Indian Sports, November 18: Bopanna goes down in ATP Finals semis, Sindhu to train with Padukone

PV Sindhu in action at the 2023 Denmark Open. Shi Tang/Getty Images

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Here all the key updates from November 18, Saturday.

Indian football news

This is bit sad. India head coach Igor Stimac wrote on 'X' that the team's strength and conditioning coach Luka Radman lost his father on the morning of India vs Kuwait match, but decided to stay with the team.

"While the country celebrated a historic win against Kuwait, the team mourned in silence for one of our own. Our strength and conditioning coach Luka Radman lost his father the same morning, but decided to stay with us in this crucial time," Stimac wrote. He added, "the strength you (Radman) showed for the sake of this team is heroic. On behalf of the entire team, we pray your father rests in peace. Sending all our love and strength to the family."

Para athlete Neeraj Yadav fails dope test

It looks like Indian sport has been dragged into another dope-fuelled controversy. According to a PTI report, India's para-athlete Neeraj Yadav has failed a dope test and might lose two gold medals he won at the Asian Para Games in Hangzhou.

The report states that Yadav has been tested positive for anabolic steroids in an out-of-competition test conducted in Bengaluru by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) just six days before his departure for Hangzhou.

If found guilty, he'll lose the two gold medals he won in the F55 javelin and discus throw events. It could also see India dropping one place down to sixth in overall medals tally. However, the Paralympic Committee of India's (PCI) athletics head coach S Satyanarayana told PTI that, "the sample in question might not have been his. Or otherwise, the sample could have been contaminated."

The reason for contamination, according to Satyanarayana, is because Neeraj was tested twice in Hangzhou and no doping offence were reported from the Asian Para Games samples. Satyanarayana said the PCI will wait for results from the two dope samples given by Yadav in Hangzhou.

"If he returns positive in Hangzhou tests, then he is guilty of doping and we have no case. If he comes clean in the two tests in Hangzhou, there is no way he will have an ADRV (Anti-Doping Rule Violation) in the NADA sample because steroids remain for a long time in the body system," he added.

Well, from the looks of it, Neeraj will have a tough few days ahead.

Decision on VAR in Indian domestic football 'very soon'

Video Assistant Referees could become a reality in Indian domestic club competitions from the 2025-26 season.

The AIFF's acting secretary general M Satyanarayan told PTI that there will be a big decision on the introduction of VAR very soon.

It's a welcome development in Indian Football, where the performances of referees, especially in the Indian Super League, have been questionable for a few seasons now. Satyanarayan said that the 2025-26 season could potentially see the introduction of VAR, since the process would take a minimum of 18 to 20 months to complete.

In addition to procuring the equipment and getting the technology approved by FIFA, the AIFF will also have to ensure training of officials to handle VAR and the processes involved in it.

The technology doesn't come cheap, and Satyanarayan isn't yet sure where the funding for it will come from, only saying that it would ultimately only benefit the ISL and I-League clubs.

Earlier this year, the Times of India had reported that that the AIFF were told that the VAR technology would cost them approximately Rs 18-20 lakh per match and Rs 15-20 crore per season on a long-term contract.

While VAR, or VAR lite, would aid referees, what's critical is how its implemented. We've seen major refereeing errors creep in despite the extensive use of VAR in Europe and there remains a debate that it affects the flow of the game, and creates situations which require extreme interpretations of the law, even if it does help refs get most decisions right.

End of Rohan Bopanna's 2023 season

That's it for Rohan Bopanna at the ATP Finals and the 2023 tennis season. He and Matthew Ebden go down to Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos 5-7, 6-4 in the semifinals. A break of Ebden's serve in each set is what it took, as the Aussie endured a rough outing.

Bopanna, though, will still look back on the 2023 season with a lot of heart. The 43-year-old reached two Grand Slam finals, won a Masters 1000 and an Asian Games gold medal in doubles. All the while breaking a number of oldest player records in men's tennis.

Here are the highlights of Bopanna's 2023:

  • Won the mixed doubles gold along with Rutuja Bhosale at the Asian Games

  • Runner up in mixed doubles at the Australian Open, partnering Sania Mirza in her last Grand Slam

  • Runner-up at the US Open in men's doubles with Matthew Ebden

  • Won the Indian Wells men's doubles title with Matthew Ebden

  • Reached the men's doubles semifinals of Wimbledon

  • Became the oldest ATP Masters champion and the oldest player to reach the semis of the ATP World Tour Finals

Here's a recap of how the semifinal played out:

The first match of semifinal Saturday in Turin has begun. India's Rohan Bopanna and his Australian partner Matthew Ebden take on Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos for a place in the final at the season-ending ATP Finals.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos 5-7, 3-5

There was some hope for a break back there as they took 0-30 lead after a superb reflex return from Bopanna at the net but Granollers-Zeballos hold and now Bopanna will serve to stay in the semifinal.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos 5-7, 2-3

Bopanna hits a stunning on-the-run, threading-the-needle forehand winner from the wide court and asks the crowd to cheer louder. The crowd obliges and he'd hope this is the spark they need to get a break back in the second.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos 5-7, 1-2

Oh dear, another shaky service game from Ebden and we have an early break in the second set. The Indo-Aussie duo recover from 0-30 down but another double fault gives Granollers-Zeballos 2 break points. They save the first but on deciding point, Ebden's shot swings wide.

Ebden almost went to break his racquet after that error, but resists the urge. This is turning out to be a rough match for him. Bopanna and Ebden are a set and a break down now.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos 5-7

Granollers-Zeballos close out the first set, consolidating the break. The fifth seeds have won 12 out of the last 15 points and 3 straight games now. After 42 minutes of almost even action, it came down to one bad service game to make the difference.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos 5-6

The first break of the match goes to Granollers-Zeballos as Ebden's serve in broken right at the end of the first set. Not much going the Australian's way, after the miss on deciding point earlier. The fifth seeds need to serve out the next game to win the set.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos 5-4

The first deciding point of the semifinal comes Bopanna-Ebden's way.... And disappears as Ebden fluffs a simple put away at the net. He is not happy with it but it keeps the match on serve as Bopanna serves out to 15. Granollers-Zeballos to serve to stay in the set.

Bopanna-Ebden vs Granollers-Zeballos: 2-2

The semifinal started on an even note, with all players holding serve once.

Bopanna-Ebden's campaign so far:

Bopanna and Ebden have won 3 out of their 2 matches in the group stage so far, making the cut for the semis.

In the group stage, the India-Australian pair had two wins in four matches:

  • Lost to US Open Champions Rajeev Ram & Joe Salisbury 3-6, 4-6

  • Beat Australian Open Champions Rinky Hijikata & Jason Kubler 6-4, 6-4

  • Beat Wimbledon Champions Neal Skupski & Wesley Koolhof 6-4, 7-6 (5)

Explained: What does Sindhu's partnership with Prakash Padukone mean?

While it was known for a few months now that PV Sindhu is collaborating with Indian badminton great Prakash Padukone, it was confirmed that she is moving bases from Hyderabad to his academy in Bengaluru today. She shared an article from The Indian Express confirming the same, adding that Padukone reached out to her and is playing the role of her mentor. Malaysia's Muhammad Hafiz Hashim is her official travelling coach.

What does the move entail?

While Sindhu has not been training with national coach P Gopichand since the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, she had stayed in Hyderabad training with her personal coach. Now, a move to the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy means changing cities. And she's doing with a clear goal of next year's Paris Olympics in mind, just like taking the protected ranking. (More on the injury and protection here)

How does this affect her game?

Having a mentor is different from that of a travelling coach, but it's a crucial role in Sindhu's career because of how her game is dictated by what she is told by the coach courtside. She is a versatile player, who can both attack and defend, and earn point by sheer physicality. But post injury, compromised movement and hesitancy meant she was caught somewhere between both offence and defence on court and opponents exploited that.

Ever since her split with Park Taesang earlier this year, there has been an erratic quality to her on-court tactics. She was briefly travelling with SAI Vidhi Choudhary before fixing on the former All England champion Hashim. There has been an upswing in fortunes for her since, but it's still early to see how he is shaping her play. Now, with the injury setback now, it'll be some time before we see her again. But even in her limited chances in the European swing, it was clear that Sindhu's attacking game was being built on and it resulted in back-to-back semis and a return to the Top 10.

With Padukone as her mentor, and him declaring that he intends to sharpen her attacking style, there will likely be a cohesion to her on-court strategy which could prove to be pivotal. Padukone discussed this in the Indian Express article, saying "my first job was to make her understand what strategy and tactics to adopt while playing different opponents." Once Sindhu can get her mental and tactical bearings right, her fitness and natural ability on court will automatically make her a force to reckon with.

Didn't Saina move to Bengaluru in the past too?

Yes, Sindhu is not the first top badminton player to make the move to PPBA. Saina did it in 2014, in the lead up to Rio Olympics supposedly because it was believed that Gopichand was paying more attention to the younger Sindhu more than her. There was some controversy there later, when Gopichand was quoted as saying that he blamed Padukone for encouraging her to leave. The PPBA then released a statement saying that it was solely Saina's decision to leave. Unfortunately, injury setbacks and a loss of form meant Saina never really hit her world No 1 attaining form again. So it's hard to judge how much of a difference the move made back then.

( - Zenia D'cunha)

Chhetri and co. arrive in Bhubaneswar

The Indian men's football team has arrived in Bhubaneswar as they prepare to take on Qatar in their second FIFA World Cup Qualification match. Sunil Chhetri and his men will face the reigning AFC Asian Cup champions at the Kalinga Stadium in three days from now on Tuesday.

India come into the game on the high of earning a remarkable 1-0 win against Kuwait a couple of days ago, which was India's first away win in a FIFA WC qualifier in 22 years. Qatar, on the other hand, handed Afghanistan an 8-1 drubbing on Thursday.

India last hosted Qatar in June 2021, and that ended in a 1-0 defeat as Rahul Bheke was sent off early in the game and Abdulaziz Hatem scored a first-half winner.

PV Sindhu and Prakash Padukone join forces

Two of India's most successful badminton players have joined forces as Prakash Padukone has taken up the mentor role in PV Sindhu's coaching set up. Early on Saturday morning, Sindhu posted on social media that she had been working with Padukone since August and "it's been uphill ever since."

Sindhu is currently recovering from a knee injury she suffered at the French Open last month and has applied for a protected ranking. Athletes can apply for a protected ranking in situations where they cannot compete for long periods: a minimum period of three months to a maximum of 12 or until such time as the player notifies BWF that the player wishes to enter a tournament again. That means Sindhu will be out of action until at least February 2024, unless she recovers sooner and feels she is ready to compete again. More on this here: Injured Sindhu gets protected ranking, could be out till next year

What's in store today?

The big one: Rohan Bopanna and his Australian partner Matthew Ebden will be in action in the semifinal of ATP World Tour Finals. The duo will face Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos for a place in the final. By winning the quarterfinal tie, Bopanna, 43, became the oldest player to reach the semifinal of the World Tour Finals and will be eager keep the momentum going and make more history on Saturday.

Also, we'll get you more updates from ICC Cricket World Cup, Indian football, badminton, hockey and more.

What happened yesterday?

You can check all the details of Friday's news events here. Here are the cliff notes:

  • Rohan Bopanna became the oldest player ever to reach the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals.

  • More details with regard to Arsene Wenger's upcoming India trip.

  • An analysis of how India beat Kuwait in their FIFA men's World Cup Qualifying match.

  • Mumbai City Des Buckingham bid goodbye to the club and joined English side Oxford United.