Having started the year outside of the 700s if the world rankings,Somdev Devvarman says he has had the ideal start to the season,beating four top-100 players and jumping to 200. But with his protected ranking no longer available,he has to start his top-50 campaign from scratch. With his schedule,he won’t find it easy to find time for the Indian Tennis Players’ Association,the player body he started,but Devvarman says he enjoys the challenge and that it helps to have Paes and Bhupathi on the same page as him. Excerpts:
Your serve has become sharper than it was even before your injury layoff. You are hitting the ball deeper and getting results against top-100 guys. What are the things you have worked on?
I spent 5-6 hard months with my coach (Scott McCain) just focusing on the serve. We worked on my kick serve,flat serve,on my motion,toss. The idea is not to create a new way to serve but just be consistent with my motion. Thats what the top players do,serve every ball with the exact same routine. I think Im finding my spots better now. I cant change my basic game. Ill always be a counter-puncher but since Im obviously aging as you can tell (laughs),I need to find ways to be more efficient. So Im taking returns earlier,evolving my footwork,standing a few feet in to help the attack. Im 200 and something and my protected ranking has run out. I have to start where I left four years ago but working hard has never been a problem.
You have a huge task ahead of you to get back into the top-100 and you have taken on more work by starting the Indian Tennis Players Association. What prompted you to do that?
When I spent almost a year out with injury,I gained a lot of perspective,especially about off-court life. The biggest thing I missed was competing. I was so desperate to compete that I started playing chess and checkers and scrabble,and cheated a lot to win at those. I started losing a lot of friends like that so I had to stop (laughs). But seriously Im enjoying managing a lot of things at the same time while playing. Something like the ITPA was always on my mind because as a kid I benefitted from watching good players train and I feel I want to give back to tennis,help whoever I can help. In the past I got one-odd players to train with me in the off-season and took care of their expenses but we needed a body to get a bigger group together and generate funds for that.
You had a lot of differences with Leander Paes. How important is it for you that he came on board?
Leander is someone who has a difference in opinion with a lot of people,and I am no exception to that. We dont agree on a lot of things. He is one of those friends you always fight with. He is the friend you probably want to tear apart and kill every day. But at the end of it you are close to those friends because they are nice people and you dont want to miss out on that bond you share with them. I had a nice chat with him today about ITPA and he was full of ideas. It was so encouraging that being one of the most senior players,he is taking an interest. I have a lot of respect for him and I share a great relationship with him.
But he doesnt share the same relationship with (Mahesh) Bhupathi. Dont you think the ITPA will be in a state of conflict because of the history between the two?
No,it doesnt necessarily have to be that. We have all come forward on this because we believe we are in a place where we can bring about change. I spoke to Hesh last night and he had some six great ideas. Then Lee came up to me with things that he said that he had already started planning about what the ITPA can do and I can assure you that they are on the same page with that.
All three of you,who hold vice-president posts,are active pro players who are hardly communicating with the fringe players who you want to help. How do you see it being an inclusive body and preventing a situation where you three are taking all the decisions?
Mahesh has been running a 100-man company while playing on the tour for years,Leander managed to make a movie while doing that. There is obviously a crisis of time for all ITPA members to meet together but our preferred way of communication has always been email and I see no reason why I cant send a mail to 80 people rather than three. There is a possibility that it might go down that road but we will try not to make that happen.
ITPA comes across as a very ambitious and idealistic plan. Have you set any timeline for the things you want to do?
Among other things,the vision is that we want Indian players to have a chance to make a good living out of tennis and the chance to play on the pro tour without having to worry about paucities of funds or professional training. So whatever you hear about organising tournaments,off-season training,it is a way to make that happen. Timeline is our next target to make us be on our toes and be accountable. In the next three months you will see us doing things. I am not worried about criticism before that. If I put my foot into something,I wont give it a half-hearted effort. Im not afraid of going wrong or failing with this. If I come up short,I come up short and then Ill try harder and work again.