of Somdev Devvarman has given a boost to Indian tennis and may
answer the big question "Who after Leander Paes and Mahesh
Bhupathi?", writes M. S. Unnikrishnan
Somdev Devvarman of India holds the runners up trophy after his defeat by Marin Cilic of Croatia in the finals of the Chennai Open ATP tennis tournament in in January Photos AFP
far too long, Indian tennis has been looking for a
dependable player to take the baton from Leander Paes and Mahesh
Bhupathi. Though there is no dearth of talent, no one has been
able to really measure up to the exacting standards of
international tennis. But after an elevating performance in the
Chennai Open ATP event, Somdev Devvraman seems to have bridged
clay-court player, Somdev has adapted well to hard courts,
though grass still seems a suspect surface for him. At least,
thatís what fans felt in Delhi during his Davis Cup debut.
Leander Paes opted for Somdev Devvarman, overlooking the claims
of the better-ranked and more experienced Prakash Amritraj, in
the opening singles match of the Davis Cup Asia Oceania Group-I
tie against Uzbekistan in New Delhi.
gamble backfired as Somdev lost the first dayís second singles
in straight sets to Denis Istomin 3-6,4-6, 2-6. Rohan Bopanna
had beaten Farrukh Dustov to put India one up, but Somdevís
defeat got the team in a jam.
had teamed with Mahesh Bhupathi for the first time in a Davis
Cup doubles tie, gave India a 2-1 lead on day two. However, he
lost the reverse singles, putting India in serious trouble.
understood the folly of persisting with Somdev in the crucial
second reverse singles and opted for Prakash Amritraj instead.
Prakash played a stunning game to nail Farrukh Dustov 6-3, 3-6,
6-3, 6-2 to save India the blushes.
Somdev was not considered for the Davis Cup Asia Oceania second
round tie against Japan, held again in Delhi, in April 2008.
India swept the
tie 4-1, and nobody even cared to remember Somdev Devvarman. Not
much was heard of Somdev Devvarman after that. But the young man
had been quietly slugging it out to emerge the National
Collegiate Association of America (NCAA) champion for the second
time. Somdev had been playing in the indoor and outdoor
hard-court events in the US to hone his skills, as his
clay-court specialisation would not have taken him far on the
professional circuit. No wonder, he sizzled against Carlos Moya,
the former World No 1 from Spain, and Ivan Karlovic (Croatia),
at Chennaiís hard court.
Ďnobodyí, who gained entry into the main draw as a wild
card, had suddenly become Indiaís hottest tennis property. In
hindsight, Paes had shown great foresight to opt for Somdev in a
vital Davis Cup tie, against popular perception.
It is a sheer
coincidence that Somdev Devvarman chose Nungambakkam Stadium as
his big stage. Paes and Bhupathi had launched their fruitful
Grand Slam doublesí partnership after they won the Chennai
Open in 1997. Hopefully for Somdev, too, the Chennai Open win
may prove lucky for him on the Grand Slam circuit.
A cool and
collected player, Somdev keeps his emotions under check in
trying situations on court, and that will be an asset as he
tracks the pro circuit.
Somdev was born
on February 13, 1985, at Guwahati (Assam). His mother belongs to
Meghalaya and his father is from Tripura. He studied at Asan
Memorial Senior Secondary School, run by a Malayalam education
society in Chennai, from Class II to VIII. His father Devvarman,
a senior official with the Income Tax Department, was posted
Somdev cut his
tennis teeth at the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy, which was
a new thing for the boy from the North-East, as back home
football was a popular sport.
After Class X,
he migrated to the US for further studies and also to further
his tennis career at the Virginia University. Somdev proved his
mettle there by winning NCAA championship twice, to follow in
the footsteps of his illustrious predecessors Arthur Ashe, Jimmy
Connors and John McEnroe.
benefited greatly from the coaching of Andy Roddick. His win in
the Chennai Open would provide many opportunities to him now. Heís
sure to be back in the Davis Cup squad and the Indian teamís
scheme of things, though he still has some way to go before
establishing himself on the pro circuit. This was evident when
he lost in the second round of the Australian Open qualifiers to
Lukasz Kubot of Poland. But his win over his Davis Cup senior
Prakash Amritraj in the first round can be called poetic
Somdev has come
a long way since he became the national Under-14 champion and
also won all events in his age group. The right-handed player,
with a dependable forehand, fleet-footed movement, solid ground
strokes and safe serves can surely be dubbed as rising star on
the horizon of Indian tennis.
players perish during the transition between the junior and
senior ranks. Somdev has, however, proved to be a refreshing
exception, though itís too early to predict how his career
would shape up. Though he wins over Moya and Karlovic must have
given a huge boost to his confidence.
At 23, age is
certainly a factor for him as many teenagers are now making a
big splash on the Grand Slam circuit. But the Chennai Open
experience would definitely stand Somdev in good stead as he not
only earned a fat pay check of $37,000 but also accumulated 54
points, taking his ranking from the present 202 to around 152.
became the first Indian to enter the Chennai Open final,
bettering Paesí semi-final record in 1998, his progress to the
challenge round lacked sting as the fifth seed and World No 33
Rainer Schuettler of Germany did not play in the semi-final due
to a wrist injury, giving him a walkover.
have rather sweated my way into the final," Somdev said,
instead of taking the easy route.
However, in the
finals of the Chennai Open, Somdevís weak points were exposed
by 20-year-old Marin Cilic, who won 6-4, 7-6 (3) in under two
hours to pocket the top prize of $75,000 as well as 250 points.
Cilic attacked Somdevís weak backhand to peg him back, and the
Indian player could do little to convert his break points, which
included seven in the first set, though he has a very strong
return of serve.
Yet, it was a
memorable display by Somdev, who got into the pro tour just six
Indiaís No 1 singles player, pushing Prakash Amritraj and
Rohan Bopanna far behind. "He has the ability to make his
opponent work extra hard," notes Bhupathi.
Krishnan has advised Somdev to build up his strength "as
fitness and strength, the normal weak points of Indians, matter
tennis, Somdev is into music in a big way, and takes his guitar
playing very seriously. Coming from the Tripura royal family of
the legendary music composer Sachin Dev Burman, music is in his
veins. Somdev is a great fan of Carnatic, rock and jazz and Dave
The emergence of Somdev
Devvarman may prove to be a shot in the arm for Indian tennis as
he may well be the answer to the big question "Who after
Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi?"