Mon, 14 Mar 2005

Prima vows to bounce back from defeat

Musthofid, The Jakarta Post,Jakarta

After a mistimed forehand soared over the baseline to give Uzbekistan a 3-2 win in last Sunday's Davis Cup tie, Prima Simpatiaji slumped in his chair at courtside, a towel wrapped around his head.

With everything riding on the fifth and decisive singles, his disappointment was clear. But, unlike when he was a schoolboy losing in his first tournament, there were no tears of frustration for the 24 year old this time.

The lanky 1.8 meter all court player had been the local hero on the opening day of the Asia-Oceania first round playoff, winning his first singles match in commanding fashion against Farrukh Dustov.

He also fought hard in the final match, forcing Denis Istomin to two tiebreaks and holding set points in the second set before the match slipped away from him.

A win would have given Indonesia its first victory over the Uzbeks after losing achingly close encounters in 2001 and 2003 by identical 2-3 scorelines.

It could have been a case of wanting to win too much, and his topspin forehand -- instrumental in his win against Dustov -- let him down on Sunday.

Prima rues the missed opportunity of the Istomin match.

"I'm still saddened by the defeat. It was a good opportunity to win on home turf ... but I failed to win the match that would have taken us through," Prima said on Tuesday by phone.

He added that he was trying to put the loss behind him by doing some window shopping in local malls.

"I won't let sadness overwhelm me. I learned a lot from the defeat. I have to improve my weak areas and try to sharpen what have been my reliable weapons."

His game's strengths of a powerful serve and the looping forehand, along with unwavering parental support and his own commitment, have made him one of the country's best male players.

Prima began playing tennis in the second grade under the tutelage of his father Purnomo, a civil servant, in his hometown of Tegal, Central Java.

He remembers his first loss, and the tears that came with it.

He was sent to a tennis camp in Bekasi where he trained for two years, eventually joining Detec tennis club owned by Deddy Prasetyo, a player-cum-coach known for often being at odds with the Indonesian Tennis Association (Pelti), in 1997.

After a year's layoff due to injury, he entered Diponegoro University in Semarang in 2000, hitting the books as a student for a year and a half.

Prima then decided to give tennis another shot, rejoining Deddy's club.

He was selected as a reserve for the Davis Cup team in 2003 when it lost to Uzbekistan in Tashkent. He was called up to play in subsequent ties against South Korea and Japan, failing to win his matches, but displayed growing maturity when Indonesia routed New Zealand 5-0 last year to set up last week's showdown with Uzbekistan.

Still, Prima had second thoughts about his tennis career after winning a silver medal for Central Java at the 2004 National Games.

"I was weary of playing tennis. I had decided to return to campus. But my parents opposed my plan," he said.

"'You have good prospects in tennis. Why on earth would you leave it when you are already immersed in it?'" Prima recalled his father admonishing him.

Instead, he left Deddy's camp at the end of 2004 to join the school of Pelti chief Martina Wijaya, who has sometimes been at odds with Deddy.

"I find it a good training ground because we have sparring matches with other strong players," Prima said of his new club.

"Om Deddy is basically a good kind of man. Well, people know that he is quite blunt about Pelti."

His results this year have been promising. Despite losing in the early rounds of an international satellite tournament in Jakarta early this year, he came back to win the singles at the Cigna Open in February.

With a newfound commitment to the game, Prima promises to give his all, even though he is not young in tennis terms (in comparison, Andy Roddick is 22, Roger Federer 23 and Asian number one Paradorn Srichaphan 25, but the latter had already made his mark on the international circuit by his early 20s).

"Tennis is my family's life. I can't leave it. When I don't play any more, I hope I can still train."

He no longer cries about what might have been, but seeks instead to learn his lesson for the next time he steps onto court.

"Hopefully, I can pass the test in another round of the Davis Cup," he said.