Welcome to Spodcast, the sports update on Firstpost.
At the Maharashtra Open tennis tournament, Kevin Anderson of South Africa, ranked sixth in ATP rankings, qualified for the quarterfinals after a hard-fought win over Laslo Djere of Serbia on Wednesday.
Anderson, who lost to Gilles Simon in last year's final, received a first-round bye in this edition. He faced Djere in a tough match yesterday that saw two tie-breakers. He eventually won 7-6, 7-6. Anderson said after the match, "It is always tough playing somebody who has been here (and) played a (first-round) match. That is always a bit tricky. I thought it was a great match and really pleased to register my first win of the year... I still believe my best tennis is yet to come."
Meanwhile, 2018 champion Gilles Simon of France fought back from a set down to beat Ilya Ivashka of Belarus 6-7, 6-2, 6-1 in a match that lasted two-and-a-half hours. Simon, who has an ATP ranking of 30, will face compatriot Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals.
News from the Premier Badminton League now. Bengaluru Raptors defeated former champions Delhi Dashers on Wednesday as Kidambi Srikanth continued his unbeaten streak. His Bengaluru teammate B Sai Praneeth also put on a strong display to defeat friend and fellow India international HS Prannoy.
Srikanth defeated Tommy Sugiarto in a seesaw three-game match, finishing 15-6 12-15 15-10. Srikanth's trademark jump smashes won him the first game quickly but Sugiarto fought back to take an early lead in the second game, going up 8-3, then 13-8. There was little Srikanth could do as Sugiarto took the game 15-12. Srikanth turned the tables in the third game, going up 8-4 in quick time and then shutting out Sugiarto win the game 15-10. Srikanth has now won all three of his matches this season.
Sai Praneeth had an advantage against Prannoy, his training partner from the Pullela Gopichand Academy, who is nursing an injured right knee. The Indian national champion had a hard time stringing together points due to breathing issues. Despite some semblance of a fight back which saw Prannoy draw level at 10-10, Sai won the first game comfortably 15-12. The second game saw a comeback from Prannoy who dug deep to take the game 15-14. In the decider, Sai again took a quick lead, going up 12-8. He never looked in much trouble after that, closing it out 15-13.
In football news, ahead of the AFC Asian Cup 2019 which begins January 5, Indian captain Sunil Chhetri claimed India will be a difficult team to beat. He said the recent draws against more fancied teams like China and Oman hold them in good stead. Chhetri said, "I can assure you that it won't be an easy job for other teams to face us. We are a team who hate to lose, and we have proven it in recent times. We are working as per the plan. All of us are super excited and thrilled right now. Apart from me and Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), it's a first-time experience for all else. Everyone is ready to grab this opportunity."
Chhetri was part of the Indian team that qualified for the 2011 edition in Doha. That year, India lost all of their group matches - against Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was in the 2011 squad but did not participate in any match.
But the captain, who is also the highest Indian scorer in international football with 65 goals, insisted the team was focusing on the match against Thailand and not looking beyond that. He said, "At the moment, our sole focus is on our opening fixture - the game against Thailand. We are not looking anything beyond that. Yeah, there are matches against UAE and Bahrain lined up but we will think about them only when they come. At the moment we know that Thailand will be a very tough opponent and we are concentrating only on them."
Chhetri himself is close to a personal milestone - he will equal former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia's record of all time India appearances during the Asia Cup. He has played 104 international matches so far, three less than Bhutia's 107. But he made it clear that stats weren't on his mind. He explained, "It feels good when I get a record under my name. But I don't keep track of records. After 10 seconds, I just forget it. I never take any pressure of chasing any record. I never ever dreamt that I would play more than 100 games for India or score 60-odd goals."
Legendary Indian cricket coach Ramakant Achrekar passed away yesterday at the age of 87. Achrekar is famous as the coach who was behind the immaculate technique of Sachin Tendulkar, as well as Tendulkar's childhood cohort Vinod Kambli.
He was conferred with the Dronacharya Award, which is presented to coaches for outstanding work in the field of sports in India, in 1990, as well as the Padmashri in 2010. Besides Tendulkar and Kambli, he also coached ex-cricketers like Ajit Agarkar, Pravin Amre, Sameer Dighe and Balwinder Singh Sandhu.
He competed in only one first-class match in his playing career but is highly regarded for discovering and fostering the most successful batsman in international cricket after Donald Bradman - Sachin Tendulkar. It is the stuff of cricket legend now that Sachin was coached by Achrekar at Shivaji Park in Mumbai.
Tendulkar, who has always been generous in crediting Achrekar as one of the primary reasons for his incredible success, paid a moving tribute to his coach. He said, "Cricket in heaven will be enriched with the presence of Achrekar sir. Like many of his students, I learnt my ABCD of cricket under Sir's guidance. His contribution to my life cannot be captured in words. He built the foundation that I stand on. Achrekar sir taught us the virtues of playing straight and living straight. Thank you for making us a part of your life and enriching us with your coaching manual. Well played Sir and may you coach more wherever you are."
Tendulkar would visit Ramakant Achrekar every year on Teacher's Day to pay tribute to the man who often drove him to stadiums on his scooter in his formative days.