With the miserable year behind him, Karan Rastogi is looking forward to the new season with hope.
Journeymen, like the 20-year-old Rastogi, rarely get to play in the ATP Tour events. And as the wild card entrant from Mumbai prepares for Tuesday’s first round battle against little known Thiago Alves from Brazil in the Chennai Open, Rastogi knows he has nothing to lose.
“I know my results were not great in 2006. But yes, I have been playing well for the past two weeks,” Rastogi told HT on Monday. The Mumbaikar won the Futures title in New Delhi on Saturday and was quick to beat the fog and reach here to get valuable practice.
“I have a fair idea of what Chennai is as I was a trainee with the BAT (Britannia Amritraj Trust) in the nineties. But if you are asking me what I know of Alves, the answer is: Not much. Prakash (Amritraj) has played him before and told me he hits from the back of the court,” said Rastogi, not the least worried by the prospect of competing against a player ranked 106 on the ATP computer.
In the demanding world of tennis, players like Rastogi spend almost a year on the circuit without any tangible gains in terms of rise in the rankings. A 497 ATP Indesit ranking (as of December 30, 2006) is not a true indicator of Rastogi’s potential. Yet, he is now a certainty for selection in the Indian Davis Cup squad that plays Uzbekistan in February.
Talking of Alves, Rastogi says he has done his homework. “I know for sure that when I play him tomorrow, there will be no pressure on me,” said Rastogi. Does that mean he is not nervous? “I was a bit edgy when I played my last ATP event in Mumbai,” recalls Rastogi, who had lost in straight sets to Bjorn Phau then.
How does he feel this time around? “I know Alves is not going to give me any free points and I will have to keep my unforced errors down to the minimum. I really cannot predict anything beyond that,” added Rastogi, who has never beaten a top-100 player.
“I did beat Lukas Kubot (ranked 120) last year in the Chikmaglur Challenger. Of course, I have beaten Simon Greul also. He was ranked 200 then but is now in the top 100,” says Rastogi, trying to remain calm.
Unlike players at home who complain about lack of exposure and “no coaches to help”, Rastogi is lucky he gets to train quite often at Nick Bolletterei’s Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Yet, despite the inputs, Rastogi needs one good break.
The Futures title made sure Rastogi did not end the year in agony. And against Thiago Alves, the young Indian knows he has to play above par.
Wishful thinking? Why not, this is just the start of 2007.