From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.04 :: Jan. 24, 2009

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TENNIS / FEATURE/SOMDEV DEVVARMAN

1036 to 154 in one year!

Somdev Devvarman’s run to the final of the Chennai Open ATP is an achievement of great significance. His success in Chennai might not result in a dynamic shift in the fortunes of Indian tennis, but points to a future that can see results, writes Nandita Sridhar.

S. S. KUMAR

Somdev Devvarman

Somdev Devvarman admirably kept his head when any amount of overstated rejoicing wouldn’t have seemed out of place.

Somdev’s run to the final of the Chennai Open ATP is an achievement of great significance. But putting it in perspective is crucial for his future performances. The 23-year-old became the first Indian to make it to the Chennai Open final, but hi s second round and quarterfinal wins came over a spent Carlos Moya and an erratic Ivo Karlovic respectively. There’s a lot more expected of Somdev, which he recognises.

Way back in 1998, Leander Paes claimed an ATP title in Newport, a feat that was followed by a 10-year drought. Indian tennis struggled in managing sustained growth and progress. Players were assumed to have promise, till promise itself was sufficient for survival.

Somdev’s success in Chennai might not result in a dynamic shift in the fortunes of Indian tennis, but points to a future that can see results.

The double NCAA champion proactively counter-punches his way through a set, not failing to convert a chance when he sees one.

The serve is a sure-shot weapon. It’s done with little fuss and thrives on an understated brilliance and deception. Even if it doesn’t blow opponents away, it does eat into their returning options.

A lack of apparent power, persistently exploited by Chennai Open winner Marin Cilic, is something Somdev can work on. But as he himself expressed, the journey has just begun.

“The final was a great learning experience,” said Somdev. “Not converting like two million breakpoints wasn’t the best thing. I obviously did not finish some points as I would have liked to, and some of my drop-shots weren’t too clever.

“There are things I need to improve on, which is what I will take from this game. The final loss isn’t going to bring me down too much. I don’t get too positive when I win, so a loss will not hit me too negatively as well,” he added.

The top-200 is a tricky place to be in. It isn’t high enough to gain entry into events, neither is it low enough for players to rest easy on lower-tier events. Somdev will now need a structured programme and schedule for the next six months to make further progress and build on his result in Chennai.

Former Davis Cup player Ramesh Krishnan believes Somdev’s focus should now be on his rankings. “It’s been a good beginning to the year, and it’s been a good jump in the rankings for him. The important thing for him now would be to get into the top-100, which would help him get entries into tournaments, and plan his schedule better. If he has another tournament like Chennai, he might just manage that. The good thing is that he’s playing a lot of matches, so he will have the chance of keeping his momentum going,” said Ramesh.

“He has a sound game and is good from the back of the court. But he shouldn’t be worrying about that now. There’s not much that can be changed now, so he needs to just sharpen his skills. The focus now should be on the rankings. There is a scramble right now to choose tournaments and that will be sorted out when the ranking improves,” said Ramesh.

Leander Paes, who was the last Indian to break into the top-200, had earlier touted Somdev as the future of Indian tennis. “I have been saying for a while that Som is going to carry Indian tennis to greater heights. He has been playing well. I was not surprised that he beat Moya, but the manner in which he strategically progressed was excellent.”

R.RAGU

Devvarman’s serve is a sure-shot weapon. It’s done with little fuss and thrives on an understated brilliance and deception.

Somdev has made remarkable progress in the rankings from 1036, when he turned pro last year, to 154 (as on January 17). “Five months since he turned pro, us guys in the locker room expected him to do well. His transition has been excellent,” said Mahesh Bhupathi.

Moya’s observation that Somdev “wasn’t like other Indian tennis players,” isn’t out of place. A good front-runner is an index of a steady mind, as much as a good fighter is. Notwithstanding the breakpoints he failed to convert in the first set of the final against Cilic, Somdev’s finishing was exemplary against Moya and Karlovic.

The journey for the Indian, by his own admission, has only begun. But what one has seen so far promises a refreshing defiance of the norm in Indian tennis.

“This is just one tournament, one match. There is still a lot of work to do. I don’t judge myself on how I performed here (Chennai Open). I am sure to lose a lot more matches, but if I deliver results, the rankings will take care of themselves.”

But what one has seen so far promises a refreshing defiance of the norm in Indian tennis.



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