open, and once again there is a very real chance of Indian success through the fast-improving Somdev Devvarman who has broken into the top ATP circuit over the past year after a successful college career in the United States.

Devvarman, who has just played a key role in India’s Davis Cup win over Brazil, said that the competition in New Delhi would still be exciting despite the absence of the sport’s big names.

“We have to respect the decision of every professional athlete. They are trying their best to preserve their bodies and are always trying to make the best decision for their careers,” he said.

“I think the Games are going to be exciting regardless. There are many good players.

“If I am playing well, I will be a very tough guy to beat, so I am going to prepare as well as I can.”

Rohan Bopanna, who had a great run into the US Open men’s doubles final with Pakistani partner Aisam Ul-Haq Qureshi, will be India’s second single’s player in the men’s event.

India of course can confidently rely on success in the men’s doubles with Somdev and Bopanna teaming up and Leander Paes renewing his feted partnership with Mahesh Bhupathi.

It would be a long shot, but an Indian sweep of the five gold medals up for grabs in New Delhi is not an impossibility and locally at least that would provide one of the big highlights of the Games.