Legends chase doubles mark
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - January 20, 2016 - 9:00am

JODHPUR – The rage in Indian sports is Sania Mirza who has played in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) the last two seasons. Mirza, 29, and Swiss legend Martina Hingis, 35, are teaming up to chase the record of 44 consecutive wins in women’s doubles set by Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova in 1990.

Mirza may not be as celebrated as Hingis who once reigned as the world’s No. 1 singles player for over 200 weeks and has five Grand Slam championships under her belt. But in India, she’s the queen of queens, the first South Asian woman to be appointed a United Nations goodwill ambassador. Mirza is currently the world’s No. 1 doubles player with career earnings of over $5.6 Million. Both Mirza and Hingis are strictly in the doubles circuit.

A few days ago, Mirza and Hingis combined to win the Sydney International, finishing off Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, 1-6, 7-5, 10-5 in one hour and 15 minutes in the final. It was the pair’s 30th consecutive win and 11th title together. Last year, the legends captured nine crowns, including Wimbledon and the US Open. Their streak of 30 has left behind the record of 28 set by Puerto Rico’s Gigi Fernandez and Belarus’ Natasha Zvereva in 1994.

Mirza writes a column called “Grand Slam” in the Indian news magazine “The Week.” In the Jan. 17 issue, Mirza said Olympic runner Robert Ballard of Australia will train her for the Australian Open. “Robert, who has worked with me as my trainer in the past, will be travelling with me to help me prepare for the Australian Open as Martina and I begin our quest for our third Grand Slam victory in a row,” she wrote.

Mirza said her commitment to play in the IPTL with the Indian Aces kept her on the road before the Christmas holidays. “Customarily, December is family time for me and I stay at home during this month, preparing for the next season,” she said. “But this time, as I was playing the 2015 edition of the IPTL, I had to make a few adjustments to spend some quality time with my parents, sister and other members of my family. Mom, Dad and Anam travelled to New Delhi and then to Singapore for the two legs of the league and we enjoyed together while competing for my team. We even found time to shop in the famous arcades of Singapore.”

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Basketball isn’t a widely popular sport in India but a reasonable amount of media mileage was given to the recent 66th Senior National Championships in Mysuru, a city in Karnataka state over 2,200 kilometers from New Delhi. Services beat defending titlist Uttarakhand, 73-67, for the men’s championship with Joginder Singh earning the equivalent of P7,500 for his MVP trophy. Singh hit 26 points, including six triples, in the title match. Indian national team guard Vishesh Bhriguvanshi paced the losers with 20.

India’s top two basketball players Amjot and Amritpal Singh play as imports in the Japanese league. The first player of Indian descent to suit up in the NBA is 7-5 Sim Bhullar who played two years with the New Mexico State varsity and is in the Canadian team lineup. Bhullar, 23, played three games for the Sacramento Kings last season. The first Indian to be drafted by an NBA team was 7-5 Satnam Singh who was picked on the second round by Dallas last year. Singh, 20, is now playing for the Texas Legends in the NBA D-League. Bhullar is also playing in the D-League with the Raptors 905. Back in the 1970s, India was bannered by 7-3 center Sunil Panda who was big and wide but too slow to make a difference on the court.

At the FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha last year, India finished eighth despite the presence of the high-scoring Singh brothers. It was India’s best finish in the zonal tournament since 2003. A milestone in Indian basketball history was when the national team upset China, 65-58, at the FIBA Asia Cup in 2014 under American coach Scott Fleming.

Two rising stars in Indian basketball are 24-year-old national team forward Arvind Arumugam of Karnataka and 6-7 Aravind Annadurai of the Tamil Nadu squad. Arumugam took six stitches near his right eye from an elbow during a recent game. Annadurai, quoted by C. K. Muralidharan in The Hindu newspaper, said Indian basketball is on the rise.

“The standard of the game has improved tremendously,” said Annadurai. “The players are young and they’re willing to learn. India has been doing well at the senior and junior levels. Indians are playing in the NBA and Japanese league which shows our sport is moving forward. My aim is to represent India and play well for the country. I want to contribute to the Indian team’s progress. I play as a power forward and want to learn new techniques and improve my skills.”

Annadurai said creating a pro league would be a major boost in promoting the sport. “Exposure tours are also a must,” he said. “Playing against different countries in different conditions would help the national team. Players should work hard and improve their skills and adapt to different conditions. A professional domestic league should be introduced.”

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Three-time Olympian and 2010 Asian Games boxing gold medalist Vijender Singh turned pro last October a few weeks before turning 30. He has since compiled a record of 3-0, with 3 KOs, with all his fights held in England. On Feb. 13, Singh will attempt to make it four wins in a row at the Cavern Club in Liverpool. The 6-foot middleweight has so far victimized English fighters Sonny Whiting and Dean Gillen and Bulgaria’s Samet Hyuseinov at a rate of a win every month.

Singh is India’s most renowned boxer. He won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a bronze at the 2009 World Championships. Singh, a college graduate, is also a Bollywood actor. In July, English promoter Frank Warren plans to bring Singh to India for a fight.

“We have big plans for him this year,” said Warren. “We’re hoping to do a big show in Delhi around July. Plans are underway, we have something huge around September or October. It’s going to be something that’s never been done before.” Singh, a late bloomer, is certainly making up for lost time.

ACIRC ANNADURAI AUSTRALIAN OPEN GRAND SLAM INDIA INDIAN LEAGUE MIRZA NEW DELHI SINGH TEAM
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