<
>

Top stories of the week: Waiting for Kasparov, TT league debuts and more

EPA/SERGEI ILNITSKY

Missed catching up on the latest in Indian sport? Worry not, as ESPN gives you the lowdown on the top stories of the past week.

Curious about Kasparov, learning from Federer

In August, Viswanathan Anand will play old-time foe Garry Kasparov in one rapid and two blitz games at a tournament in St Louis. He is curious about how the contest with Kasparov, who recently announced his decision to come out of retirement, will unfold. "It's quite interesting," Anand told ESPN. "I think it's very good for the event because it will attract all that attention. I know he won't volunteer for something on the spur of it." Away from chess, Anand draws some inspiration from tennis great Roger Federer -- both of them holding the promise of one more big win. "You can roughly compare a 35-year-old tennis player and a 47-year-old chess player," he says. "I try to learn from him. People like Federer tell you that you can still hang in there."

Read more: Anand: Federer teaching me to hang in there


Just starting

Last week, Damneet Singh became the first Indian ever to win a medal at the U-18 World Athletics Championships. The 17-year-old hammer thrower won silver with an effort of 74.20m at the event in Nairobi, Kenya. Damneet says he was destined to be an athlete. His father Baldev Singh was a national-level pole vaulter, while his older brother Gurmeet competed in the decathlon. He set the U-17 national record (70.60m with a 5kg hammer) in 2015 and the U-19 national record (65.29m with a 6kg hammer) in 2016. Now, Damneet has his sights set higher. "My next challenge will be the World Junior Championships next year," he says. And he will eventually upgrade to the men's category with its far heavier 7.5kg hammer.

Read more: Damneet sets bigger targets after World Youth medal

Also read: 'Big thing to be the first Indian to win gold at the world championships'


Our wishlist

The tremendous buzz around Roger Federer's attempt to win the Wimbledon this year prompted ESPN to think of similar sporting feats that Indian sports fans would like to see. Among the 'feats' that made it to our purely subjective, non-scientific list: India winning a Test series in Australia ("a series win would just put the seal of approval on a gradual process of India shedding their traditional tag of 'tigers at home, lambs abroad'"); Lionel Messi winning a World Cup ("it would be a shame if Messi's legacy is being the greatest player to have never won the World Cup"); an Indian making the F1 podium ("a desi driver in a good car; watch heartbeats, ratings, attention rise"); India at the FIFA World Cup ("it's time for the world's soon-to-be largest country to be part of the world's largest single-sport event").

Read more: The Indian fan's sporting wishlist


India gets a TT league

July 13 saw the start of the Ultimate Table Tennis -- the first professional TT league in the country. India's highest-ranked player Achanta Sharath Kamal (35), who moved to Europe about a decade ago, feels the league has come in late. "Had it been introduced 10 years earlier, it would have been a hit and players like me wouldn't have found it necessary to move to Europe to spar and play against top players," he says. "But I'm happy that it's here now and hope it takes off." Among the many challenges confronting the league is TT's debatable merit as a spectator sport. "Unlike other popular sports today, TT did not make a timely switch to cater to TV audiences...," says former player S Raman. "The UTT holds the potential to change that."

Read more: With new league, TT hopes to finally make a racket

Also read: All you need to know about Ultimate Table Tennis


Step by step

Seventeen-year-old Zeel Desai was among the Indian players at Wimbledon this year -- playing her fourth junior Grand Slam. Her march in girls' singles was stopped by top seed Kayla Day (US) in the third round. Day, who won the US Open girls' title in 2016, is ranked 124 in the women's WTA rankings. Earlier in the year, the Ahmedabad-based Desai had reached the quarterfinals in girls' singles at the Australian Open. She plans to play the US Open next, before focusing entirely on the senior tour. "She is a determined girl, mentally very strong," said Todd Clark, her coach. "However, her serve is still a work in progress and to compete with the bigger European girls we have to improve her movement."

Read more: Meet Zeel Desai, India's 17-year-old star to watch out for

Also read: Sania Mirza's Wimbledon ends after mixed-doubles loss

Also read: Bopanna and Dabrowski lose in Wimbledon quarters


Making sense of a pull-out

India's decision to withdraw from the Pro League has left former hockey players and coaches surprised. "The world over, Pro League would give much better publicity and exposure to the players," said former Indian goalkeeper Ashish Ballal. "The step of pulling out is a very regressive one." The Pro League seeks to open up Olympic qualification for the top four finishers in the nine-team tournament to be played on a home-and-away basis between January and June annually from 2019 -- though it would still have left slots open for competing teams on the basis of continental qualification and world rankings. Meanwhile, confusion continued over the decision to link the league with Olympic qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Games. The FIH said the proposal would be forwarded to the International Olympic Committee for approval only after the latter officially announced the qualification principles for all sports.

Read more: Hockey community surprised by India's Pro League withdrawal


Note of caution despite success

One noteworthy aspect of India's strong performance at the 2017 Asian Championships in Bhubaneswar was how overwhelmingly young the medallists were. Amoj Jacob, part of the men's 4x400m relay, is 19. Neeraj Chopra, who shattered a national record in the men's javelin throw, is 20. Ajay Kumar Saroj, winner of the men's 1500m, is 20 years old. Their careers will most likely hit the peak in the coming years. But former athletes advised caution. "A number of teams from Japan and China sent a second- or third-string squad to the championships," said Anju Bobby George, winner of the women's long jump event at the 2005 Asian Championships. "This isn't the fault of our athletes. They competed against whoever was there, but we should be careful about how we treat our performance."

Read more: Asian Championships: Athletes impress but sterner tests ahead