Year after year,Indian interest in the world of mens singles tennis ended in the first week by the middle of the Chennai Open but Somdev Devvarman has made 2009 a different,and refreshing,proposition.
Defeating two top-50 players and fighting bravely against eventual champion and world number 27 Marin Cilic made the Indian the most-sought-after celebrity in the area,even among the film stars and the local Page 3 crowd that made it a point to be seen at Indias only ATP tennis event.
His performance here also saw Somdev leapfrog 48 places on the ATP rankings list to be placed 154th in the world. Leander Paes had given the home crowd a reason to cheer after reaching the singles semi-finals over a decade ago and by then he was already an established name,having already won the bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. Since then,young Indian wild-card entrants have been facing the ignominy of a first or,at best,a second-round loss.
Ramanathan Krishnan,who put the country on the world tennis map said he was glad that Somdev had ended the dismal trend. Its better to play more matches and earn your place in the main draw through the qualifiers getting some tennis under your belt always helps than collecting a wild card.
For example,Prakash Amritraj played just one main draw match and lost. Perhaps it wouldve been better for him to get a bit of match practice. Of course,Somdev made great use of his opportunity and it makes me very happy. We worked so hard in our playing days,and its nice to see someone else playing so well, Ramanathan,a two-time Wimbledon semi-finalist who was once ranked third in the world,told The Indian Express.
Somdev,as former world No 1 Carlos Moya pointed out after his defeat,is unlike any player Indian tennis has seen in recent times. Hes already jumped to 154th in the world after the first week of the season making him the first Indian since Paes to have a genuine chance of breaking into the top-100.
But Ramanathan had a word of warning. We shouldnt put too much pressure on him. Leave him alone and let him play. Hes the countrys new tennis star,and theres still a lot more he can achieve. He should play a lot of tournaments this year,keep travelling,and his game will improve further, he added.
His son,Ramesh,the last Indian player to break into the top-50 he had a career-best ranking of 23 in 1985 said that Somdevs performance would give a lot of confidence to other young players. He has begun the year very well,and he has to keep the momentum. Once his ranking gets even higher and stabilises,he can plan his year properly. The more he plays against the top players,the better hell get, said Ramesh.
Former national coach T Chandrasekaran,who also worked at the Britannia Amritraj Tennis academy where Somdev took his first steps towards a tennis career,said the 23-year-olds work ethic was always impressive.
I travelled with Somdev and a few others in a trip to Europe in 2003,and even then,he was very strong mentally and quite consistent on the courts. Hes improved a lot,he tries his best for every shot and keeps the ball in play. Somdev is an excellent counter-puncher,but he probably needs to be more aggressive against the top players. Thats where Cilic was better than him in the final,but he will keep improving.