The bigger they are…

Somdev Devvarman’s fan following started their chants much before he began his match,and continued till after his last...

Written by Shreya Chakravertty | Chennai | Published: January 10, 2009 12:23 am

Somdev Devvarman’s fan following started their chants much before he began his match,and continued till after his last return of serve was deemed impossible to deal with by the 6’10” Ivo Karlovic. They kept up their hastily created musical compositions each time India’s new tennis star pulled off a marvel with his racquet,and groaned on the few occasions Karlovic managed to have things his way. The centre court crowd at the Nungambakkam Stadium played a crucial,noisy cameo in Somdev’s fairytale at the Chennai Open,and the star of the evening paid homage in the way he knew best — with a 7-6 (4),6-4 quarter-final win over the big friendly giant from Croatia.

“What can I say,it was unbelievable. In Virginia during my college tennis days there were 200-300 people cheering for me,but here it was much more. It’s very humbling,so many kids looking up to you… I hope this will encourage more kids to play. That’s what this is all about,really,” said Somdev,still taking it all in.

Karlovic’s sense of astonishment at what he had just been subjected to remained for a while after his loss. “Amazing,” he said,a word he would repeat a few more times during his conversation. “It was a horrible match for me,I don’t remember the last time I played this bad. I couldn’t hit one ball. It was amazing,unbelievable. I have no words,” he said.

Lost for answers

He appeared lost for words on court as well,on many occasions simply standing and staring off into space as his opponent thought up yet another way to better his strategy. If the fourth seed served big,Somdev returned well,if he came to the net,the Indian managed a passing shot. The time had come for India to have a first Chennai Open semi-finalist since Leander Paes in 1998,and clearly,it was now.

The entire match featured only a single break of serve which went to Somdev in the tenth game of the second set,as Karlovic vainly attempted using his big serve to stay in the match. An increasingly listless world No 25 stumbled to reach the forehand which the world No 202 sent flashing crosscourt to bring up his second match point,and perhaps Karlovic winced as the return of serve came back at him,signalling the end.

Karlovic would have to brace himself for what followed — a deafening cheer and a standing ovation as Chennai saluted a player who has been making Indian tennis look happening and hopeful all at once.

“I’m not sure what to say. Yesterday’s win gave me confidence,and I knew today the most important thing to do was to take care of my own serve. I saw he was struggling,but even if he wasn’t I knew I would be more solid off the ground. Whenever I thought I was in trouble,I knew I could get out of it. I’m a big believer in playing to my strengths,and at the same time,I was trying to get more balls to his weaker backhand. This is very special,and I want to enjoy this,” said Somdev.

Schuettler next

UP next,Rainer Schuettler awaits the Indian in the semi-finals. The German beat compatriot Bjorn Phau 6-2,7-5. In another high-quality match played out in Friday’s quarter-finals,Marin Cilic held on to his nerve and considerably high-voltage serve to fight past Serbian seventh seed Janko Tipsarevic. The third seed withstood a second set washout to take the match 6-4,0-6,6-4,and set up a quarter-final with eighth seed Marcel Granollers of Spain. Granollers needed three sets to defeat wild-card entrant Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic,7-5,2-6,6-4.

In the doubles,top seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Mark Knowles were dealt an upset by the Swiss pair of Stanislas Wawrinka and Jean-Claude Scherrer. The unseeded duo won 3-6,6-3,10-8.

In another doubles quarter-final,Bjorn Phau and Rainer Schuettler defeated Spaniards Santiago Ventura and Granollers 6-3,6-7 (4),10-7.

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